“E-mail is our primary concern,” said e-mail aboard ships project manager for the Coast Guard Anne Marie Sekerka-Bajbus. “The whole impetus for this project is to keep our crew in touch with their family and friends, because they’re away from home for periods of more than three weeks.”
The project is currently at Phase 1 – proof of performance – which is being done at a Telesat testing facility. In Phase 2, slated to begin next month, a vessel in Halifax, part of the Maritimes coast guard region, will be the first to actually put the satellite equipment into service. Phase 3 is for installation and training and also to introduce the system to each of the four remaining Coast Guard regions: Newfoundland, Quebec, Central and Arctic and Pacific.
The satellite signal will be delivered via Telesat‘s Anik F2 satellite, which launched in mid-2004 following repeated delays. The satellite uses Ka-band and is capable of delivering Internet speeds of approximately two megabits per second (mbps).
“There should be no downtime at all,” said Dave Lahey, vice-president of business development for Ottawa-based Telesat. “It’s an extremely robust, fully redundant system that should guarantee extremely high availability.”
For each ship, Telesat will deliver a satellite terminal with a full-motion antenna system as well as an i-direct modem which homes into Telesat’s Montreal teleport.
Coast Guard vessels come in all shapes and sizes, said Sekerka-Bajbus, but “this is a new national system that is going to be rolled out. It’s going to be the same in every region, it’s going to be the same on every ship.”
A total of about 2,200 Coast Guard employees will receive e-mail accounts, which will be accessible through a Web-based mail system, akin to Yahoo or Hotmail.
They will also be able to watch television and have access to Star Choice satellite channels, which are available via the Anik F-2.
Telesat has made numerous Internet applications available over satellite. The Coast Guard isn’t its first seafaring customer. In 2004, the company provided Internet access, distance learning applications and banking services to two shipping organizations that run passenger and cargo vessels between Newfoundland and the mainland. Dubbed MeCA (Marine e-Commerce Applications), the project was a testbed for future Internet-at-sea projects like the one currently underway with the Coast Guard, said Lahey. “That was a proving ground for antennas and the terminal equipment.”
While Atlantic will be the first Coast Guard region to receive Internet via satellite, the second is still up for a debate and a matter of internal review. The four phases will proceed at a pace the Coast Guard is comfortable with, said Sekerka-Bajbus, but she expects the full rollout to be completed over the next two-and-a-half years.
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