For the generation of Royal Navy personnel who have grown up with the internet; access to the web, social media, email, and instant messaging, as well as being able to consume rich audio-visual content – live and on-demand – is a basic lifestyle need.

STS Defence have introduced the first fully approved multimedia WiFi system for the Royal Navy, bringing families and home comforts a little bit closer to our naval personnel.

The challenge

Deployment for extended periods without the expectation of modern instant communication and information was identified as a barrier to the recruitment and retention of skilled, dedicated personnel to serve in both the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

For many years, British Forces Broadcast Services (BFBS) have provided dedicated content to deployed forces via C/Ku band satellite, providing live TV content in messes and recreational spaces on-board.

The need to extend the range of multimedia services available on-board was identified during the extended deployments of recent conflicts where personnel were given limited access to online services which led to the recommendation that online services and non-linear TV content should be provided on-board.

The solution

In 2015, STS Defence were tasked with supporting the on-board satellite TV reception and distribution systems throughout the fleet. We established a support infrastructure that managed spares and maintenance, obsolescence and safety, as well as providing post design services and technical documentation. We introduced a 24/7 helpdesk for users to report issues, get advice and, where necessary, request call-outs of our CONDO-trained engineers.

That year, the Royal Navy also trialled a small on-board WiFi network that used 3G and commercial satellite bearers to confirm the feasibility of distributing online services to User’s own devices – known as ‘Bring your Own Device’ or BYOD. Although successful, it became clear that bandwidth, and hence broadband speeds, and security would be major issues.

In 2016, STS Defence and Airbus undertook a second trial which distributed content via X-band MilSat from Airbus’s secure portal to a larger number of wireless access points. This enabled STS Defence, the Royal Navy and the MOD to further develop the solution, establishing the security requirements, improving the user experience and its evaluating its impact on the ship’s operations, as well as developing the roadmap for accrediting WiFi on UK Naval platforms.

Improving life on-board

Once on-board and having agreed to the usage policy and restrictions, users are provided login details. They can then access online services in recreational and mess spaces on their own smartphones or tablets. As well as access to online services, users can stream up to 48 hours of BFBS TV content on-demand, which is delivered from dedicated servers located on the ship. Access to the service – both the WiFi and the external bearer, can be limited at any time depending on the operational status of the platform.

The results

STS Defence has successful introduced into service a deployed internet system that improves the welfare of personnel onboard by giving ships’ companies access to multimedia and welfare services wherever they are whenever, and however, they want to consume it.

The first fully approved, multimedia WiFi-on-board system on a UK naval platform brings families and home comforts that little bit closer to our naval personnel and will have significantly contribute to an improvement in morale, retention and recruitment.