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What is the difference between AIS and a satellite tracking device?

What is the difference between AIS and a satellite tracking device?

Why would I pay for a satellite tracking service when AIS can do it for free?

A quick warm up to AIS and comparative notes below. There are specific technologies that are built for specific purposes and they are GREAT at providing the intended service for the intended solution. AIS is a good global generalized picture of assets in the loosest terms possible because it’s not what it was built for. We will get into details how/why/what below. There are applications where AIS is good to great, safety while sailing at sea, not getting ran over by a cargo ship at night or low visibility, etc. But there are so many projects coming up that are trying to replace medium to high intelligence satellite tracking devices with low intelligence AIS which is mostly driven by cost. Why would you move from paying nothing for AIS to a small fee per asset for a global commercially ran satellite network? We will explain the technology differences, and please ask us for any analysis of your specific project.

It would be great if we could embrace the data from AIS and rely on it similar to a satellite based transceiver/tracker, but it is simply not possible to compare the two animals. Because AIS works via transponders that are community owned, or satellites that skim signals, the reliability is not controllable or measurable. To start with AIS has no confirmation of message transmission/receipt, and most often are received by community installed and aggregated ground stations that are not centrally owned or controlled. This can be augmented with satellite based receivers that are commercially controlled and predictable, but AIS was not installed or designed around satellite transmission as the antenna’s onboard ships are linearly polarized, and not pointed towards the sky. Both mean the reception is unpredictable and unverifiable. We understand the flow of data extremely well, and can’t compare AIS competitive solutions vs any satellite tracker. AIS is AMAZING at what it was built to do, and that is to prevent collisions and ID nearby vessels and aircraft for safety. What it is terrible at doing is M2M and tracking. The network of AIS is built on a low reliability and unknown coverage of land based transponders, and delayed reports over satellite based AIS relays. And then there is the total deal breaker, the lack of message confirmation for safety and high risk situations. The cost of true two way satellite communications is so inexpensive in comparison.

AIS CANNOT do the following, while satellite transceivers/trackers can:

  • Message Acknowledgement
  • Two way text messaging
  • Command and control
  • Remotely control terminal parameters
  • Query terminal information/location/firmware/diagnostics
  • Rekey or encryption negotiation
  • Communicate with person in distress/emergency
  • Geofencing
  • Sensor monitoring
  • GPS quality/jamming detection
  • Hybrid network support
About the Author
Jeffery Palmer

Jeffery Palmer is an American entrepreneur, inventor, computer programmer, and engineer. In 2004, Palmer co-founded Global Satellite Engineering (GSE); a design and engineering firm for the satcom industry. During his tenure as Director at GSE, he has promoted and inspired the growth of technology for satellite communications. Palmer has given many lectures and works closely with industry leaders to offer custom solutions to clients of the satcom industry.

Contact Jeffery Palmer at

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