Picocell and Satellite Technology Takes GSM to Sea

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GSM coverage is being extended to cruise ships, ferries and merchant ships using picocell base stations and satellite technology, according to vendor ip.access.

On Monday the company announced a deal with Blue Ocean Wireless -- an operator that specializes in the deep-sea merchant maritime sector. It will use ip.access' nanoGSM picocell to provide mobile phone coverage on merchant ships.

A picocell on a ship is attached to a gateway that converts the cellular call into a narrowband IP (Internet Protocol) signal for transmission over the satellite network.

"What it means is that your mobile phone works, whereas before it didn't. So you're able to make calls in private, instead of using the ship telephone," said ip.access CEO Stephen Mallinson.

Ip.access is also working with companies that are installing picocells on, for example, cruise ships and ferries, but Mallinson isn't ready to announce any deals at this point, he said.

Picocells have traditionally been used to improve coverage in office buildings, but are now expanding to other areas, including ships and also airplanes, according to Mallinson.

"Anywhere where it's hard to get coverage, especially in the transport sector, is a candidate for using picocells," he said.

The product itself is also evolving. The current version of ip.access' nanoGSM picocell supports GSM and Edge technology, but a version with support for faster networks is just around the corner. The company will be making an announcement at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Mallinson said.

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