Alén Space, Egatel and Gradiant develop a solution to digitalise naval communications

Alén Space, Egatel and the Galicia Technology and Telecommunications Centre Gradiant are developing an innovative solution to digitalise communications in the marine industry using the VDES standard (VHF Data Exchange System).

The new VDES standard will represent a digital revolution in maritime communications and will open the door to new uses, such as e-navigation, while increasing crew safety. Soon, VDES will replace the current and saturated AIS (Automatic Identification System).

The system, developed within the SHIPMATE project (Satellite Hybrid Information Protocol for Maritime Telecommunications), will allow vessels to send ashore information about their activity, their crew, and the state they are in, in addition to their position, heading and speed. All this information will be encrypted so only authorised operators will have access to it and it will be hidden from the rest of the vessels and elements within the network.

This initiative has been supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the State Agency for Research, which has granted aid within their Call Collaboration-Challenges for the development of SHIPMATE.

Connectivity, one of the greatest challenges in the maritime industry

One of the greatest challenges of maritime communications with the current available technology is how to maintain connectivity over a long distance from the coast. The current AIS system only allows communication locally and within a few miles from coastal base stations (30 nautical miles). Maritime traffic away from the coast or transoceanic journeys cannot be monitored using AIS, which is why recently new initiatives have emerged to receive AIS messages from satellites, thus allowing monitoring ships on the high seas. However, this system has not been designed for satellite communications, unlike VDES, which considers bi-directional communications through satellites in its design.

The system developed within the SHIPMATE project, by Egatel, Alén Space and Gradiant, guarantees through the VDES standard bi-directional communication between shore stations and vessels, buoys, virtual beacons, or other network elements, a complete monitoring solution for the maritime industry.

Nowadays, VDES is mature enough to begin the development of marketable technology. Beside research projects, there is hardly VDES equipment on the market, either terrestrial or satellite. In addition, there are barely satellite operators commercially exploiting the VDES standard. The innovations of the SHIPMATE project will allow the participants in this initiative to take advantage in the maritime communications market, since the development of all elements involved in the VDES network -coastline station, on-board terminals, and satellite technology-will be addressed.

In addition to the VDES network, the system developed in the SHIPMATE project will have 5G connectivity that will act as a redundant and reserve link for VDES communications. It will also complement the bandwidth available in VDE to send large amounts of data.

The system will be equipped with intelligent algorithms that will allow to select the communications system: terrestrial VDE, satellite VDE or 5G, based on the location of the ship, the coverage and saturation of the different systems and the size and priority of the information to send.

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