Global maritime satellite market makes waves: US$4.5bn forecast by 2030 as Taiwan aims to boost competitiveness

Allen Hsieh, Taiepi; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

Maritime satellite antennas are gaining considerable traction, surpassing the still-evolving land-based satcom sector, due to the substantial and rigid communication needs at sea as well as an ongoing sectoral trend to replace mechanical antennas.

The maritime sector has reached a significant scale, especially as satellite communication embraces the trend of low-Earth orbit (LEO) and multi-orbit hybridization. Consequently, it has become a fiercely contested arena for antenna manufacturers worldwide, and Taiwan is no exception, with several local manufacturers vying for a share in the maritime satellite antenna market. However, formidable competitors from China and South Korea, such as Intellian, are posing substantial challenges.

According to BWant, an OTA testing provider, the early stages of developing new antenna technologies heavily depend on antenna design. However, successful implementation hinges on accurate antenna measurements. From the standpoint of antenna providers, Chinese and South Korean manufacturers currently outpace their Taiwanese counterparts in antenna technology. To catch up, Taiwanese manufacturers must break away from the binary thinking surrounding mechanical and array antennas and pivot toward the development of hybrid antennas.

The maritime satellite market inherently demands attention, with approximately 80,000 global merchant ships, cruise ships, and thousands of offshore oil drilling platforms, all necessitating reliable communication. Moreover, the demand for high-speed applications, such as image and voice transmission, is steadily increasing compared to the past reliance on low-bandwidth transmissions.

Statistics indicate that the global maritime satellite market is projected to reach US$4.5 billion by 2030, boasting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7%. The adoption of LEO satellites is also expected to surge, reaching 65% by 2027.

BWant emphasizes that the distinguishing feature of hybrid antennas lies in combining the use of motors in traditional mechanically scanned arrays and the electronic beamforming technology in electronically scanned arrays. Particularly in the current climate of heightened demand for connecting to LEO satellites, hybrid antennas employ motors to initially locate the orbit of LEO satellites, followed by utilizing electronic ICs in array antennas to track them.

From an antenna measurement perspective, algorithms in array antennas manage satellite tracking, adjusting time differences through IC. However, the calibration process takes approximately four hours. Therefore, adopting a hybrid approach allows for a harmonious amalgamation of the strengths of both antenna types.

Another hurdle to overcome is the automatic switching between geosynchronous (GSO) satellites and LEO satellites. Considering future usage scenarios, the former consistently offers the advantage of broader coverage. However, despite the faster speeds of LEO satellites, they may encounter signal interruptions when connecting with each other. Implementing a switching system can better accommodate future demands.

To stand out on the international stage, accumulating a positive reputation and gaining international experience are pivotal for antenna manufacturers. For instance, long-standing partnerships, such as Intellian's collaboration with OneWeb, have recently resulted in orders for flat antennas suitable for the maritime market. For Taiwanese manufacturers, aside from achieving technological and design breakthroughs, building customer trust in business and obtaining more flight heritage to be recognized as qualified suppliers by satellite operators are crucial for maintaining competitiveness.