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Iridium

Maritime communications systems

Brief

Our client, Iridium Communications Inc, wished to extend its global satellite communication product range into the maritime market. To be successful the new product family had to increase data rate by around 50x compared with legacy products, but without increasing the peak loading of its satellite infrastructure. The brief was to develop the necessary radio technology to allow Iridium to make this revolutionary step in its evolution to higher data rate services.

Approach

To make this radical increase in data rate without impacting its network of 66 space vehicles – which would probably have seemed like an impossible challenge to the original Iridium system developers in the 1980s – required significant wireless system analysis and free thinking.

To meet these challenges, we developed a platform based on the very latest parallel digital signal processing (DSP) technology. This enabled us to perform the significantly larger signal processing task in a compact and efficient manner. Additionally, we developed a multi-element antenna with steerable beams. With no moving parts, the antenna allows the user, who may be moving on the ground or rolling on the sea, to track the fast moving satellites in the sky – a highly novel requirement compared with other mainstream communication systems. Further, a new access protocol to the satellites was developed to support the higher traffic rates.

Benefit

The resulting OpenPort product allowed Iridium to branch out into a highly profitable new market area, as an initial step to higher data rates and airtime revenue. The low cost of the product meant that rollout exceeded expectations and extended to broader vessels than Iridium had originally anticipated.

 Maritime communication systems

The product won the Global Telecoms Business Innovation award in the year after its launch, at which Iridium said “We are delighted to be recognised as a world leader in wireless innovation along with our partners at Cambridge Consultants. It reflects the innovation behind Iridium OpenPort as it delivers a total maritime communications solution, providing a reliable link for anyone operating in one of the world’s most unpredictable environments.  It also reflects the hard work and dedication of our key design and development partner, Cambridge Consultants, who worked with us to develop this truly differentiating product.”