Capt. Ian Bowles, MNI, Regional Sales Manager, Japan Radio Co., Ltd.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2% (or $1.3 trillion)* of World GDP is accounted for by the mobile telecommunications industry. By comparison, the minute fraction of this that the marine radar industry accounts for has probably not been discovered yet. So what chance does radar have against such overwhelming authority, or should we say, financial might?
Marine radar operates in two main frequency bandwidths, 3GHz and 9GHz. The mobile phone and wi-fi industries also like the 3GHz arena, and have their frequency allocations virtually adjacent to our very own S-Band radar, and therein lies the problem.
Magnetron based technology is very old and dirty to the frequency spectrum, it uses huge amounts of bandwidth, (regularly straying outside of its borders), and to a certain extent needs cleaning up. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has recognized this and has therefore allowed "new technology" to be used in the S-Band frequency spectrum allocation for marine radar. This new technology is solid-state based and uses much less frequency spectrum for the transmission. Examples of this are JRC's JMA-9172-SA and Kelvin Hughes Sharp-Eye.
In addition it has to be recognized that a "marine frequency" is used in a marine environment - not a land use, therefore the mobile phone industry has made application to the ITU for the use of mobile phones to use part of the S-Band frequency marine allocation frequency as there are lots of areas of the World that are not considered marine that have populations wanting more and more mobile phone technology with ever increasing frequency usage, for example, large areas in USA, Asia and Europe.
In Europe, the UK for example, has from 2010 indicated that they will introduce "Spectrum pricing" where users of frequency spectrum will pay for the use of the Spectrum. One of the frequencies they are looking at is mobile phones and the S-Band frequency. Estimates are that mobile phone industry will be willing to pay about $450 Million per year for licenses to use the frequency and that will be the thin end of the wedge as Governments around the World need more income from taxes and this is the invisible tax of frequency . No upkeep by Government and the money rolls in. So it is probably not a case of "if" but "when" - providing the UK Government scheme goes according to expectations.
Of course this does come with advantages for the maritime industry, most notably a remarkably improved performance and a significant reduction in service requirements. With no magnetron to replace every one or two years, a solid state radar can almost be considered maintenance free.
The JRC solid state radar for example, without a magnetron has a transmit power of just 250W compared to the traditional magnetron based 30kW equivalent. Advanced pulse compression with the 250 W solid state transceiver not only improves short range performance, but dramatically improves long range target detection while using only 1/100 of the power of a conventional radar.
With a new Doppler filter at its heart, moving targets are not only detected in clutter, but also clearly displayed on the screen. In addition to the significant reduction in routine maintenance, another advantage is instantaneous operation from start up, with no pre-heating or tuning required.
Naturally costs of the new solid state radars are higher, but realistically, probably not by more than one or two replacement magnetrons
X-Band solid state technology on the other hand, while available, is seen as commercially restrictive. Firstly there is not the commercial driving need in the 9GHz spectrum as there is at 3GHz. Then there is the significant cost differential between X and S-Band, (for some reason there are X-Band solid state components that are a lot more expensive than for the S-Band), as well as the GMDSS and navigation requirements where a magnetron firing radar is needed for performance monitors, RACONS and SARTS. The IMO carriage requirement is for at least one X-band radar to be on SOLAS vessels whereas an S-band radar installation is an option, albeit and extremely valuable one in adverse conditions.
JRC’s first solid state S-band radar (JMA-9172-SA) was type approved at the end of 2008 and after intensive field testing, JRC made it commercially available at the beginning of 2011.

• Source: The Internet (industry analyst Chetan Sharma as reported by Daily Finance)

Capt. Ian Bowles, MNI, Regional Sales Manager, Japan Radio Co., Ltd. is a Master Mariner with over 30 years of industry experience.

(As published in the August 2011 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News - www.marinelink.com)

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