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Home > Features > Technology update with e3 systems

Technology update with e3 systems

Established in 1996, e3 now has more than 40 technical, sales and operational staff across offices in Europe and the USA.  Combining innovation, expertise and exceptional support, we provide customers across the globe with a world-class service.

 Marine Communication Innovations – e3’s pioneering technology

 Innovation is the driving force that keeps e3 at the forefront of marine communications.

As a pioneer of new technology for yachts, we have always followed our instincts to become early adopters of new technology.

Yesterday

In 1996, when we first opened for business, we started the first Internet Café in Mallorca! We then developed a single source weather service called MeteoView in 1998 and our own VHF/UHF tender tracking system called Seetrac followed in 2003.

We have always been involved with both terrestrial communications, from GSM to 5G, and satellite communications. We are proud to have been the first to introduce many new mobile communication systems for yachting, none of which have been without their issues!

We started with the first GSM/GPRS solution for yachts in 1999, which evolved into the first GSM/3G contiguous data service across three countries in the Med. We even helped Digicel in Antigua by advising on the new antenna locations for yacht coverage at the time of their “big step” migration from GSM to 4G LTE.

Most recently we introduced the first 3G/4G roaming solutions which have evolved into our global BIG DATA solutions and packet level aggregation.  We were the first to introduce a hybrid terrestrial and satellite solution, for which we own the registered trademark for HYBRID which is now available with hot 4G to satellite seamless IP handover with our Kymeta™ antenna.

On the satellite front, we were the first to install an Inmarsat Fleet 77 on a yacht in 2002 and we installed the first VSAT, Sea Tel 4003, serial no:001, on a yacht in 2004. We worked with MTN to design the first yacht VSAT airtime contract that became the standard.  More recently we installed the first Kymeta™ flat panel electronically steered antenna (ESA) on a yacht with our own airtime solution eSAT.   We have also installed the first single and twin antenna Inmarsat Fleet Xpress solution on a yacht.

Today

Today, we continue to embrace the very latest developments, such as Kymeta™ flat panel antennas which are leading the way in the new era of satellite connectivity, currently using GEO satellites but also now being trialled with the new MEO and LEO satellite constellations.

Tomorrow

In the next month we will install the first Kymeta™ u8m panel on a yacht.

In the land mobile world, we are already providing 4G LTE-A and 5G and it will evolve and grow.

Vodafone has 93% of coastlines, in over 67 countries, with 4G coverage today.  By the end of 2020 they expect to have 190 million 5G subscribers, and 2.5 billion by the end of 2025!  By the end of 2020, they predict that 10 countries will have full 5G coverage, increasing to 19 countries by 2022.  And that doesn’t include another 43 Vodafone Partner countries, mostly in Asia, which expect to have 5G coverage within the next 2 to 3 years.  These predictions come from just one Service Operator, so there is no doubt that 5G is going to be BIG.

While LTE reaches yachts offshore, 5G does not, although there are developments afoot, so read on.

Virtual SIMs are being offered by some providers already. A virtual SIM card is a cloud-based telephone number that can be used from any device via a mobile application and therefore, it allows you to travel to a foreign country without the need to change your location with your mobile network provider and avoids higher charges.  A virtual SIM card is based on cloud services and can be used on any smartphone, while an eSIM card is embedded inside the phone and can work without a permanent link to cloud service. This technology is expected to be the future of land mobile telecommunications.

Over the Next Few Years

Hybrid Terrestrial Satellite

Vodafone intends to launch SpaceMobile in 3 years’ time.  SpaceMobile is planned to be a space-based cellular broadband network that can be accessed using a standard smartphone.  It’s 5G on the back of proprietary AST & Science, LEO satellites.  This ultra-powerful network will provide connectivity at 4G/5G speeds everywhere on the planet – on land, at sea and in flight.

Mobile subscribers will be able to automatically roam from land networks to a space network, wherever they are, without having to invest in expensive hardware.  Very interesting, but very little detail is available currently.

Today is the dawn of Non-Geo Synchronous Orbit (NGSO) satellite constellations

NGSO satellites are more commonly known as Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Mid Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites.  These satellites orbit the earth continuously and are much closer to the earth than the current satellites we use which are called Geostationary (GEO) satellites. They are called geostationary because they are in a fixed position, relative to the earth’s surface, above the equator.  Satellite TV is received from a geostationary satellite which is the reason sat dishes on houses are fixed and point at the satellite that is transmitting the signal.  LEO and MEOs are in orbit and can sometimes be seen in the night sky like the lights on a moving aircraft.

There are many projects, at different stages, launching and planning to launch huge new constellations of LEO and MEO satellites.  Why are these satellites exciting?

  1. Firstly, over the next 9 years the new satellites will increase the current capacity provided by GEOs by thirty-fold!
  2. More capacity means the cost of satellite data will decrease considerably. Elon Musk’s constellation Starlink, estimate that their cost for bandwidth per month will be between a 1/10th to a 1/15th of the current price.  The price for consumed data, normally measured in GB, is estimated by Viasat to be between $5-$7/GB, which is then getting competitive with cellular data.
  3. Because LEOs are closer to the earth at 500 – 1,500km when compared to GEOs that are 35,800km away the time taken for your signal to go up to the sat and down again is so much faster. Which means the response time for requests, receiving the latest information, waiting for a response in a phone conversation or trading will be similar to fibre optic connections on-land.  This means satellite can then be used for mission critical applications which will open up the service to a lot more users.
  4. Due to the thousands of satellites in these constellations and the hundreds of orbits, a number of satellites will be overhead at any one time, everywhere on earth. This means the ground terminal is required to scan significantly less and thus losses are reduced.  When a flat panel (ESA), is used as the ground terminal, the higher the satellite is in the sky, the higher is the look angle and the less are the signal losses.  This is also means signal shadows caused by mountains and buildings will be reduced.
  5. Finally, the service will be totally global. The coverage will be ubiquitous from pole to pole. GEO is limited to 70N and 70S.  This means that there will be no-where on earth that satellite communications don’t reach!

NGSO Constellations

The Constellations, in order of closest to live, are as follows:

Constellation   Orbit    Band    Satellites Launched     Notes

Starlink            LEO      Ku        715 (41,285 pending)  Elon Musk. Beta testing in progress.

One Web         LEO      Ku        74 (47,926 pending)    Emerging from bankruptcy.

Telesat             LEO      Ka        (239 pending)              Prototype only. Launch 2022.

O3b mPower    MEO    Ka        (16 pending)                Launching 2021. Available 4Q22.

Kepler              LEO      Ku        3 (137 pending)           3 satellites launched.

Kuiper              LEO      Ka        (3,236 pending)           Amazon. Have FCC approval for all.

Viasat              LEO      Ka        (288 pending)              Seeking FCC approval.

As can be seen, the AST and Science LEO satellites that are to be used by Vodafone for SpaceMobile are not mentioned in this list.  Not much is known other than AST launched their first prototype LEO sat called Bluewalker 1 from India, in April 2019.  It is in a LEO orbit between 500-700km up and has been successfully used to test SpaceMobile.  This is to be used only by smartphone service operators and will initially offer 4G services with 5G delivered in the future.

What will enable NGSO Constellations to sink or swim?

The answer to that is simply a viable ground terminal.

This is what the early LEO projects of Teledesic and Skybridge got wrong back in the 1990s.  Bill Gates and Craig McCaw started Teledesic in 1994, and they filed for bankruptcy at the end of the 90s, mainly due to lack of a usable and affordable ground terminal.

As can be seen, there are plenty of NGSO projects in progress with some substantial funding. Even the UK Government together with Bharti Global, an Indian business, has rescued One Web from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  So, there is plenty of opportunity.

For the other Constellations a ubiquitous terminal is required.  Its features need to be:

  • Good performance and efficiency.
  • Easy to install and operate.
  • Small in size and weight.
  • Low power.
  • Scalability – ie it can be mass produced easily and in large quantities.
  • It can become affordable by achieving price points for mass adoption.

Clearly, AST & Science’s SpaceMobile plan is to use the smartphone as the ground terminal to get mass adoption. This will work and it ticks all the boxes above.

You will be able to use two, but ideally three conventional VSAT antennas in domes.  This solution will work but it only ticks one of the boxes above.

The ideal is the ESA flat panel ground terminal.  The Kymeta™ solution is the only option that is commercially available, and ticks all these boxes and more.  It is clearly no coincidence that Bill Gates is the majority shareholder of Kymeta™!

Meet Matthew  Gerkenour US Operations and Engineering Manager

Originally from California, Matthew lived in Europe for 9 years and moved to Florida in 2014 to fully immerse himself in the yachting communications industry. Matthew’s professional career has always been in satellite communications, servicing the oil & gas, C-Store, and the financial sectors.

“The yachting industry provided a new, and let’s be honest, more glamourous challenge.  It’s an industry that demands the highest standards with success being measured by client communication, exceeding client expectations, timeliness, and quality of work.”

Matthew enjoys the travel and interaction with captains and crew that the job brings. “I know we’re doing things right when a captain moves to a new vessel and the first thing he does is call me with the “I need your help” phone call.” Matthew’s focus is always on working towards uniformity and standardisation while still allowing for flexibility to incorporate new and better technology.

The other focus is maximising performance through hardware and software.  “It’s no secret that clients want faster than fast service, but there are factors that have to be taken into account.  All too often, the “solution” is just to throw bandwidth at the problem.  It’s not to say that, in certain situations, that’s not the appropriate remedy, but it’s a costly short-term solution to a long-term problem. What is happening on the network and why, is where I like to find the solution.”

Matthew sees challenges, opportunities, and changes on the horizon. Cyber security is the real and relevant threat to every network. “Owners and captains need to understand and respect the real financial implications of unsecured networks. The hard but true fact is that if boats spend 1/10 of what they spend on their jet skis in order to maintain their network, then the risk of being compromised and the financial implications thereof is substantially reduced.”

The other reality is where the yachting industry fits regarding emerging technology. “The introduction of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations will reduce cost and increase speed. Television service providers are focusing their efforts at streaming platforms. A platform like e3’s Kymeta™ addresses this, and other VSAT hardware companies are following suit. With that said, yachts are in a grey area when it comes to answering questions like “what’s next” and “what should I do now.”  As such, Matthew’s approach is to provide as much information as possible. “Understanding if the customer wants THE right solution or a solution right now is the starting point.”

 

Roger Horner

For further info on e3 VSAT and SUPER DATA

e3 systems

+34 971 404 208

info@e3s.com

www.e3s.com