Surf the web at sea

Sailors traversing the world’s oceans may have a new communications weapon at their disposal in the form of secure, high-speed internet access.

Results from EUREKA project E!3194 FORCE8 suggest bottlenecks that hindered high-speed internet services, video conferencing and the transfer of large volumes of data at sea might finally be resolved.

Securely transferring information through high-speed satellite links and internet connections, as well as image streaming and conferencing, could prove essential to naval ships or research and surveillance vessels.

Until now, accessing broadband satellite internet links on the high seas has been beset by problems, with low connection speeds and the capacity for only small amounts of data transfer.

The FORCE8 project partners said the only currently available communication solution at sea is provided by INMARSAT, which is often expensive and lacks sufficient bandwidth and only a small number of independent operators such as Canada’s TELESAT offer some Internet Protocol (IP) based services.

The three French partners involved in FORCE8 have developed a system of accessing internet broadband services at sea, based on established telecommunications standards such as IP, digital video broadcasting and mobile roaming using a network of geostationary satellites managed by satellite operators.

The development is a dedicated platform which joins these existing technologies together to create a flow of information between ship and land-based services. The system uses parabolic antenna technology and combines them with satellite terminal technologies to transmit data to and from the applications and operators connected to the platform. These allow internet services which are fully compatible with terrestrial networks.

The project is said to have succeeded in making large bandwidths of between 1 and 2Mbps possible off shore.

The project partners envisage two main segments of users: governmental agencies that want to equip their ships with high-speed interactive two way communication between ships and ground control to improve safety services at sea, or medical services, with tele-medical applications such as transmitting images and data.

The second segment of users the project caters for are marine research organisations that want to test high-quality real-time video transmissions.

Marie-Noël Convert, director general of main project partner C2 Innovativ’Systems, said, ‘The system has already been sold to IFREMER, the French research institute for the exploitation of the sea, located in Brest.

‘The EUREKA label has brought recognition of the technical quality of the project. This, together with EUREKA financing, has allowed the development of a bigger market sector.’

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