A Paradigm Shift for Superyacht Connectivity
Staying connected has never been so important. It tops the list of priorities for pretty much everybody today. Just as you would never dream of leaving the house without your mobile phone or other device, you would never dream of leaving on a trip to sea without the knowledge that you would be able to use your device whilst on board a vessel.
The one, ubiquitous means of ensuring connectivity on board a yacht is to connect it via satellite. Satellite can be accessed anywhere, and it provides a reliable means of communication even if you happen to be out at sea for long periods, out of reach of other forms of terrestrial communications. To access it, all you need is a clear line-of-sight to the satellite and an all-important antenna.
Antenna technology has come a very long way. The recent demand for mobility has seen it pushed even further. The rise in popularity of the smartphone, the tablet and other mobile devices has brought data-centric activity to the forefront. In addition, people want to use these devices no matter where they are to run a plethora of applications from social media, web browsing, streaming services, email – and much more. This has created demand for broadband-capable antennas that can meet the requirements of performance and much higher throughput than ever before.
We are all familiar with the large radome-encased antennas that sit atop vessels and these have been the staple form of antenna as long as maritime connectivity via satellite has been widely used. However, these stabilized VSATs are very heavy, they are difficult and costly to install and they have many moving parts which makes them prone to failure. When they do fail, it takes time for the parts to be obtained in order to repair them, and this can involve taking the vessel back to port to be looked at by an engineer. It’s not ideal. But there is an alternative, and that is flat panel, solid state antenna technology.
Flat panel antennas (FPAs) have been in use since the 1980s. Narrowband FPAs, which operate in L-Band and are well known to the maritime community, can only produce moderate connectivity speeds and airtime can be prohibitively expensive. The new development is for “wideband” FPAs (in the Ku and Ka frequencies) which have the potential to empower true broadband connectivity. However, there have been two principal factors that have held their mainstream deployment back – cost and performance. They are complex pieces of technology and that is why it has taken time to develop FPAs that can finally meet expectations and price points that will enable them to hit the mainstream market. In a report by Northern Sky Research, NSR’s Flat Panel Satellite Antennas, 2nd Edition, published in February this year; it was forecast that cumulative FPA equipment sales will reach $9.1 billion by 2026.
It may also help to take a brief look at what is going on in the satellite sector at the moment. There is a revolution occurring in the satellite communications market. Traditional wideband Geosynchronous (GEO) satellites are being designed for mobility with very powerful, interlocking spot-beam coverage areas. These are also called GEO-HTS satellite constellations, and include operators like Intelsat. Additionally, new small satellites, which were previously the preserve of the scientific and academic communities, have proved themselves to be highly capable and are moving into commercial deployment. The developments in the market mean that small satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) will provide high throughput connectivity and therefore can deliver mobile broadband applications in more locations globally. There are several LEO-HTS mega constellations on the table that will be deployed in the near future such as LeoSat, OneWeb and SpaceX. The wideband FPA will be the key enabler for both the GEO-HTS and LEO/MEO constellations, empowering the delivery of mobile broadband services.