Researchers studying solutions for broadband in the ArcticNews // July 14, 2014
Broadband communications is increasingly widely used in the shipping industry and is essential for many offshore operations, but many owners are doubtful about whether it is really possible to get broadband coverage in the Arctic.
However, Telenor, the Norwegian Space Centre and Marintek believes that it is, and aim to prove that it is possible. Together they are working on the concept of an Arctic broadband system, which they have dubbed ‘ASK’ (the Norwegian abbreviation of Arctic Satellite Communications).
The project’s aims are in line with the Norwegian government’s recommendations linked to the country’s Arctic Policy Strategy. These say that effective broadband coverage is vital to all kinds of activity in the region, especially exploration for offshore oil and gas, search and rescue operations, as well as communications for the ever-increasing shipping traffic in the region.
“The systems we operate with today work relatively well in latitudes up to 75 degrees North,” said Beate Kvamstad, a project manager and researcher at Marintek. “Further north, we lack systems which are stable enough that can handle large volumes of data.”
Ms Kvamstad is responsible for the user requirement analysis part of the project. She highlighted some of the motivating factors behind efforts to establish a broadband network in the Arctic. These include the increasing number of reporting requirements linked to the fisheries industry; the monitoring of loads using sensors and video; environmental monitoring; an increasing need to maintain an overview of offshore operations; the growing use of telemedicine; and the increased use of remote control systems.
After user requirements analysis is competed a system specification development phase will follow, followed by a tender process with the aim of obtaining prices and other information relevant from potential suppliers. “This will form the foundation for a business plan,” she explained.
The work of sorting through the various technology options is already underway, she said, noting that the most promising option appears to be a system based on two satellites moving in highly elliptical polar orbits. Two satellites will be adequate to provide continuous coverage. Researchers are also looking into the potential of ‘seamless transition’ or so-called ‘roaming’ between geosynchronous satellites above the equator (GEO) and highly elliptical and polar satellites (HEO).
Any broadband system for the Arctic will not be cheap to implement, however. “This is why we believe it is necessary that a wide range of organisations contribute towards funding the project. We must all pull together,” Ms Kvamstad said, adding that Telenor was due to launch a completely new satellite, Thor 7, in the summer of 2014. This will be Telenor’s first satellite with a payload entirely dedicated to maritime activities, and experience from the project will be of major significance to the development of the new Arctic broadband network.