Russell McCulley reviews recent developments and talking points in the offshore communications arena.
Florida-based Harris Corporation followed its summer 2010, $525 million acquisition of CapRock Communications with the purchase of Schlumberger's Global Connectivity Services (GCS) in November, signaling a major push by the communications giant into the offshore oil & gas and maritime markets.
The $397.5 million acquisition of the GCS business from Schlumberger Information Solutions 'significantly expands our position as a global provider of mission critical, end to end managed satellite communications solutions' and strengthens Harris' strategy of capturing a larger share of business among 'an expanding list of vertical growth markets,' Harris chairman, president and CEO Howard Lance said in a November conference call.
The combined businesses will operate as Harris CapRock Communications, to be headed by former CapRock CEO Peter Shaper. The business unit will have some 220 field technicians stationed throughout the world.
Lance said the company expects worldwide demand for commercial satellite services to exceed $8 billion per year by 2015, with much of the demand coming from the energy and maritime sectors.
In late October, CapRock announced it had completed the rollout of iDirect's next-generation Evolution platform on more than 300 of its clients' vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Evolution is built on the DVB-S2 broadcasting standard with adaptive coding and modulation and allows customers to set bandwidth priorities at the application level – for example, programming a critical monitoring function at one location to take precedence over personal e-mail usage at another, Caprock said. The product is designed to provide bandwidth efficiency gains and improved link availability in adverse weather.
'Drilling contractors and fleet operators need to securely support the applications and data needs of multiple parties onboard their assets and make sure vessels can move from one location to the next seamlessly. This requires greater bandwidth utilization,' said Ron Wagnon, CapRock VP and general manager of North America.
Offshore off limits
Maritime satellite communications provider Marlink introduced its own solution for bandwidth control at the recent Offshore Communications conference in Houston. Dubbed @SEAwebControl, the technology provides bandwidth for crew comfort without cutting into mission critical needs.
Marlink's solution blocks access to 'harmful and inappropriate' Web sites and restricts access to bandwidthchewing services, increasing efficiency of a client's communications network. The @SEAwebControl service also ensures that users are compliant with a vessel operator's Internet usage policy by guarding against malicious sites and inappropriate content. If a restricted site is accessed, the service immediately redirects the user to a Marlink site that provides information about the usage violation.
'Access to inappropriate or potentially harmful websites is blocked, protecting the network from phishing attacks and malware such as spyware or objectionable content,' said Marlink CEO Tore Morten Olsen. 'In addition, the service eliminates bandwidth consuming services such as peer-to-peer traffic, increasing efficiency of bandwidth usage.'
The company offers three levels of content and bandwidth control, as well as customized filters to meet specific requirements. Vessel operators can opt to route all LANs onboard through the @SEAwebControl server or select individual networks. The service is available to all VSAT customers and requires no installation of additional equipment.
Better Gulf backbone
Following up on a two-year, $5.2 million agreement to increase IP communications for oil & gas companies, Stratos Global and Alcatel- Lucent announced in 4Q 2010 that the companies are working together to boost IP connectivity between rigs, platforms and offshore vessels in the Gulf of Mexico by bringing IP/MPLS to the Stratos backbone network.
The recently launched StratosMAX II broadband network, powered by Alcatel- Lucent's packet microwave and IP/MPLS technology, provides last-mile radio connections between remote Gulf of Mexico locations and shore. The service gives offshore personnel access to voice service, corporate VPNs, high-speed Internet, Stratos Hot Spot WiFi service and a range of mobile communications applications.
Stratos is deploying Alcatel- Lucent's 9500 Microwave Packet Radio, managed by the 5620 Service Aware Manager; 7750 Service Router, 7705 SAR-8 and 5620 Service Aware Manager for a single converged IP network, allowing new IP services in harsh environments; and professional services, including project management.
The initial deployment of StratosMAX II is expected to be complete by the middle of 2011. Service levels will range up to 10Mbps and provide ultra-low-latency communications not available from VSAT alternatives, Alcatel-Lucent said.
SatCom Global rolled out its Horizon product, a technology designed to provide more efficient use of bandwidth and cut satellite communications costs. The system offers the use of SmartPacket to deliver voice communications at < 2kbps, the Horizon Multi VoIP Unit to enable up to eight concurrent calls through one satellite communication device, voicemail for prepaid and postpaid Horizon users, direct extension dialing for incoming calls, prepaid vouchers, Horizon VoIP connections between remote and office locations, and instant messaging using compressed text.
Horizon also offers accelerated Internet surfing with built-in user awareness tools for data usage. The system compresses data to reduce bandwidth demand, reduces the definition on images and deletes unwanted advertising. An advanced, flexible codec delivers high quality two-way voice and data communications. And the pre-paid and post-paid options help oil & gas and maritime users manage usage and costs.
Network management automation provider Uplogix and the Winegard Company in November announced the interoperability of their respective products, a move that the companies said would improve uptime and reduce support costs to satellite communications.
Winegard's autoacquiring antennas are now compatible with Uplogix remote management appliances, which are able to monitor parameters on antenna controllers and issue commands to enable, reposition, retarget and stow the antenna.
'Uplogix has delivered automation to remote satellite installations for the oil & gas and defense industries for several years,' said Uplogix chief architect and founder James Dollar. 'Integrating with Winegard antennas allows us to expand functionality for our customers who deploy a variety of auto-acquire and stabilized antennas in their networks.'
Reality Mobile has introduced the RealityVision 3.0 upgraded software for real-time mobile video collaboration, which adds support for the Android mobile operating system, allowing users of Motorola Droid devices to access the mobile collaboration platform.
The enhanced software retains operability with the Windows Mobile and Blackberry systems, and allows console operators to import video clips that originate inside or outside the RealityVision network, replay them on demand for authorized users and distribute them across the network in real-time, the company said.
Version 3.0 also enhances the RealityVision system's forensic capabilities, allowing console operators to review instantly the status of sent commands, see details of responses and quickly forward previous commands to other network users. The video history feature now includes archived Screencast feeds and is searchable by user, date and comment information. OE