Harris CapRock Touts Maritime Service That Automatically Switches to Best Network

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WASHINGTON — Managed telecommunications solutions provider Harris CapRock has put together a new maritime service that company officials say will keep users connected by automatically switching them to the best available network, satellite or terrestrial, at any given location.

The Harris CapRock One package, utilizing a newly developed multiband antenna and high-tech control system, is compatible with a wide variety of networks around the world and will automatically choose the most appropriate one based on applications, conditions and location, the officials said.

“People now have the expectation that the performance of communications whether they’re in a remote and harsh environment or not are the same as what they experience at home,” said Tracey Haslam, president of Houston-based Harris CapRock. “They want a simple solution.”

Tracey Haslam
Harris CapRock President Tracey Haslam. Credit: Honeywell

For applications requiring low latency — or minimum delay between signal transmission and reception — such as videoconferencing, the system would leverage terrestrial wireless networks, where available, or perhaps the Ka-band satellites in medium Earth orbit operated by O3b Networks, Haslam said. For other applications, or in open water where terrestrially based services are unavailable, the specially designed antenna might tap C-, Ku- and Ka-band signals from geostationary orbiting satellites.

Harris CapRock One, unveiled Feb. 24, has been in the works for the past year but leverages more than a decade of technology development work by other divisions of Harris Corp., said Andrew Lucas, chief technology officer at Harris CapRock. Melbourne, Florida-based Harris’ product portfolio includes a wide range of radio frequency communications gear, including terrestrial network infrastructure and shipboard satellite antennas for government and commercial customers.

“You couple that skill set with our very broad delivery of bandwidth around the world and it’s a very unique combination,” Haslam said in a telephone interview.

Haslam said a ship in port likely would use Harris CapRock One to connect with a terrestrial wireless network and perhaps switch to a longer-range wireless network as it moves offshore. Once the ship gets into the open ocean where terrestrial signals begin to fade, Harris CapRock One would switch seamlessly and automatically to the best satellite service available, regardless of frequency, she said.

Andrew Lucas
Harris CapRock Chief Technology Officer Andrew Lucas. Credit: Harris CapRock

If a storm is interfering with Ku- or Ka-band signals, the system would automatically switch to C-band, which is less susceptible to rain fade, Lucas said.

The two keys to the service are the marine stabilized satellite tracking antenna, whose 2.4-meter carbon fiber dish is capable of handling C-, Ku- and Ka-band signals, and the intelligent communications director, or ICD, which is the brains of the system.

A typical large ship might be equipped with two to three of the antennas, each capable of independently tracking and receiving signals from different satellites or teleports, Lucas said.

The ICD is a box equipped with GPS receivers and a large database of networks around the world. As the ship moves around, the ICD matches its location with the available networks and switches users among them automatically depending on conditions, application and location, Lucas said.

The change “happens completely automatically in very intelligent fashion, which gives us the ability to operate worldwide unattended,” Lucas said. Normally Harris CapRock has to fly in technicians and spare parts to reconfigure antennas to work with the best available network, which is cumbersome and results in communications down time aboard ships, he said.

Harris CapRock One also will allow users to cut down dramatically on different pieces of shipboard equipment, much of which sits idle most of the time, Lucas said.

Haslam declined to say how much her company invested in Harris CapRock One. The company has yet to announce any customers for the service, she said, adding that it is aimed primarily at new builds of ships and oil rigs, as opposed to the retrofit market.

Harris CapRock hopes to announce its initial customers around April, Haslam said.