By Sean O’Riordan
A Cork-based company is on the brink of revolutionising maritime communications, after setting a likely world record for the furthest broadband transmission at sea.
The Guinness Book of Records is expected to ratify the 35.9km (19.4 nautical miles) transmission, which was achieved by SEA-Tech, based in Ringaskiddy.
The scientific experiment was to test broadband transmission, without satellite or cellular network, using a SeaFi, wireless maritime communication system.
The transmission was recently made from Roches Point Lighthouse, in Cork Harbour, to a vessel, Ocean Spey.
It was overseen by experts from Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and The National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI), University College Dublin (UCD), and the Naval Service.
Arnaud Disant, the engineer who invented SeaFi, said the achievement “could put Ireland on the forefront of modern, maritime technology”. He said SeaFi is already attracting business from the Netherlands, France, Italy, US, and Chile.
The company is presently working on the technology in Chile, where a large swathe of the coastline has no mobile phone coverage.
“There are two ways to connect to a ship: Either by satellite systems or mobile phone,” said Mr Disant. “Satellites are largely overloaded and soon to become redundant so we need new ways of doing things. Using satellites costs an arm and a leg. Mobile phone coverage can be very random. This [SeaFi] is a heavier carrier of big data, compared to satellites.
“To put it simply, wifi is more like a bare light bulb, while SeaFi is more like a focused flashlight.”
The company said it is easy to retrofit the equipment to lighthouses, of which there are 16,000 worldwide.
Mr Disant said that the technology can provide 2,500 sq/km of coverage from a lighthouse.
“We’re currently getting connectivity nearly all the way to the Kinsale Alpha gas fields,” said Mr Disant. “We’re working on technology to bounce on signals from maritime wind turbines or offshore drilling platforms.”
“Beyond the achievement itself, for an island nation, it’s a vivid example of academic staff teaming up actively together to support the research of a local SME. We hope to sell the technology to various maritime organisations around the world.”