ITEM: Satellite player Inmarsat has wrapped up the first phases of testing its ambitious global Orchestra solution in Singapore that aims to provide additional broadband capacity for ports and shipping lanes.
And they’ll need it, Inmarsat says – continued growth in demand will turn such areas into hotspots where signal congestion is inevitable unless they have sufficient capacity that can deliver fast speeds at the lowest possible latencies.
This is especially true of Asia-Pacific, which is central to global supply chains that are highly reliant on transport of materials, equipment and goods to and from the region. This is why Inmarsat expects such capacity hotspots to arise in Asia-Pacific first, which is also why it began trials of Orchestra in Singapore, which is not only one of the world’s busiest container ports, but also one of the most demanding environments because of equatorial weather conditions such as heavy rain and high humidity. (Singapore has also been trialing 5G for port use cases since 2019.)
The basic idea behind Orchestra is to create terrestrial networks that will connect to ships offshore – then those ships will connect with others further out to sea that are out of the shore network’s range via a secure, encrypted signal. The ships essentially serve as “stepping stones” to connect to the onshore network anchor station.
Inmarsat claims this mesh configuration can extend as far as 30 km offshore and support 100 Mbps per link. Inmarsat also claims five shore stations near Singapore could deliver over 10 Gbps of capacity.
When ships sail out of range of the mesh network, they’re switched over to Inmarsat’s Elera and Global Xpress geostationary satellites. Inmarsat is also launching some LEOsats to support the Orchestra solution.
In this sense, Orchestra isn’t a new standalone Inmarsat service so much as an extension of its existing maritime and aeronautical broadband services specifically designed to serve these capacity hotspots (which Inmarsat says it has identified via existing and projected future use of its Fleet Xpress services).
The Singapore trial used land-based signal towers and a ship that sailed patterns of varying distances from the shore, and measured performance during all kinds of weather conditions, the frequency of blockages between the test vessel and shore, such as other ships and the effects of signal reflections off the surface of the sea. The trial also tested the ‘stepping stone’ aspect of the Orchestra solution. The first phase didn’t measure speed performance, but future tests are expected to do so.
In a statement, Inmarsat CTO Peter Hadinger declared the Singapore test as “real world proof” that Orchestra can deliver on its promise.
There are still some challenges to overcome, such as spectrum sharing and licensing requirements. Inmarsat says it’s working on both.