Iridium has confirmed that it has now finally begun providing Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) services to the maritime industry over its satellite network, the culmination of an extensive process of approvals and technical evaluations that first began with an initial application back in 2013.
“Overall, our formal evaluation of Iridium took more than four years, and at each step Iridium successfully demonstrated that its Safety Voice, Distress Alert and Iridium SafetyCast maritime environment broadcasts not only met all IMO requirements but in many cases exceeded them,” said Captain Moin Ahmed, Director General of the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO), the regulator of the GMDSS system.
GMDSS is an internationally regulated service, governed by the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention, and is required to be available for distress communications on board more than 60,000 ships today. Inmarsat had been the sole approved provider of GMDSS services to vessels at sea since it was first added to SOLAS more than three decades ago.
Iridium’s GMDSS service is built on the company’s recently upgraded $3 billion satellite network, completed in 2019, utilising the same L-band satellite spectrum used by Inmarsat.
Iridium says that its service functions much like an international SOS button, with the addition of real-time emergency voice calling as standard, and maritime safety information. The first terminal available is the Lars Thrane LT-3100S, which combines those three services within a single unit.
“When we started this process, there was no process. No company had ever tried to do what we have now achieved. In partnership with the IMO, US Coast Guard and IMSO, a system to allow for Iridium to provide GMDSS service had to be invented,” said Matt Desch, Iridium CEO.
“Developing and qualifying a GMDSS system was extremely challenging, so we didn’t want to just do the minimum or what has been done before. We wanted to make our system more accessible, affordable and feature-rich.”
After initially being recognised by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee to provide GMDSS services, Iridium has worked with regulator IMSO to meet all conditions required for service introduction.
Aside from technical integrations around the world, this has included the signing of a Public Services Agreement with IMSO in April of 2019, which details the conditions for IMSO to act as regulator and maintain oversight of Iridium’s GMDSS services, and a Letter of Compliance in December 2019 stating that Iridium was authorised to begin providing service when ready.