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Here Come Phasor Broadband Flat Panel Antennas

Staying connected has never been so important. It tops the list of priorities for pretty much everybody today. Just as you would never dream of leaving the house without your mobile phone or other device, you would never dream of leaving on a trip to sea without the knowledge that you would be able to use your device whilst on board a vessel.

The one, ubiquitous means of ensuring connectivity on board a yacht is to connect it via satellite. Satellite can be accessed anywhere, and it provides a reliable means of communication even if you happen to be out at sea for long periods, out of reach of other forms of terrestrial communications. To access it, all you need is a clear line-of-sight to the satellite and an all-important antenna. 

Antenna technology has come a very long way. The recent demand for mobility has seen it pushed even further. The rise in popularity of the smartphone, the tablet and other mobile devices has brought data-centric activity to the forefront. In addition, people want to use these devices no matter where they are to run a plethora of applications from social media, web browsing, streaming services, email – and much more. This has created demand for broadband-capable antennas that can meet the requirements of performance and much higher throughput than ever before.

So why flat panel antennas?

We are all familiar with the large radome-encased antennas that sit atop vessels and these have been the staple form of antenna as long as maritime connectivity via satellite has been widely used. However, these stabilized VSATs are very heavy, they are difficult and costly to install and they have many moving parts which makes them prone to failure. When they do fail, it takes time for the parts to be obtained in order to repair them, and this can involve taking the vessel back to port to be looked at by an engineer. It’s not ideal. But there is an alternative, and that is flat panel, solid state antenna technology.

Flat panel antennas (FPAs) have been in use since the 1980s. Narrowband FPAs, which operate in L-Band and are well known to the maritime community, can only produce moderate connectivity speeds and airtime can be prohibitively expensive.  The new development is for “wideband” FPAs (in the Ku and Ka frequencies) which have the potential to empower truly broadband connectivity. However, there have been two principal factors that have held their mainstream deployment back – cost and performance. They are complex pieces of technology and that is why it has taken time to develop FPAs that can finally meet expectations and price points that will enable them to hit the mainstream market. In a report by Northern Sky Research, NSR’s Flat Panel Satellite Antennas, 2nd Edition, published in February this year; it was forecast that cumulative FPA equipment sales will reach $9.1 billion by 2026.

It may also help to take a brief look at what is going on in the satellite sector at the moment. There is a revolution occurring in the satellite communications market. Traditional wideband Geosynchronous  (GEO) satellites are being designed for mobility with very powerful, interlocking spot-beam coverage areas. These are also called GEO-HTS satellite constellations, and include operators like Intelsat. Additionally, new small satellites, which were previously the preserve of the scientific and academic communities, have proved themselves to be highly capable and are moving into commercial deployment. The developments in the market mean that small satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) will provide high throughput connectivity and therefore can deliver mobile broadband applications in more locations globally. There are several LEO-HTS mega constellations on the table that will be deployed in the near future such as LeoSat, OneWeb and SpaceX. The wideband FPA will be the key enabler for both the GEO-HTS and LEO/MEO constellations, empowering the delivery of mobile broadband services.

There are several manufacturers of Flat Panel Antennas that are working towards commercial deployment and they use different technologies. Therefore, it is important to point out that different FPAs will have different capabilities and different successes in different applications. For example, certain FPAs will be more suitable for use in the consumer market whereas others will be highly suited to mission critical enterprise applications. It is important to realise that not all FPAs are the same. Consideration must be given to the requirements of the user. What applications will be run over the service? What level of performance is required? Can the user withstand any interruption in service? How robust or powerful is each technology?

Phasor will be making its unique Electronically Steerable Antenna (ESA) available to the superyacht market for commercial service in 2018. As a flat panel, software defined antenna, this will not only meet but exceed the requirements of the market, which requires enterprise grade connectivity to meet the demands of on-board users. It’s sleek and extremely compact design will allow it to conform to the vessel and it will require nominal maintenance as it is completely solid state. The Phasor antenna is also future proof, which is critical as this is a fast-developing market, and it will operate and interoperate between GEO-HTS and LEO/MEO constellations in the same frequency. It is able to track two satellites simultaneously – essential for LEO small satellite systems. It is part of a wave of new antennas that will soon come to market to accommodate the insatiable demand for mobility, which is driving these mega constellations.

Antenna developers must constantly be several steps ahead to prepare for the changes that are to come in satellite technology and capabilities. One size will not fit all in this market, so IT managers and yacht owners will need to carefully assess their connectivity requirements in order to make the right choice.

The market for mobile broadband is set for extreme growth across all market sectors, but the yacht market is integral to this, and demands a very high standard of connectivity. Phasor looks forward to serving this market with a highly reliable, high performance ESA that re-defines the on-board connectivity experience.

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