made possible by inmarsat

How satellite communications works

Staying in touch from space

Inmarsat is the world leader in mobile satellite communications. Our geostationary satellite fleets span the globe, keeping the Volvo Ocean Race teams connected at all times.

What goes up, must come down. All vessels wishing to use Inmarsat satellite communications require an antenna so that a signal can be both sent and received. Every Volvo Ocean 65 is kitted out with a Cobham SAILOR 500 antenna, which is used for our FleetBroadband 500 service, and two smaller SAILOR 250 antennas for our FleetBroadband 250 service.

These antennas connect the yachts to the closest Inmarsat satellite so that our voice, data and safety services can be harnessed. When one of our satellites receives a data package sent from a team, it’s then routed by the satellite back down to Earth to a Satellite Access Station (SAS). From the SAS, the data then gets sent straight to Volvo Ocean Race HQ in Alicante. If HQ wants to send something back to the teams, it works exactly the same way, but in reverse.

All thirteen of our satellites are positioned in geostationary orbit 35,786km above the Earth. This means that they rotate at the same speed as the Earth, remaining in a constant relative position. Geostationary satellites are positioned parallel to the equator, so with three satellites in a fleet we have global coverage – perfect for a round the world sailing race.

Our award-winning fleet of Inmarsat-4 satellites – which established the world’s first global 3G network – are what the Volvo Ocean Race use for voice and data devices. These satellites link calls from IsatPhone 2 and voice and broadband data sent over FleetBroadband. The Inmarsat-4 Satellite Access Stations are located in Hawaii, The Netherlands and Italy, and are manned 24/7, as well as monitored continuously from our Network Operations Centre (NOC) in London.

In an emergency, the crews know that an alert triggered on their Inmarsat C safety terminal will be routed directly to a Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre via the Inmarsat-3 constellation. And with 99.9% availability, our satellite and ground network won’t let them down – no matter where they are at sea or how rough the conditions.

Our race technology

The Volvo Ocean Race package

Each Volvo Ocean 65 race yacht is fully equipped with Inmarsat’s flagship maritime services: FleetBroadband 500, FleetBroadband 250 and Inmarsat C safety. In addition to the maritime services, each yacht has two of our IsatPhone 2 satellite phones.

As the market leader in global, mobile satellite communications, we offer an unrivalled range of services to vessels large and small. No matter how far you sail from shore, you can pick up the phone, send an email or browse the internet – just as you would at home or in the office. It’s all made possible by Inmarsat.

FleetBroadband

Our flagship maritime service provides dependable, seamless voice and broadband data coverage across the world’s oceans.

FleetBroadband 500 (FB500) equips vessels with top-of-the-range commercial satellite voice and broadband capabilities that are reliable even in the worst weather conditions – just ask a Volvo Ocean Race sailor. This service requires an antenna 60cm in diameter, which is the larger of the two Cobham antennas seen on the stern of every Volvo Ocean 65. FB500 gives an always-on connection at up to 432kbps for applications used by crew, such as email and internet access, real-time electronic charts and weather reporting, and guaranteed connection rates of up to 256kbps available on demand for applications including live TV feeds or even telemedicine video conferencing.

FleetBroadband 250 (FB250) is our mid-range service, requiring a smaller antenna – this is the one above the FB500 on the Volvo Ocean 65s. It provides an always-on connection of up to 284kbps for everyday online applications and guaranteed rates up to 128kbps are also available on demand for live applications, including video conferencing. 

Inmarsat C

Our safety service has helped save thousands of lives at sea and ensures the safety of the 1.2m seafarers who are out at sea every day. Inmarsat C provides two-way data and messaging communication to and from vessels using low-cost equipment that is small enough to fit in any size of boat – even the tightly-packed Volvo Ocean 65s.

IsatPhone 2

Stowed in each of the boats’ liferaft grab bags are two IsatPhone 2 handheld satellite phones. With an unrivalled eight hours of talk time and up to 160 hours battery life on standby, the robust handset includes a GPS tracking function and an assistance alert button to bring peace of mind to both the crews, their families and the support teams back home.