VHF Data Exchange System (VDES)

VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) is a two-way VHF ship communications system using a global standard designed to support the digital evolution of the maritime community. It can be regarded as an extension of the successful Automatic Identification System (AIS), and the next generation AIS equipment will incorporate both AIS and VDES in the same box to be installed on most commercial ships.

VDES provides a robust narrow-band communication system that allows for two-way high-speed data exchange between ships, satellites and shore. The terminals are small and simple, and the equipment can easily be fitted on-board all ships, ranging from small fishing vessels to large tankers and cruise liners, at a low cost.

The system has been developed as a global international standard. Space Norway has been an active participant in the development of the VDES within the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) since 2015. The satellite component of VDES (VDE-SAT) will extend the terrestrial component of VDES (VDE-TER) to provide global coverage. The World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) in 2015 and 2019 allocated and identified frequencies within Appendix 18 of the Radio Regulations (RR) for use by VDES, including ASM, VDE-TER and VDE-SAT, according to Recommendation ITU-R M.2092.

It is expected that AIS infrastructure both on the shore and ship side will be upgraded with VDES capabilities over the next 5 to 10 years, by replacing existing AIS ship equipment with combined AIS and VDES terminals. In that case, VDES will be implemented without the need for additional infrastructure or equipment to be installed onboard the ships. Given the current widespread presence of AIS equipment on-board ships, this translates to a large potential user base for VDE services. The system is expected to include a number of services, mostly safety related, free of charge to the mariners.

For maritime authorities and safety agencies, as well as port authorities, AIS has become a crucial tool for safe and efficient maritime operations. VDES is considered as an extension of the capabilities provided by AIS today, which can be easily integrated into existing infrastructure, monitoring and management systems. Such a possibility is also being discussed at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) within the context of the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) and the development of eNavigation. Maritime administrations, safety authorities, port authorities and Rescue Coordination Centers (RCC) are responsible for the provision of a number of maritime services which can be provided through VDES.

VDES is designed to support most of IMOs 16 Maritime Services defined in their Strategic Implementation Plan for digitizing the maritime industry. Maritime administrations and EMSA are expected to be the first organizations to utilize VDE-SAT to complement their monitoring, reporting and safety services.

Space Norway has been in the forefront of VDES and VDE-SAT development since 2015, and has been the prime contractor on five European Space Agency contracts in support of the development of VDE-SAT. Key partners in these ESA projects have been Kongsberg Seatex and Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI). Space Norway has also been sub-contractor for Kongsberg Seatex on two ESA projects. These projects have enabled the verification of the VDE-SAT downlink and uplink, development of a VDE-SAT testbed for hardware and software development and service demonstrations, such as ice chart distribution, AIS message rebroadcasting, EGNOS message distribution, search and rescue coordination and Mandatory Reporting System (MRS) for ships. The key asset for these projects is the VDE-SAT payload onboard NorSat-2, which was launched in 2017 as the first VDES satellite in the world.