Satellite, and radio communication in general, has been used in many if not all environments. From individual links connecting two persons over a short distance to continent wide transmissions to millions and more.
While the same technology can be used in different sectors there is a number of solutions which will be more appropriate for one sector than another. 4G will not work for everyone and neither will VSAT, or L-Band.
Finding the right balance is the way to success and to achieve success you need to look at the qualities and disadvantages of each communication platform individually.
While antenna size is usually one of the primary equipment that will be chosen when opting for satellite internet on board it is important to make an informed choice between size, functionality and price.
- Receive and transmit a stronger signal
- Can achieve higher throughput
- Have larger coverage
- Cost more to purchase
- Cost less per Mbps
- Accepted on more networks
- Take less space
- Easier to install
- Not accepted on every network
- More expensive per Mbps
- Less coverage
The arrival of more powerfull cellular connectivity (4G & 5G) has made it another option to keep in mind. Cellular connectivity also has its advantages and disadvantages, and while it is usuall faster and cheaper than satellite it is also less reliable than (a well configured) satellite connection.
- Can achieve high speeds
- Less expensive to buy
- Can use multiple providers (SIM) per unit
- Low latency when within signal reach
- Easy to implement
- Service quality depends on provider, mast, other users (events),
- No service guarantee
- Usually not a fixed cost
- Limited distance from shore
- Can become very expensive if roaming outside of set plan
While in many cases we recommend using a combination of both Cellular and Satellite connectivity on board you will have to consider the following:
- Which one will be my primary link.
- Do I need (want) high bandwidth, and what is high bandwidth for me?
- If I need high bandwidth, do I need it everywhere or just when in cellular range?
- Do I want a fixed monthly cost or should it vary depending on my usage?
In the following sections we take a look at which solutions can be appropriate for which type of vessel and how to get to making the best possible choice.
Stabilized and fixed Satellite Communication for terrestrial and maritime applications.
Performant international unlimited unsteered cellular connectivity.
Combining Satellite and Cellular to achieve the most stable and performant solution, with failover, link aggregation and bonding.
Bandwidth & Mission-Criticality
Determining how mission- (or business-) critical your communication link is will indicate how resilient and redundant your equipment will need to be. Military and Energy sectors are typical examples of high-bandwidth mission/business-critical environments that will require the highest quality standards in equipment and availability.
But not all high bandwidth systems are as mission critical. A superyacht not able to stream a football game or recent movie might be very³ annoying, but not as critical as the previous. We’ll all survive a day on a yacht with less internet, won’t we?
Most of the above will be somewhat to very business critical, but usually the vessels sailing within coastal reach will have more fallback connections (smartphone, wifi, …) when they approach the coast.
Mission-critical environments can make use of:
- Redundant satellite modems and antennas
- Redundant satellite links
- Back-up cellular and other microwave communication equipment
- Redundant teleports
- Link aggregation (bonding) to obtain better stability and higher uninterrupter throughput
A combination of the above will attempt to guarantee a highest possible degree of availability and throughput but will usually also be quite expensive and not for everyone’s budget.
Choosing and combining
In a normal maritime environment the choice will mostly be between MSS L-Band, VSAT and Cellular, or a combination thereof, but when to choose what:
Also known as FleetBroadband and Iridium Certus these services are relatively slow and expensive but they will work pretty much everywhere. The cost of the data-bundels is however very expensive in comparison to VSAT and Cellular and should be used only when needed. These services can also be used for GMDSS
GMDSS: After January 2020, there are two certified providers of GMDSS satellite services: Inmarsat and Iridium Communications. The certification of Iridium in 2020 ended a monopoly on the provision of the satellite-based portion of maritime distress services that had previously been held by Inmarsat since the system became operational in 1999.
Satellite internet is, when your equipment is functioning properly, probably the most reliable solution wityhin the satellite’s footprint. You can rest assured that the satellite and teleport are always there and that the service they offer is consistent. The amount of concurrent terminals is controlled and based on the agreement there will be minimum bandwidth availability.
The monthly cost (or cost per Mbps) may initially seem high but keep in mind that this is a reliable connection, capable to achieve several 100Mbps (yes, you will need a large antenna but it’s possible) anywhere withing the reach of the satellite.
The ubiquitous cellular connection, every pocket has one, has made its way on board and with better radios and better antennas can reach quite a bit out at sea. How far it will reach depends on many factors but it will easily achieve speeds exceeding 10Mbps on entry level equipment, … and up to Gigabit speeds when in port if we can believe the 5G Buzz.
While Cellular is ubiquitous it is however not reliable as the amount of bandwidth allocated to you from a cellular tower will change as you move from one tower to the next with varying signal strength. Some towers, e.g. in densely populated environments, will have more capacity than others in rural areas, and if an event takes place in the vicinity you might only be able to get a trickle of data (e.g. cellular connectivity during F1 race in Monaco are known for being completely inadequate.
Combining it all
Fallback, Load-Balancing and Bonding
WIthout going into too much detail here the above can be combined in 3 ways:
Link-Failover: When using failover the different services are ordered in priority and will switch to the next available service whan the current one fails. Once the failed service recovers the system switches back to the one with higher priority.
Load-Balancing: when there are several equally performant connections available (e.g. multiple cellular links) the users’ requests can be distributed among the available links. This can be adjusted in several ways and allows to achieve a combined total bandwidth usage of the available connections.
Link-Bonding: takes the previous technology a step further and will combine all the connections mentioned above and make one large connection out of it. This bonded link can then use the combined speed of ALL the links available to achieve the highes throughput. This can be most useful when needed to send GB or even TB of data as a single file. In comparison Load-Balancing will only be able to use one link per file and therefore be several times slower.
Where to go from here
The first step in making the right decision about your communication solutions is to know what your requirements really are. Check out our useful guidelines in “The 4 steps to a better communication system“