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Harris CapRock Pools Together Satellite and Terrestrial Connectivity Options in New Maritime Solution

By Caleb Henry | February 24, 2015
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A Harris CapRock antenna. Photo: Harris CapRock

[Via Satellite 02-24-2015] Harris CapRock has unveiled a fully managed connectivity solution that combines satellite, wireless and terrestrial technology for maritime users. The solution, dubbed Harris CapRock One, brings together satellites from Medium and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (MEO and GEO) with options such as terrestrial Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), private and carrier-based Long Term Evolution (LTE), and WiMax.

Tracey Haslam, president of Harris CapRock, told Via Satellite that the new solution leverages technological developments from the larger Harris Corporation originally gained from building military communications technology. Combined with customer input, Harris CapRock One aims to make these advances more accessible for the commercial sector.

Haslam said the expectation of “always on” connectivity that matches the home experience drove the need for more than a satellite-only solution. Harris CapRock One targets highly mobile maritime vessels that have an ever-growing need for bandwidth. When in port, ships are typically in range of terrestrial options such as shortwave wireless communications or LTE. As they move toward open water, other terrestrial options are switched to automatically, until satellite becomes the most powerful option.

“This can work for cruise vessels and rigs either as they have left the shipyard or if they are drilling relatively close to shore,” Haslam explained. “We have long range radio signals that can cover a lot of those rig locations. So they can switch from one wireless platform to another quite seamlessly … when the vessel gets into open water, we can seamlessly switch over to satellite.”

Harris CapRock One uses VSATs equipped with advanced multiband antennas that enable transmit and receive in either C, Ku, L and Ka band with no mechanical changes. The switching happens automatically, depending on the location by changing a relay to select what box the modem connects to, simplifying the process.

“The terminal is able to reconfigure itself automatically, with no user intervention, whereas with more classic techniques we would be flying in a field technician to go and swap out the feed system or change the [Block UpConverter] BUC or reconfigure the modem, and so forth,” Andrew Lucas, chief technology officer at Harris CapRock told Via Satellite.
The solution uses an Intelligent Communications Director (ICD) to monitor for connectivity options and automatically route to the best available network based on speed, latency, location and cost. Lucas said it also manages client traffic across available mediums, and can automatically seek the best path based on factors like latency, jitter and availability.

Harris CapRock One is targeted for very mobile users such as cruise lines, oilrigs and coast guards. Haslam said Harris CapRock has seen demand from some high-end cruise ships reaching 200 to 240 Mbps, and newer, highly instrumented rigs climbing to 5 to 10 Mbps. This level of demand has buoyed the need for more terrestrial technologies to grow in the maritime space.

“If I look at the rapid pace of demand increase from the cruise market, even some of the highest throughput satellites are not going to satisfy some of these vessels. When you have 4,000 to 5,000 people on board — just an Xbox Live game consumes 2 Mbps up, 2 Mbps down, so you are really talking about big demand that can’t be compensated by a single beam,” said Haslam.

Lucas added that combining the different technologies was seen as necessary from a competitive angle. Terrestrial choices have the ability to deliver greater speeds with lower latency than most satellites, typically making them preferable when in range, but satellite provides ubiquitous coverage worldwide. This balance of strengths and weaknesses makes the hybrid approach very synergistic to Harris CapRock, according to Lucas.

“Satellite comes with scarcity. It comes with some technical challenges such as latency and our customers are demanding the best user experience. That’s where wireless technology definitely comes into play. Where they are available, the combination of both is really powerful, so we can leverage the low latency, without loosing that worldwide coverage and reliability that our customers have come to expect,” he said.

Harris CapRock has also simplified pricing for Harris CapRock One, rather than charge granular bills for the use of Ku, C band or other connectivity options. Lucas said this complexity was challenging to have in the past and not desired by customers.