Inmarsat uses ships as stepping stones in mesh network trial

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TAMPA, Fla. — Inmarsat said May 19 it has successfully tested a mesh network that enables ships to switch from satellite to terrestrial connectivity by using other vessels as stepping stones to land-based signal towers.

The company plans to use the technology to offload its satellite capacity to terrestrial networks at ports and other congested areas, even if a ship is not close enough to connect directly to the shore.

Following trials in Singapore, the satellite operator expects each encrypted ship-to-ship or ship-to-tower link in this planned network to be able to travel at least 10 kilometers.

Inmarsat said the mesh network, which is designed to extend at least 30 kilometers from land towers before satellites take over transmission, would enable passengers to download a typical HD movie in under a minute.

The maritime mesh network is part of the multi-orbit Orchestra constellation strategy that Inmarsat announced last year, which includes using low Earth orbit satellites starting in 2026 for addressing areas of high bandwidth demand that can’t be offloaded terrestrially.

Inmarsat says the mesh network would deliver up to 100 megabits per second to a single ship. Credit: Inmarsat

The trials in Singapore did not use the mesh terminal being developed for Orchestra, Inmarsat spokesperson Matthew Knowles told SpaceNews, so only distances of 5 kilometers have been achieved to date.

A ship sailed to multiple common points daily in different weather conditions to communicate with a land-based signal tower in the most recent test.  

Inmarsat said the stepping stone aspect of the network was validated by connecting a ship to shore via another ship. 

“We didn’t focus on speeds for this test so no data there yet,” Knowles added.

“We expect this to begin rolling out midway through next year but that will depend on relevant regulator approval in the countries chosen.”

Inmarsat used “various combinations of frequency bands and terminal equipment onboard vessels” for the tests. 

The company is conducting independent spectrum sharing studies for the terrestrial network, which it says could also be deployed at airports and other congested areas.

“We’ll unveil more about the spectrum plan and equipment itself later as more testing results come in,” Knowles said.

According to Inmarsat, five shore stations near Singapore would enable its mesh network to deliver more than 10 gigabits per second of capacity across one of the world’s busiest container ports.