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C-Bird VSAT System Links Ship to Shore

By Peter Moses

Crew from the Nordic Aurora oil product tanker ship installed the C-Bird antenna while at port in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Maritime Broadband's (Brooklyn, New York) C-Bird VSAT communications system offers a reliable and cost-effective solution that helps the maritime industry deal with two of the biggest challenges in bluewater shipping—crew retention and fuel costs. In the digital age, ships that do not offer personal communications options, such as the Internet and Facebook, are challenged to attract and keep crew on board. This is crucial, as the recruitment and training of new onboard personnel represents as much as 10 percent of all shipping firms' nonfuel operating costs. In addition, continuous online connectivity enables route optimization through live weather input and ocean chart updates. Route optimization represents on average a six percent reduction in fuel consumption for a transoceanic voyage, a substantial economic and environmental impact.

The C-Bird system, which is designed and built in the United States, enables ship-shore communication for enhanced vessel management, while allowing crew members to have global Internet access and the ability to keep in touch with their loved ones. C-Bird can be assembled on board by the ship's crew using common tools—and without a crane. Once in place, C-Bird offers continuous connectivity at sea.

Proprietary Technology
The C-Bird VSAT system uses a military-style antenna that operates on the C-band to connect with geosynchronous satellites positioned around the globe. C-band is the most reliable method for communications transmission and is the industry standard for broadcast television, leisure ships and oil and gas platforms around the world, according to Maritime Broadband CEO Mary Ellen Kramer. C-Band has never been an option for wide-scale use in commercial shipping because of its high cost. Now, Maritime Broadband's proprietary technology allows C-Bird to deliver the benefits of C-band at an affordable rate for cost-conscious commercial ship owners and managers.

The Maritime Broadband C-Bird VSAT antenna was engineered and designed to be deployed on a ship without requiring a radome—a fiberglass covering that typically protects such equipment from being damaged by the marine environment. In addition, proprietary software allows the C-Bird antenna to stabilize and track with a two-mechanical-axis platform, versus the standard three. All this adds up to a 70 percent reduction in cost of the antenna when compared to traditional maritime VSAT antennas.

C-Bird Advantages
The C-Bird system operates in any weather condition without rain fade, and transmission speed remains consistent. This is a significant advantage over Ku-band technology, which is highly susceptible to signal degradation in bad weather. In addition, C-Bird is certified to operate in wind speeds of up to 85 knots and to survive wind speeds of up to 110 knots. It has an automatic self-locking feature for storm protection. Proving the strength of the C-Bird antenna, Maritime Broadband's 'test' antenna installed on their office roof in Brooklyn, New York, not only withstood Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but tracked perfectly throughout the storm and required no post-storm maintenance.

The C-Bird package was designed to provide always-on, unlimited Internet within the typical communications budget of a commercial ship, which usually costs between $1,000 to $1,500 per month and includes only 1 to 2 gigabytes of email-only traffic without Web access. In today's world, seafarers require more access to the Internet. Prices for C-Bird lease and Internet service start at $1,300 a month and provide unlimited access to the Internet at contract speed. With competing C-band solutions priced at $3,500 and $5,000 per month for similar service, C-Bird is by far the low-cost, high-value leader.

Maritime Broadband offers three levels of service speeds: Green, 64K CIR/ 128K MIR ($1,300 per month); blue, 128K CIR/256K MIR ($1,700 per month); and silver, 256K CIR/512K MIR ($2,500 per month).

The above cost includes a lease of the equipment over a 36-month term, and the equipment is under a full warranty for the life of the contract. Lastly, shipping companies enjoy the flexibility of being able to transfer an antenna and service from one vessel to another without a transfer fee or new contract. With other companies, that is usually not the case.

Seamless Connectivity for Personal Crew Communications and Safety
C-Bird allows crewmembers to reach loved ones and friends by telephone or via PC-to-PC calling (similar to Skype) at only a $0.10-per-minute, prepaid rate, a very low cost at sea. It also allows the crew to surf the Internet while off duty, read emails and catch up on what is going on at home via Facebook. This helps establish and maintain high crew morale, which significantly reduces turnover and the resulting costs and resources necessary to recruit and train new crewmembers. This is substantiated by an extensive report this year, the Futurenautics 'Report on Crew Communications,' which outlines in great detail the importance of providing Internet access to crews in bluewater shipping.

This survey garnered the participation of nearly 3,000 respondents across 20 nationalities and included seafarers across the tanker, gas carrier, bulk, car carrier, container, general cargo, offshore and passenger vessel marine sectors. The most notable statistic stated that 69 percent of crews confirmed Internet access was a factor in determining on which ship they chose to work. To continue this article please click here.

Peter Moses is a communications and public relations professional in the New York City metropolitan area. He is a seasoned journalist who has worked in print, radio and television news for more than 30 years.

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