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Iridium® GMDSS – Interview with Iridium’s Vice President and General Manager of Maritime, Wouter Deknopper

Wouter Deknopper, Vice President and General Manager of Maritime

CSN interviewed Iridium’s Vice President and General Manager of Maritime, Wouter Deknopper, about their recent achievement of becoming a recognised Global Maritime Distress and Safety Service (GMDSS) provider.

Why did Iridium enter the GMDSS space?

As the only commercial satellite network capable of delivering reliable and robust coverage to the entire planet, pursuing GMDSS recognition was a natural path for Iridium. For decades, there was only one satellite network approved to provide the service. Iridium saw the coverage gap for mariners and applied in hopes of enhancing maritime safety and security on a global basis. The process took many years, including a thorough review of everything from network capacity and reliability, to technical capabilities and launch plans. Iridium’s inclusion in this critical, life-saving service is monumental; the service brings much needed innovation and choice to this market by ending a decades-long monopoly. 

What is different about Iridium’s GMDSS offering from the competing service?

There are three major differences between Iridium’s GMDSS service and the alternative system, and those focus on capability, coverage, and cost. Iridium’s hardware is smaller and easier to install and requires no additional devices, helping mariners streamline operations, allowing them to cut unnecessary services and hardware. When it comes to coverage, Iridium’s GMDSS offering is unmatched. Unlike the alternative service, it delivers truly global coverage including the Arctic and Antarctic waters of Sea Area A4. Additionally, Iridium’s GMDSS service is more cost-effective in comparison to the legacy system and includes Safety Voice as a standard offering.

Finally, Iridium’s GMDSS terminal, the LT-3100S developed by Lars Thrane, is multi-capable, offering all three GMDSS capabilities from one device – Distress Alert, Safety Voice and Maritime Safety Information (MSI), also known as Iridium SafetyCastSM. The combination of the Distress Alert and Safety Voice call allows the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) to fully understand the nature of the emergency, ensuring the most appropriate assets are mobilized to assist as quickly as possible.

The LT-3100S

How does Iridium GMDSS work?

Iridium Connected® GMDSS terminals can initiate both Distress Alert and Safety Voice quickly at the press of a button. When a mariner presses the distress button, the alert is immediately sent to an RCC. In around 10 seconds, the terminal displays a notification indicating that Iridium’s centralized GMDSS system has received the Distress Alert. Once the system receives and an RCC acknowledges the alert, the system will display an “acknowledged” notification. From there, the terminal will automatically make a Distress Call from the terminal to the RCC, enabling those on board to communicate additional information about the situation, such as the type of emergency, the number of people involved, and other critical information. This process can take place from anywhere in the world and even during extreme conditions because of the reliability, coverage and resiliency made possible by the Iridium network.

How much does the service cost?

Iridium’s GMDSS service comes at no additional charge to subscribers and is an affordable option for ships of all sizes. In the past, smaller vessels may have passed on a GMDSS system because of its cost and cumbersome equipment. But now with Iridium’s offering, GMDSS is affordable and easy to install, making access to highly reliable and necessary safety communications services possible to all.  Iridium offers a number of commercial plans, including standard calling and data communications through Iridium Connected equipment, which includes Iridium GMDSS terminals. The LT-3100S is priced lower and offers more services than the alternative terminal that has been used for the last 20 years.

Can Iridium GMDSS be used alongside the existing Inmarsat service?

Yes, Iridium GMDSS can be paired alongside existing shipboard safety communications systems, adding additional coverage, redundancy and resiliency.

Is Iridium GMDSS only for SOLAS class vessels?

No, Iridium GMDSS benefits both SOLAS and non-SOLAS class vessels. The inaugural Iridium Connected GMDSS terminal from Lars Thrane supplies all three satellite GMDSS services at an affordable price, allowing more vessels to access these life-saving services. Currently, the Iridium network provides safety and security services to more than 50,000 vessels around the world, a large part of which are non-SOLAS. Iridium GMDSS offers the peace of mind and necessary safety to crew onboard vessels of any size anywhere at sea.

 Is the service officially live in every region? If so, how many vessels are currently equipped with Iridium GMDSS?

Yes, the service is available globally. Soon after official recognition the first activation took place onboard a Norwegian trawler, called Trygvason. Since then, we have continued to see activations across the globe, including the Malik Arctica and Alaskan ferries. We also have vessels from Denmark, Sweden, Russia and France being deployed already.

The LT-3100S terminal on the Malik Arctica

Are there any GMDSS updates we can expect in the coming years?

In the near future we expect to see many additional SOLAS and non-SOLAS activations across the world. Another exciting development is that Iridium GMDSS is also being planned for Iridium Certus® terminals. This will not only simplify accessing the service for existing Iridium Certus subscribers, but it will also help vessel managers streamline their overall shipboard communications solutions, ultimately saving space, time and cost.