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August 13, 2012

Broadband Internet Access at Very High Latitudes via Inmarsat FB500

FleetBroadband coverage stops at 74 degrees as publicized by Inmarsat. During the Arctic cruising season around Svalbard for 2012 we had the opportunity to observe the performance of several ships using FleetBroadband 500 technology and determine that the performance was more than adequate to allow usage and the quality was good enough to offer Internet to paying passengers without affecting ship business. Operating costs were considerably less than VSAT.

Inmarsat FleetBroadband 500 at high latitudes

With Inmarsat announcing their Very Large Allowance plans over fleet broadband we have a very attractive alternative to VSAT on smaller vessels. This paper deals with performance at extremely high latitudes well out of the published satellite footprint. We also deal with some of the technical problems encountered to produce a cost effective and reliable system providing essential services even when the satellite is not visible.

As with any solution there is a certain integration of existing technology needed while still retaining some plug and play functionality.

In order to integrate a reliable system we need a router capable of meeting the stringent filtering requirements mandated by Inmarsat and also being able to manage the traffic so we do not go out of plan. The router also has to be able to provide compression, automatic fail-over and also provide a passenger billing system that is flexible.

The GMN RedPort professional router series provides a scalable solution that meets all the above requirements and replaces 3 expensive components in a standard VSAT rack (Nomadix, Riverbed and Cisco router) with a rugged reliable unit.

When system was up we were able to offer passengers and crew – metered Internet access at US $0.23 cents per megabyte cost to the ship and satellite VOIP Phone services to the ship and a cost price of US $0.16 cents calling to any US land line.

Testing Conditions

These tests were done with three ships. Two were running FB500 VLA and one was running VSAT C Band system with a Seatel dome. We use the C Band data for uptime comparison only.

System was placed on three vessels operating around Spitsbergen and the uptime and quality of service monitored closely. The satellite elevation varied between 1 and 3 degrees however whenever there was a clear line of sight we had solid coverage.

Typically a vessel would go close to land to drop passengers off for shore excursions. At this time we would lose signal due to the proximity of the terrain. Passengers experienced little inconvenience though as they were engaged with shore activities.

Ship Email was still vital at this time however the router would detect the non connectivity and automatically fail over to Iridium Open Port.

Mail was totally seamless and would seek the least cost path to work on.

In Longyearbyen where cell coverage was good we could connect to the cellular network and replace the FB500 link with a 3G router.


Satellite email is sent of the GMN Xgate network. This provides a reliable robust pipe with mid stream recovery and perfect for scenarios where the comms are less than ideal. This is currently working via standalone servers however GMN will shortly be implementing this technology inside the RedPort box itself.

Quality of service – In practical terms the higher the latitude the slower the speed, We were seeing reliable transfer rates of 120 – 150 kbps. With traffic shaping we could ensure very good voice quality over IP – Better than Iridium Open Port at a fraction of the cost.

Ship Monitoring Summary

VLA Test 1 Performance over 10 days

 This shows vessel track and the percentage uptime per day:


VLA Vessel Tracking

Last Column shows uptime percentage by day

06-20-2012 43.5500 %

06-21-2012  50.0000 %

06-22-2012 37.7000 %

06-23-2012 77.9400 %

06-24-2012 30.5100 %

06-25-2012 40.9800 %

06-26-2012 12.2800 %

06-27-2012 69.7000 %

06-28-2012 69.7000 %

06-29-2012 58.7302 %

06-30-2012 92.5926 %

In Summary FB500 VLA plans provide a cost effective alternative to VSAT at high latitudes.

Both VLA ships had no on board IT officer and what little systems maintenance that was needed could be carried out from shore.

Hardware runs maintenance free so there is no costly semi-annual technician visit.

Jonathan Selby

Xaxero Marine Software

Copyright 2012 Creative Commons License

 Please leave comments below.  Thank you.


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