While Iridium launched its NEXT initiative earlier this year (see Down to Business ) and is making great strides in developing its next-generation constellation, the company is also working on new solutions that leverage the power of the existing constellation to offer expanded bandwidth services. Iridium’s technology team has been hard at work on a fleet of new products that leverage new software and hardware upgrades to achieve higher speed voice and data transmission.
At the 2007 Iridium Partners Conference held in Vancouver in mid-September, Iridium unveiled the first such solution—a new maritime voice and data service that taps the world’s first global high speed network specifically engineered for the marine market. It provides true IP connectivity with up to three phone lines—all of which are available for simultaneous use.
The hardware consists of two main pieces of equipment—an Above Deck Unit (ADU) and a Below Deck Unit (BDU). The ADU includes a Radome that is 56.4 cm wide by 24.0 cm high and houses the critical communications electronics, including an advanced antenna array. Despite the sophistication of this revolutionary device, there are no moving parts, minimizing risk of equipment failure. The BDU contains one RJ45 port and three RJ11 jacks all of which can be used at the same time. Housed in a small, attractive, rugged casing, it offers an intuitive visual display to monitor system status and performance. Third party products such as routers, hubs and PBXs can easily be connected to extend the data and voice capabilities of the unit to allow complete integration of data and telecom systems across the vessel. The new device is ideal for integration with on-board platforms such as email servers, LANs, and even navigation and alarm systems to enable fully-integrated seagoing systems.
Both pieces of hardware are extremely easy to install and are connected to one another by a standard Ethernet cabling with specialized connectors that are included with the product. This flexible cabling can run over long distances without risk of detrimental signal loss. The ADU mounts on a standard backplate for simple pole mounting and can be affixed in minutes. The 48 volt power circuit is provided through the interconnection cable to the BDU, meaning that only single, simple, CAT 5 computer cable is required to be run to the ADU. The BDU plugs into a standard 120/220 50-60Hz outlet and can be used anywhere in the world.
The new maritime voice and data service will support a broad range of speeds in standard service packages that provide 9.6 kbps to 64 kbps. In addition, Iridium anticipates elite service plans that support up to 128 kbps (with an expected maximum speed on the system of 153 kbps). No additional hardware is needed to support these higher speeds, and service packages can be easily upgraded with no additional onboard handling once the equipment is deployed.
Equipment pricing is expected to be lower than competitive maritime services such as Fleet, Fleet Broadband and, of course, legacy Inmarsat services. As the first system that provides true global coverage for the marine market, Iridium will provide an attractive and affordable upgrade for aging ISDN and analog equipment currently in use on ships around the globe. Moreover, with an omni-directional antenna specially-engineered for the Iridium constellation of Low-Earth Orbiting satellites, this service is optimal for smaller vessels for which large stabilized equipment is impractical or unaffordable.
Airtime pricing will be extremely competitive reflecting Iridium’s long-standing strategy to provide the broadest and most comprehensive coverage and service at very affordable rates. Iridium will offer well-priced packages that further extend value for critical applications such as captain’s calling, crew calling, email, web browsing, file transfer and vessel monitoring/tracking.
Other features of the service include out-of-box support for existing Service Provider
Value Added Services, standard and extended warranties, and the support of Iridium’s global network of Service Providers and Value Added Resellers (VARs). In addition, a number of Iridium’s Value Added Manufacturers (VAMs) are exploring product extensions that will be offered separately to augment this robust service.
Iridium plans to introduce similar high-speed broadband products and services for the emerging needs of users in other verticals such as aviation, government/military, emergency/humanitarian services, oil and gas, mining, forestry, heavy equipment, transportation and utilities industries. With each of these new products all Iridium partners—VAMs, VARs, developers, as well as Service Providers—will have new opportunities to collaborate and deliver exciting new applications to existing customers and open up previously untapped markets.
Iridium’s new maritime voice and data service will be commercially available by the middle of 2008.