Satcom: Icebreaker Uses Satellite to Break Through Communications Barriers

Monday, March 08, 2004

In Finland and Sweden, a large percentage of commercial trade is transported by sea. During the winter months, this presents something of a challenge, as most of the trade routes are almost completely frozen over. Through a joint cooperation, the Swedish and Finnish Maritime Administrations enlist a fleet of icebreakers — nine vessels that travel the frozen waters to clear the ice and allow commercial ships to pass through. Thanks to these icebreakers, ports in both countries can remain open year-round. Communications is key to ensure that the icebreakers do their job, as they must be able to communicate to access up-to-the-minute information on weather forecasts and ice conditions, transmit estimated times of arrival and departure, send calls for assistance, and plan their daily operations. Previously, the icebreakers and ground facilities were equipped with the NMT mobile radio communications system, which operated over national public networks. But in 2002, this service was terminated. Seeking an alternative, the countries turned to Eutelsat. "We needed a permanent system that could function in mesh mode 24 hours a day, and enable direct, simultaneous communication between some or all of the boats as well as the various sites on the ground. Internet access was also critical - and it had to be available on the boats out at sea," said Magnus Engström of Satpool, the company responsible for integrating the network. "With such a complex set of specifications, satellite offered the best option." Eutelsat provided the icebreakers with a mesh network built on its Eutelsat@Sea solution for corporate and commercial maritime users. Because no land lines are required, the network can be easily shared between Sweden and Finland, offering direct communications via satellite for both vessel-to-vessel and vessel-to-ground interactions. During the "ice-over period," which runs from October to May, the icebreakers share a permanent, guaranteed capacity of 1 Mbps with their facilities on the ground. In addition to complete voice and data coverage, the network is extended via gateway from the headquarter offices to deliver Internet and email access for crew members on board the vessels. Network supervision, control and monitoring are operated by Eutelsat.

Through its satellite network, the icebreakers' at-sea communications capabilities are faster, stronger, and more reliable, with improved access to critical information as well as personal and business communications. The Eutelsat solution offers the capability to dynamically assign bandwidth between terminals, enabling on-demand access while fully maximizing available resources. If any of the nine vessels are not at sea on a given day, the remaining bandwidth is shared by those on the water, and allocated according to demand. This streamlines costs and ensures high availability at all times.

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