A unique Constellation Architecture that Connects the World: Iridium Communications
Providing access to voice and data services anywhere on Earth, Iridium, the global satellite communications company, is well positioned to support the entire maritime industry. Wouter DeKnopper, vice President & General Manager, Maritime Line of Business at Iridium Communications Inc. and this edition’s Maritime Host, explains how Iridium’s variety of cost-effective and reliable services connect people and things, precisely the maritime, around the world.
Of some of the satellite companies that started up almost a quarter century ago, Iridium is considered one of the successful survivors in the field. How has the journey been for Iridium?
The satellite industry is very capital intensive and requires a lot of patience. With a unique history spanning over 30 years, Iridium has learned a lot of lessons, is cash-flow positive and connecting people and things around the entire world. When Iridium was originally conceptualized, the company focused on satellite phones, but that business model failed. Rising from the ashes of bankruptcy, a new company with a new business model has become a force in the industry. This new Iridium underwent financial and technological transformations, transforming itself into the company it is today. Iridium pivoted its business model to focus on personal and IoT communications for a variety of industries, utilizing our core technology with the support of a strong partner ecosystem of experts in their respective fields. Iridium now has 450+ partners that create Iridium Connected® solutions or sell service for a variety of industries, including maritime to offer reliable, weather-resilient, and truly global connectivity.
The maritime industry is undergoing a huge development evolution, how is Iridium contributing to the advancement process of the maritime satellite field?
There definitely is a huge development evolution and Iridium has been one of the leaders’ pushing boundaries and innovating for the market. Iridium® GMDSS, Iridium Certus® and Global Line of Sight® (GLOS®) are three immediate examples of this.
Additionally, Iridium gives safety a voice with its Global Maritime Distress & Safety System (GMDSS) service. With the launch of Iridium’s truly global GMDSS, Iridium has given seafarers a real-time emergency response and rescue service that works everywhere in the world for the first time in history. Iridium provides capability, coverage, and cost advantages over competitive options, helping to enhance safety at sea. Unlike the historic options, Iridium Connected GMDSS terminals initiate both Distress Alert and Safety Voice quickly with the press of just one button. The Lars Thrane LT-3100S Iridium GMDSS terminal in an integrated solution provides safety service, Long-Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) in a single terminal.
Iridium Certus is a highly versatile communications solution for the whole maritime sector. The small antenna size and weight of the Iridium Certus 100, 200 and 700 service class terminals permit deployment onto almost any vessel. There are a range of competitive airtime plans that provide both primary packages and a vital companion service for VSAT equipped vessels. Iridium’s network and ecosystem of solutions remain core to highly reliable communications anywhere at sea.
The Iridium network is also well positioned to support the entire maritime industry, including evolving sectors such as maritime autonomy due to our unique Global Line of Sight capabilities. Iridium plays a key role in increasing safety at sea by enabling the Over the Horizon (OTH) Command and Control (C2) of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV), Autonomous Surface Vessels (ASV), Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUV), and Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) for a wide variety of applications and scenarios, allowing companies and organizations to safely navigate the sea without putting humans in potentially dangerous situations.
Similar to any technological approach, satellite communication solutions take some time to reach everyone and thus the revenue and success take their time as well. How do you see the course of technology adoption, from your side and the clients’?
The pace of change within the maritime industry is still behind some terrestrial industries. However, the rate of technological adoption within the maritime segment is increasing year-over-year aided by efficiency and regulatory demands. The requirement for connectivity on board has never been higher. In response, the satellite communications industry integrated disparate pipes – the combination of VSAT and L-band – creating a hybrid communication system that ensures a vessel always has connectivity. Iridium Certus is well positioned to deliver reliable L-band connectivity to the world’s maritime fleet anywhere, both as a primary or VSAT companion service. The Iridium Certus Connected® terminals are produced by premier manufacturers including Cobham, Intellian and Thales, who integrate modern features providing cost-effective communications for modern fleets.
Despite the challenges that the maritime industry is facing, what makes Iridium distinguished in its services and endeavours?
In addition to being the only satellite network that provides reliable connectivity to the entire planet, Iridium is unique due to our partner ecosystem. Iridium has over 450 partners that utilize the company’s core technology to solve industry challenges. Whether it’s leisure boating, merchant shipping, work boats, commercial fishing or autonomous vessels, Iridium partners create Iridium Connected solutions to solve challenges in the maritime industry. Iridium technology partners give mariners the ability to find the solution that best fits their needs without going over budget or sacrificing space on their small boat.
How does Iridium see its market growth in the Middle East region?
The Middle East region is an important area for Iridium, and we have seen significant interest from several sectors including maritime. With a diversity of vessels between the Mediterranean, Suez, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden, a range of device sizes and speeds are needed in support of the industry. This is an area where Iridium Certus really shines with its speeds, plans and terminals allowing for any vessel to get reliable communications anywhere at sea. For example, Iridium Certus 100 is perfect for smaller fishing, coastal and river vessels who have an occasional requirement for satellite connectivity. In particular, the Iridium Connected Blue Sky Network Skylink 6100 terminal incorporates both Iridium Certus 100 and a 4G modem, permitting automated switching between the two pipes. This makes the Skylink 6100 very attractive for leisure and fishing vessels who only occasionally venture beyond 4G/LTE range but still need connectivity when they do. While Iridium Certus
700 terminals are ideal for larger cargo vessels, and Iridium Certus 200 can be a smart choice for medium-sized fishing boats.
Iridium has recently won three awards, including the Top Connected Mobile Platform Innovation Award for Iridium Certus® 100. What innovations/projects is Iridium looking at in the near future?
Iridium is incredibly proud to have won these awards, especially for the Top Connected Mobile Platform Innovation Award for Iridium Certus 100. While everyone’s going bigger and faster, Iridium Certus 100 taps an underserved market opportunity by offering a smaller and more efficient option. The Iridium Certus 100 is Iridium’s groundbreaking "midband" service that addresses a niche market demand for new satcom solutions requiring small form factor and battery or line-powered mobile equipment, capable of two-way IP data and high-quality voice services. No other satellite operator can provide this range of capabilities over the whole planet, enabling new classes of connected products that are well suited for autonomous vehicles, remote monitoring of facilities or equipment, and new personal communications devices.
Another innovation Iridium is focused on is low-bandwidth compressed live-action and real-time video over Iridium Certus. Iridium partners have the capability to support live video transmission over Iridium Certus, which opens the door for countless critical applications and can help save on data costs. The maritime industry can use this for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) video delivery from manned and unmanned vessels, for example. This unique capability provides cost-effective, weather-resilient and reliable video transmission in all the world’s oceans over the Iridium network.
During the pandemic, many seafarers were stuck at sea for long periods. How are new communication means and developments facilitating their life, and taking care of their welfare, which is considered one of IMO’s primary targets?
Iridium is committed to supporting the safety and wellbeing of seafarers. To help alleviate the emotional strain of the COVID-19 epidemic on crews that were at sea for extended durations, Iridium offered free crew calling for each vessel equipped with Iridium Certus or Iridium OpenPort® service.
While at sea for long durations of time, crews rely on communications to stay in touch with their loved ones at home. Iridium offers a wide array of truly global solutions that keep mariners connected no matter where they are at sea. Iridium and our partners produce a wide range of solutions that utilize low-profile, solid-state antennas to provide the fastest L-band speeds available. Iridium Certus offers a variety of service classes to provide reliable and affordable connectivity depending on mariner needs. As mentioned in the previous question, the Iridium Certus service over partner solutions enables the live transmission of video to and from anywhere in the world. This value-added service can allow mariners to communicate over video with their families in a cost-effective way.
Robban Assafina Magazine, Issue 80, July/ Aug. 2022, Maritime Host