AIS issues: Garmin, Navico, McMurdo, AMEC and SRT

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Nov 13, 2017

Marine_Traffic_worldwide_AIS_vessel_count_cPanbo.jpg

I like to write about marine electronics that facilitate safer, more enjoyable boating, especially new developments that seem headed in that direction. It's been gratifying, for instance, to see the infant Class B AIS that Panbo began covering in 2005 grow into a highly appreciated tool for cruisers, racers and fishermen. AIS is a huge success on many levels, but today the subject is two issues that may concern some Class B AIS users...

Marine_Traffic_worldwide_AIS_nav_aids_cPanbo.jpgThe opening Marine Traffic screenshot shows the 152,552 active AIS transceivers the service was tracking around the world one recent morning, and note that MT misses many vessels because the data is provided mostly by volunteers. So AIS is being used a lot, and moreover the system has proven itself so robust that in recent years the authorities have encouraged expanded uses like AIS aids to navigation (and AIS MOB beacons).

The filtered Marine Traffic screenshot above shows that AIS aids to navigation (AtoNs) are now active in many places, and I'm happy to report that every AIS source and display I'm testing on Gizmo handles these AIS AtoNs well, with one significant exception.

Garmin still not displaying AIS AtoNs

Garmin_MFD_not_displaying_AIS_AtoNs_cPanbo.jpgWhen I wrote about AIS AtoNs in early 2015 I did not know how well they showed up on navigation screens, mainly because there weren't any in my home waters. But now several synthetic AIS AtoNs further mark significant nav aids along the Maine coast, and I recently encountered numerous AIS AtoNs while on the classic snowbird route to Norfolk, Virginia.

In the screen collage above, Marine Traffic is showing five upper Chesapeake AIS AtoNs, three of which were being overlaid on a raster chart by Gizmo's test Raymarine eS128 while we motored down the marked channel. But the Garmin 7612 receiving AIS data from the same NMEA 2000 source, a Vesper XB8000, is not showing the "ER" AIS AtoN. In fact, it's never displayed any AIS AtoN, apparently because Garmin MFDs still do not know how to translate the specific NMEA 2000 PGN that contains the AtoN information.

iNavX_n_Raymarine_Axiom_AIS_AtoN_display_cPanbo.jpg

Note in the comments to that 2015 AtoN entry that a Garmin user could not see known AIS AtoNs around Key West, and Garmin acknowledged the problem thusly:

According to the engineers, that PGN {129041, corresponding to AIS AtoN message 21} isn't currently supported by the AIS 600 and also isn't supported by the MFD's chartplotters.

So for Garmin it's a double problem, though it would seem fairly easy to add PGN 129041 support in an MFD update, and apparently even the AIS 600 can be updated remotely. In fact, Garmin just made marine software updating a lot easier with the new ActiveCaptain app system, but the company also recently acknowledged that "we still do not support this feature {AIS AtoNs over N2K} today and are (still) working on a fix."

Meanwhile, all four of Gizmo's current NMEA 2000 AIS sources provide AtoN information and a whole lot of MFDs, apps and charting programs display it. The examples collaged above are iNavX on an iPad, the Raymarine Axiom 7 running new Lighthouse 3, and the Em-Trak B400 Class B AIS (that's particularly good for a pro look at AtoN info), but similar is true on Furuno TZT2, Simrad NSS evo2 and every other AIS display I have, except Garmin's.

Garmin_Fantom_24_radar_with_AIS_cPanbo.jpgBut is it dangerous not to see AIS AtoNs on your Garmin display? No, I think that exaggerates the issue a lot, and actually I have not yet used such AtoNs as part of my own navigation process. On the other hand, picture how this perfectly fine Garmin Fantom 24 radar screen -- now with a nice onscreen control bar -- could be a little more useful if one or more of those targets was a real or synthetic AIS AtoN that showed.

Also, be aware that one nifty use of virtual AIS AtoNs -- which can be quickly set up on shore, often from towers already transmitting synthetic AtoNs -- is to rapidly mark new navigation dangers, like a recently sunken vessel in a channel. If you're a Garmin MFD user with a NMEA 2000 AIS source, perhaps some more polite customer feedback will get AIS AtoN display pushed up their to-do list.

Navico, McMurdo & AMEC Class B problem?

Navico_NAIS-500_AMEC_Camino_108_McMurdo_Smartfind_M10_AIS_all_same_cPanbo.jpgNow we'll discuss an entirely different AIS issue that may not turn out to be a real issue. So consider this as a head's up to owners of Navico NAIS-500, AMEC Camino 108, and McMurdo SmartFind M10 Class B AIS transceivers, but they should not jump to conclusions. What's happening is that all three of those models are based on an AIS transceiver module manufactured by AMEC, and another AIS manufacturer recently reported what seem like significant performance issues with that module.

Navico NAIS-500 fails TUV certification test cPanbo.jpgIn fact, SRT Marine Systems believes that the AMEC module fails to comply with the Class B AIS certification standard, they commissioned a test by independent TÜV SÜD which confirms that conclusion (above), and last week they forwarded their findings to AIS regulators in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand!

This is discomforting news in at least two different ways. If the AMEC module is truly non-compliant, how did it get certified in the first place and what are AMEC, Navico, and McMurdo going to do about devices already in the field? But then again, was SRT justified in testing and reporting a competitor's product, and will that become a messy norm in the complex world of certified marine communications products?

Again, please don't jump to conclusions either way. The good news is that the certified marine communications world now has to figure out exactly what's going on here, and we should eventually learn the results. In the meantime, let's take a closer look at AIS certification and also at how the affected companies are responding to SRT's report.

SRT_n_TUV_NAIS-500_testing_snippets_cPanbo.jpgFirst, SRT agreed to share PDFs of their statement regarding Navico-AMEC Class B AIS emailed to Panbo on Nov. 3rd and also TUV's limited test of a Navico NAIS-500 just then completed. One thing you'll learn is that this issue purportedly came to SRT as NAIS-500 devices mistakenly sent in by dissatisfied customers who thought SRT made them. (SRT did make Navico's previous NAIS-400, and so the mistake also highlights the issue's confusing competitive angle.)

Additionally, collaged above are the two (of many) IEC 62287 criteria that failed in TUV's testing of the NAIS-500 -- Adjacent Channel Selectivity and Spurious Response Rejection -- and SRT's explanation of what those failures could mean to a NAIS-500 user. There's a lot of engineering and testing nuances to all this, but an expert I consulted said that the results are indeed distressing if the test was valid.

FCC_search_NAIS-500_is_AMEC_Camino_cPanbo.jpgMy effort to better understand this situation included a search of the FCC's OET authorized AIS database, one of the beauties of the certification process. I learned that while Navico's NAIS-500 was only authorized in Octoberabys 2016, it's "electronically identical" to the AMEC Camino that was FCC approved in early 2014.

Therefore, that long list of downloadable test documents at lower right above applies to the NAIS-500 as well as the Camino 108 series (and the McMurdo M10), and if you care to dig around, I believe you'll be awed by the depth and breadth of testing involved. For instance, what TUV tested only comprises a small fraction of a single, though critical report (AMEC Camino test by Phoenix PDF here).

It's no surprise that such testing takes many months and costs well over $100,000, that an automated mesh communications system so tightly regulated works well, and also that many marine electronics brands like Navico turn to specialists like SRT and AMEC for certified AIS products.

contrasting_Adjacent_Channel_Selectivity_testing_on_same_AMEC_Camino_AIS_cPanbo.jpgNow we're down to the conflict at the heart of this issue. The TUV test at left indicates that when the NAIS-500 is exposed to transmissions on an adjacent VHF channel, its PER -- that's Packet Error Rate, as is in AIS messages failing to deliver -- approaches an abysmal 100%. Yet the Phoenix Testlab results from 2014 show that the purportedly identical electronic module passed the maximum 20% PER, in most cases by a lot.

Explanations for this inconsistency can be extreme, like the notion that AMEC submitted special "golden" devices for testing, or that TUV worked with an oddball lemon. The norm, incidentally, is for a company like AMEC to submit numerous off-the-shelf units for the testing house to choose from, and SRT says they supplied all five of their returned or purchased NAIS-500's to TUV, all of which had tested badly in their own lab.

There seem to be many less dark and purposeful explanations, however, and they're covered in AMEC's response to SRT's findings. But first, let me add that when I learned that the problems applied to AMEC AIS transceivers that have been out in the field since 2014, I especially wondered if any users had detected them.

Understand that a somewhat frightening aspect to the receiver problems SRT and TUV detected -- and actually one of the reasons I feel obliged to write about them, and another reason SRT was justified to blow the whistle -- is that the affected AIS transceiver might work fine much of the time, but much less well in certain circumstances like areas with lots of AIS and other RF traffic.

But while it might take a lot of users to detect a subtle performance issue, Doug Miller -- the highly reputable (in my opinion) proprieter of Milltech Marine -- had a lot to say about his positive experiences with AMEC Caminos, paraphased here:

I sell a lot of AIS products. Well over 12,000 units so far and I sell lots of different brands based on OEM technologies from SRT, AMEC, Vesper and others. I sell what customers want based on features, price, brand, connectivity and essentially anything that matters to the customer. I don't try to steer customers one way or another. I try to honestly represent every product and let the customer choose. Based on that our most successful transponder brands are AMEC and Vesper...

...They are tireless. I send them feedback or a customer question and I get answers right away. If I ask for a feature based on customer feedback, both companies are quick to respond and in many cases implementing a fix or new feature. Both companies are very product quality driven. When I have had issues with defects or functionality concerns, both have been insanely quick to get the issues resolved...

...we have never had a single customer report either of these issues as a problem. In fact, the CAMINO-108 has consistently had a 5-star review rating and we see very high customer satisfaction with the product. FYI, we publish all reviews for all products regardless of the rating. Customers are free to publish any review they want and there is no incentive to publish a review - good or bad.

...I find this whole situation with SRT very sad and to be honest very discouraging... Given the chance to rectify the issues, I know AMEC would do everything possible to fix any so-called issues. But again, these issues have never been raised by any of my customers.

And what about McMurdo and Navico, who only heard about the possible problem with their AMEC made and certified Class B AIS transponders very recently? McMurdo told me by phone late last week that they have temporarily taken the Smartfind M10 off the market until the issue is resolved, and Navico already had the following press release ready when I contacted them:

Navico's number one priority is the safe use and performance of its systems and products. We introduced the NAIS-400 Class-B AIS to the market 5 years ago and have not received any reports or concerns regarding its performance over the thousands of units shipped to our partners and consumers around the world. In addition, the NAIS-500 Class-B AIS, introduced earlier this year, has been tested and certified by an approved independent test lab.

Recently we have been made aware by SRT, our former supplier and a competitive AIS manufacturer, that they have concerns about the NAIS-500 Class-B AIS Transceiver. We are in the process of analyzing this report and have sent units to an additional approved independent lab for review.

If Navico finds through further testing or analysis of reports that any legitimate performance issues exist, we will take immediate steps to ensure these issues are addressed.

So the brands selling AMEC Class B technology are taking this issue quite seriously, but not surprisingly it's the AMEC crew who have burned the midnight oil lately. On Saturday I received this downloadable 24-page PDF titled AMEC's Statement on Panbo, and it's loaded with details about possible flaws in the analysis done by SRT and TUV.

In fact, AMEC even claims to have used the same Spurious Response Rejection testing protocol on SRT-made Class B transceivers, and that their PER failed badly, as illustrated below.

I have no idea how this situation will be resolved by the regulators and companies involved. But I do trust that it will be resolved, and I'll certainly try to report on developments as they happen (in the comments below, where you and all parties are encouraged to participate). Corporate embarrassment, product recalls, and maybe worse do seem possible, but, overall, I'm confident and thankful that the highly engineered and regulated AIS system will carry on just fine.

AMEC_tests_SRT_Spurious_Response_Rejection_to_failure_cPanbo.jpg

PS 11/17: SRT sent in a PDF titled SRT comments on Alltek AIS Class B Non-compliance Statement

Comments

Hi Ben,
Under one of my other hats I've been heavily involved in evaluating VHF & HF communication radios for their compliance with various (mostly NTIA) technical requirements. One VERY prominent thing I've noted is the serious distain most marketing folks have with the entire area - statements like "none of our customers have ever reported any issues..." are quite common - but the "issues" their customers ARE reporting are often written off to things other than where they really belong - receiver problems (selectivity in particular) are quite subtle, and unless you have a trained ear or an extensive test equipment setup, they can be quite difficult to deal with.
An example - I had a Standard-Horizon GX1600 on Atsa for almost two years, but it's lack of selectivity and front-end IMD performance finally drove me to replace it with an Icom M506, which has significantly better performance. But few people who weren't long-time radio techs listening to that radio would have recognized what the true problems were.

For digital services, the problem is even worse, because even a "trained ear" has little to work with other than a feeling of "inadequate performance sometimes" - nobody I know has the tools aboard to properly diagnose these problems, so we are consigned to reading about actual lab testing - and I would examine even the lab testing very carefully!

In the two-way radio world, I've been handed lab test results from "Certified labs" that were demonstrably false in one or more areas - usually things like receiver selectivity and spurious response. It is my firm belief that you can buy a lab report that says whatever you want it to say, as long as there is no risk of having the government get interested in it.

Goofing off in Martinique today - back in FL by the weekend. Atsa is getting new water tanks in Deltaville :)


Posted by: Hartley at November 14, 2017 9:56 AM | Reply

"But is it dangerous not to see AIS AtoNs on your Garmin display? No, I think that exaggerates the issue a lot"

As long as the AIS Aton is just there to highlight the location of an existing actual on station nav aid, I would agree with you. However, I believe that it is the intention of the CG to reduce the number of actual nav aids by replacing many of them, such a channel sea buoys, with AIS Atons. Then I see dangerous situations that might occur if one cannot see the now missing nav aid on their AIS as an AID Aton.

Posted by: G Schneider at November 14, 2017 11:15 AM | Reply

Thanks, Hartley, though your experience is not reassuring. And congrats on going abroad while your boat gets surgery.

G Schneider, I agree with you but have no knowledge of the USCG actually replacing physical AtoNs with the Virtual AIS variety. I'm sure the idea is attractive, and it's even arguable that the money saved could be better spent elsewhere -- it's not just AIS but also GPS that are making many nav aids less critical -- but I just don't think it will happen fast.

Incidentally, there are a few Virtual AIS AtoNs out there now, like the "Manana Isl VAIS 14M" now in view of the Panbo HQ AIS listening station:

http://boatbeaconapp.com/station/7136

Posted by: Ben at November 14, 2017 11:44 AM | Reply

Hi Ben,

St. Kitts today :)

Regarding AtoN display, I've found them useful, though certainly not essential in our travels. They serve as a useful indicator of AIS function, including when you might expect USCG availability (or NOAA WX reception) when approaching a coastline (or when there just isn't any other AIS traffic visible). In addition, they sometimes provide useful indicators of where the big iron boats are going to go - for example, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge North of Annapolis has AIS AtoN marks on both channel centers under the bridge - handy!
The only negative I can think of is that our RayMarine e95 doesn't see them any differently than other AIS traffic, and will start flashing them red when we approach them :) They can also hide the underlying physical aid symbols at certain zooms.

Posted by: Hartley at November 15, 2017 9:39 AM | Reply

Having spent decades building, testing and certifying defence, automotive and other systems I've learnt several golden rules. The caveat being that certification testing is only ever repeatable and rarely representative of in service conditions.

All certification results shall be validated in the field. This does two things. Firstly it can surface issues or edge cases not covered during testing. Secondly, over time, a large historical data set emerges which can be very helpful when dealing with issues like this where empirical and test results are misaligned. Unfortunately comments like 'customers have reported no issues' is not useful data.

I like the responses from the vendors and look forward to Panbo and others providing us an update on whether this issue can be duplicated by other test facilities.

I'm critical of the transition of certification and standards from the military to the private sector and now the consumer product sector. That 'ship has sailed' but we are now very reliant on adhoc entities conducting good engineering, good testing and good master data management. When marketing, finance or decision makers, who do not have a science or engineering background and significant experience, call the shots then trouble will emerge eventually.

One question I have for the experts (not me) is "is the current certification test coverage sufficient?" As this technology is relatively new we might to update the testing to reflect new learning.

Posted by: Ian Falconer at November 16, 2017 3:49 PM | Reply

Ben

Thanks for the details in the article. What are your thoughts on the
new breed of VHF radios that package gps and AIS such as Standard
Horizon's GX 2200 that would be linked to a MFD via 0183. It seem like
a simpler/less expensive approach to a separate transceiver.

Tony

Posted by: Captn TJ at November 17, 2017 9:29 PM | Reply

Hi Tony,

Great question and I thought I might jump in.

The current VHF/AIS combo's on the market are a great integrated solution. However you should be aware that these will only receive AIS transmissions. Unless the unit is also a certified Class B transceiver too, they will not transmit. I expect there will be some integrated VHF / AIS Class B transceiver that are fully certified available soon.

If your question related to the display of the AtoN data, this is a different issue. All good quality dual channel AIS receivers will receive and fully decode all AIS transmission types: if the device is not a certified AIS Class A or Class B transceiver, then you should check with the manufacturer that the receiver will fully decode (extract) all the information in all AIS transmission types - particular AtoN transmissions. The issue raised by Ben is that some displays are not able to display all the information that may be contained in an AtoN transmission. Information such as live weather, current, depth, air-bridge clearance etc. This is down to the display and that will depend on whether the manufacturer of the display as designed it with embedded fields where that information can be shown.

Good luck navigating AIS!

Simon

Posted by: Simon Tucker at November 18, 2017 9:47 AM | Reply

SRT comments on:

Non-Compliance of ALLTEK / AMEC AIS Class B to Required IEC Standards*

Friday, 17th November 2017

This document has been prepared and issued by SRT Marine Systems to provide factual clarification following the recent public issue of an independent test report confirming non-compliance of ALLTEK / AMEC AIS Class B devices.

• SRT’s sole objective is to ensure the integrity of AIS, and therefore its core operational performance and in turn the safety and security of all users.

• The overlaying functionality, form factors and quality of products differs between manufacturers - although also linked to the technical operation of the product - is not relevant to this particular notification of non-compliance with the IEC & ITU defined AIS Class B transceiver standard. SRT’s statement is purely in relation to the specific performance requirements stated by the international AIS Class B standards.

• It is important to differentiate between testing and compliance with a specific international technical standard (such as AIS Class B) and product functionality and product quality; although all are ultimately interlinked. Quality manufacturers such as SRT will also submit their products to extensive additional testing based upon years of accumulated experience.

• The AIS technical protocol standards are defined by specific ITU and IEC standards, in the case of AIS Class B these are primarily defined by documents IEC62287 and ITU-M.R1371. These documents provide absolute clarity on the prescribed test methods and criteria which must be followed by manufacturers and test houses.

• Compliance with the technical standards exactly as specified is critical to the core performance of a product – this is particularly the case for radio communication products to ensure robust consistent performance and interoperability between products from different manufacturers. Independent testing is required for certification to ensure compliance and therefore the underlying core performance and capabilities of the product. This in turn supports and enables product functionality.

• Issues arising from non-compliance with a technical standard, may not be immediately obvious to end users. But they may in fact be causing them to miss vital communications and performance functionality. In this specific case, the result will be missed transmissions and thus potential serious safety issues.

• TUV is the world’s leading and largest government accredited test organisation, with decades of experience of testing radio communication products ranging from AIS to mobile phones. In SRT’s 25 years of radio communication technology, product development and certification, they have always been the most challenging and are considered to be the gold standard. Independent testing by such organisations is used by responsible quality product manufacturers to aggressively challenge and validate the performance and functionality statements they make about their own products. TUV is accredited by USA and European governments and authorities. https://www.tuv-sud.co.uk

• For the avoidance of doubt SRT manufactured and supplied the NAIS400 and not the NAIS500. Any product based on SRT technology and or manufactured by SRT is either clearly marked or upon inspection the SRT logo and name can be seen on the electronics inside.

• The issue that caused the end users to return NAIS500 units was diagnosed as a poor connection between the internal GNSS antenna connector and the internal PCB. In SRT’s opinion this arose from a combination of poor design and manufacturing. Although not manufactured by SRT, we repaired the units and returned to the users. This issue was in addition to the core performance non-compliance discovered during pre-dispatch product quality performance testing by our Customer Support Team. NAVICO was immediately notified.

• We note that AMEC does not deny and or refute that their AIS Class B is non-compliant to the requirements of the AIS Class B standard as defined in IEC62287.

• We note that AMEC seeks to mitigate the material issue of non-compliance with the IEC AIS Class B standard by suggesting that because AIS Class B’s have two receivers they will cope with the issues that arise due to the material out of specification operation of the Alltek receivers. In SRT’s opinion this does not make it acceptable for the product to be non-compliant to the standard, nor does it in fact mitigate the user risks of not successfully receiving or transmitting.

• We note that AMEC’s illustrated test set-up is incorrect and not compliant with the prescribed set up and methods defined in IEC62287-1 Ed3.0.

• In AMEC’s report, they refer to ‘another SRT AIS device’ whose spurious response is different to the standards. This is misleading and factually incorrect since the test report they identify is for a different and unrelated product.

• All SRT products are designed, engineered and manufactured in Europe to the highest international standards. Only high quality materials and components are used. All products undergo extensive internal and external independent technical testing by fully accredited test houses, such as BSH and TUV. In addition every product undergoes extensive and prolonged functionality and reliability testing with professional mariners and coast guards. This extensive and robust testing ensures the highest possible quality and performance. All statements made by SRT about our products are fully supported by independent parties.

Posted by: Simon - SRT CEO at November 18, 2017 9:56 AM | Reply

Hi,

In regards to the AtoN discussion. SRT has been producing AIS AtoN since 2006. Today we produce and sell a range of three fully certified AIS AtoN products and are seeing a wide range of very interesting deployments. The new generation of AtoN such as our Carbon and Chronos products have ultra low power consumption and massive sensor integration ability and so their installation is now much cheaper and easier - in turn we are seeing a huge uplift in both the number and scale of AtoN deployments being implemented. We recently supplied over 100 units to Serbia!

The use of the virtual AtoN feature is fairly standard now, and in some configurations one AtoN can transmit 50 virtual AtoN's. However, in almost every deployment we are seeing customers integrating a range of sensor systems, which in turn offers interesting data for the mariner. Some examples that we have seen include: live current, tide and depth / lock status / air-bridge clearance / swing bridge status and of course weather - and we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Any certified AIS transceiver (Class A or Class B) will be able to receive and decode any transmission from a certified AIS AtoN transmission. In the case of a receive only AIS device I suggest you check with the manufacturer as these may not be able to decode everything properly.

However, the real issue is once the transmission is decoded, can your screen display all this additional information. And of course the question remains as to how useful this information might be to any particular mariner. With so much information its a real challenge for the display providers, but we are certainly seeing them awake up to the value of this data to their customers and thus start integrating this capability. In the commercial vessel world where ECDIS systems are used, this is already a major area. I therefore suspect that in the relatively near future, we will start to see much better display capabilities for the quickly growing amount of data available through AIS. Its not technically challenging - its just something that needs to be fitted into the many functionality priorities that all product development teams struggle with.

As a matter of interest in our own GeoVS system which is used for port and coastal monitoring such data is displayed in a variety of formats, but we also use the data to create a real time augmented reality visualisation of the weather and sea state to enhance situational awareness.

In the mean time there are quite a few PC and cell-phone applications that will display data contained in AtoN transmissions very nicely. Or the em-trak B400 or A200 (manufactured by SRT) have specialist integrated display capability.

I hope this industry perspective is helpful.

Rgds

Posted by: Simon - SRT CEO at November 18, 2017 11:30 AM | Reply

Did you ever contact AMEC to let them know they might have a problem and giving them a chance to respond/correct it before going for the jugular?

In the absence of that, the more cynical among us might go so far as to suspect you of supplying a unit to the TUV that was "guaranteed" to fail.

Posted by: Saffy The Pook in reply to Simon - SRT CEO at November 18, 2017 11:52 AM | Reply

Simon, that VERY interesting! I have no idea whether my MFD can display sensor readings from AtoN devices, but I'd love to have the ability to see things like wind and waves at buoys (assuming the sensor is actually there! without having to negotiate the NOAA web labyrinth on my fone to see their buoy data.

Ben - something NEW to test!

Posted by: Hartley in reply to Simon - SRT CEO at November 18, 2017 12:23 PM | Reply

Hi Saffy,

Thank you for your straight forward comment and questions. I understand how some might see our actions. However the fact is that this product does not comply with the AIS standards and the specific non-compliance may cause safety issues to users. SRT is heavily invested in AIS and thus the integrity and reliability of the technology is very important to us - and I believe to the marine community in general.

Based on historical experience in unregulated markets we believe that AMEC would have been aware of these issues for some time, and thus of no surprise. Indeed, I am informed by our engineering team, that any reasonably capable engineer would immediately see from the PCB design that compliance is not possible.

The testing of a product against the IEC standard requirements are not subjective. The required performance and protocol requirements and the relevant test methods are explicitly prescribed in the IEC standards. These exist to ensure that AIS works properly for the protection and benefit of users. We as technology and product developers must create products that comply.

As we have stated, we first conducted testing ourselves on the units returned to us. Thereafter multiple units acquired at random from the open market were given to TUV for their testing to check our own testing. Irrespective of this, each and every product manufactured should meet the standards.

SRT has been in business for 25 years providing technologies and products to many entities around the world, from the leading Navies and Coast Guards to workboat and leisure boat owners. We take our business extremely serious and would never play games by seeking to misrepresent product testing.

These are very unfortunate factual results. And once confirmed we immediately informed all those concerned. We would have been wrong and irresponsible not to do so. Frankly speaking I would prefer that all us manufacturers complied properly to the relevant standards and competed normally on product quality, functionality and price.

Rgds

Simon

Posted by: Simon - SRT CEO at November 18, 2017 4:25 PM | Reply

Yes, you mentioned previously that you're protecting the integrity of the technology.

I still wonder how a PCB design that was, according to your engineers, inherently incapable of compliance managed to pass its pre-market compliance tests the first time around?

Posted by: Saffy The Pook in reply to Simon - SRT CEO at November 19, 2017 11:03 AM | Reply

"What are your thoughts on the new breed of VHF radios that package gps and AIS such as Standard Horizon's GX 2200 that would be linked to a MFD via 0183. It seem like a simpler/less expensive approach to a separate transceiver."

Captn TJ, I think that the SH GX2200 was a very useful innovation, but I'm not sure that the needed NMEA 0183 AIS connection was ever "simple"; that's why I prefer VHF/AIS rx radios with NMEA 2000 interfaces. But I also think that lots of boats should spend the extra few hundred dollars to have full transceivers and actually be part of the safety network.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Captn TJ at November 19, 2017 11:04 AM | Reply

I purchased a GX2200 last year as part of a comprehensive electronics upgrade, including multiple MFDs. I did the install myself and though I'd never worked with NMEA 0183 before, I didn't find it difficult to get it connected and working with my MFD. It probably helped that the GX2200 is the only 0183-connected device on the boat and is physically adjacent to the master MFD but at least under those circumstances I wouldn't dissuade anyone from getting a GX2200 due to its lack of NMEA 2000.

Posted by: Saffy The Pook in reply to Ben at November 19, 2017 11:19 AM | Reply

Saffy - Compliance testers are not RF electrical design engineers. And in any event they would never comment on the design/engineering of a product. Their job is solely to test the product in the prescribed manner to determine whether or not is passes the required performance standards.

Looking at the test report in detail, it is our view that the spurious response sweep test was not conducted properly by the test house used by AMEC, or perhaps the production version of the product on the market is different to the one submitted for the testing. Perhaps a combination of both.

Sometimes there are slight performance variances between units due to very slight tolerance margins of individual components and manufacturing which may result in the odd unit being very marginally outside of specification. However good product design builds in a manufacturing tolerance safety margin to avoid this, plus good practice manufacturing should require product testing of each unit made before shipping. In this instance the deviation from the standard is so great that this is not a possible cause.

Its difficult for us to say and really not for SRT to explore further.

We too are perplexed and surprised by the situation - this is why we commissioned TUV to check our results. But the fact remains that products taken from the market that claim to be and are thus certified as being compliant to the AIS Class B standard, are not.

Rgds

Simon


Posted by: Simon - SRT CEO at November 19, 2017 11:33 AM | Reply

Hi Hartley, I'm not aware of any AIS AtoNs broadcasting weather or other extra data in the section of U.S. East Coast where I've been testing lots of AIS displays.

But I do believe it's happening in Sweden, the UK, Alaska, the St Lawrence Seaway, and elsewhere. It would be great if Marine Traffic and other web AIS providers showed such data, but MT doesn't even show basic AIS AtoN data well. Let's encourage them to!

Also, the USCG seems to have a strong preference for Synthetic and Virtual AIS AtoNs broadcast from onshore towers -- probably a budgetary thing -- but it takes a Real AIS AtoN to pack extra sensors for local live weather data.

MT does vaguely show some of the USCG base stations, which have MMSIs 00366xxxx. Check Cape May and also here, where the zoomed-in satellite map layer clearly shows the tower:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/home/centerx:-69.475/centery:43.898/zoom:12

Posted by: Ben in reply to Hartley at November 19, 2017 11:42 AM | Reply

Hi Ben,

As you rightly point out, I believe the USCG have some AIS Base Stations along the coast line. One of the features of an AIS Base Station is virtual/synthetic AIS AtoN transmission functionality. We see a lot of our authority customers increasingly using the virtual/synthetic functionality of SRT Long Range CS100 Coast Station. So as you say it makes financial sense to use existing infrastructure where possible - although their 'deployment' of virtual AIS AtoN is limited to their fixed antenna range.

Physical AIS AtoN are sometimes used to extend the range of shore fixed base stations using the 'chaining' functionality (not to be confused with its repeater functionality) of an AIS AtoN. This allows control messages, such as a virtual AIS AtoN, to be relayed/bounced by an AIS AtoN and or a series of AIS AtoN and ultimately being spat a long way away from the originating Base Station - effectively dramatically increasing their range.

In general the deployment of physical AIS AtoN is quite new and the adoption and sophistication of use of their features varies greatly between markets. however once deployed its easy to integrate sensors and start to make use of all the functionality that the IEC and ITU standards require us to embed. We have seen quite a few customers gradually install sensors over time as their budgets allow and also their understanding of what it can do improves.

Its an exciting area of real time data exchange that I expect will grow substantially in the coming years.

Posted by: Simon - SRT CEO at November 19, 2017 12:26 PM | Reply

Hi Ben,

Well, maybe one will show up in range one day :) I see the towers on my e95 (still LH2 @ ver 19) as a unique symbol,not the dubious grey circle one in MT. MT also shows channel and other AtoNs as circles ('cuz they aren't moving!) of various colors. I suppose that MT users really don't care about them as they're not using MT for navigation.
I've used the tower symbols on our e95 to puzzle out where the USCG comm towers are - sometimes useful if you're talking to them and the tower the watchstander chooses isn't working (or worse, they're transmitting simultaneously on 3 or 4 and all we hear is garble!)
As a true comm geek, I've even watched VHF propagation fade in and out by noting the AtoNs and towers I could see from a couple hundred miles up the coast :) If the CG starts repeating AIS, they'll really confuse me.

Simon, you are to commended for your VERY civil replies to Saffy's challenges. If the certification authority feels further research into this question is required, I'm sure they can have suitably sourced units tested. As Simon alluded to, the certification of most electronics is NOT done by the authority (USCG, FCC, etc.) but rather by labs that do this testing for the manufacturers. My personal experience suggests that these labs are far from perfect.

Posted by: Hartley in reply to Ben at November 19, 2017 4:16 PM | Reply

Hi Hartley,

Thanks for your kind comment. We welcome all challenges and comments - I think this makes for a healthy and sensible debate about an important matter - which can only serve to enhance general understanding of AIS, its capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. I will do my best to provide prompt, clear and factual answers to any question. At this point I should say that I am, as ever, eternally grateful for the intensive support from our various engineering teams as they are the real experts in these things and help me to appear both intelligent and knowledgeable!

Rgds

Simon


Posted by: Simon - SRT CEO at November 19, 2017 4:51 PM | Reply

Please excuse my impertinence, Hartley. We'll have to see what AMEC's response is to the situation but the fact that SRT never informed AMEC of SRT's informal findings and then paid for a test of their competitor's product and is now publicly attacking them with the results represents what I would consider cutthroat business practice. Given this, I'm disinclined to give the benefit of the doubt regardless of SRT's repeated assertions of pure motives.

I certainly hope that AMEC can document and demonstrate that their products are in compliance and, if not, that they do right by their customers. If the former then I hope that SRT does the right thing (or is made to do the right thing) and publicly apologizes to AMEC for their actions and compensates them for any lost business.

Fortunately for those who are questioning both AMEC and SRT as a result of all this, there are well known and respected alternative AIS suppliers.

Posted by: Saffy The Pook in reply to Hartley at November 19, 2017 5:07 PM | Reply

Hartley, let me add that "Saffy the Pook" (whoever he or she is) expresses an opinion I've heard in much less polite terms. We're in uncharted waters here, and the eventual embarrassment (or worse) could go either way.

Which is also why I hope that anyone reading this thread does NOT let it color an AIS buying decision, at least until we see more testing and regulatory response.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Hartley at November 19, 2017 5:30 PM | Reply

Hi Ben,

I took the time to read all of the test reports you included links for, and frankly, I'm not impressed with AMEC's response to SRT. Most of the verbiage seems to be noise intended to obscure the issue, and I note that they did NOT do their testing with the same frequencies that TUV did. Receiver spurious testing is a VERY tedious process, and shortcuts abound - note that TUV tested every frequency from 109.77 to 165.48 MHz, plus all of the calculated image and other possible (and sometimes likely) frequencies. Note that the real problem frequencies they identified were within the 109-165 MHz area. Phoenix (AMEC's lab) on the other hand, tested only the calculated frequencies (also finding no issues) and then included a vague statement about "sweeping the unwanted generator" - over what range and in what manner is not revealed.

In this subject, there should be real, hardware answers as to whether the findings reported by SVT are true or not - we don't have to listen to mounds of "well, it will work fine anyway" and "the customers haven't complained" -- just take a couple of properly-sourced units, and test them (in yet another lab) using the proper protocol. Either SVT has identified a problem or they haven't.

I'm sure that industry figures are upset that someone is questioning the very expensive lab testing they bought - but the means to acquire the truth are available, and we DON'T have to put up with the "he said/she said" BS that seems to mark most of today's political "debate". :(

Posted by: Hartley in reply to Ben at November 21, 2017 12:07 PM | Reply

AMEC Comments:

First of all, we would like to declare that the AMEC AIS class B product and its OEM variations under Navico or McMurdo brand are legal and safe products which are fully certified and type approved by CE R&TTE/RED, BSH, USCG and FCC.

Since our foundation in 2006, Alltek Marine is dedicated to developing advanced technologies for AIS solutions. We were the first to introduce the AIS MOB beacon which is fully certified with EN 303 098 standard. This year, we have launched the world’s first SOTDMA class B black box approved to IEC 62287-2 Ed. 2.0:2017. Our innovative and reliable AIS transponders are trusted by our clients from more than 55 countries and have been installed onboard of tens of thousands vessels.

We have to say that we disagree with SRT´s approach in the “entire subject”. Alltek were not given the chance to verify whether the units submitted by a competing party were manipulated or damaged.

Because we were not informed by SRT in any way, we had no opportunity to provide TÜV our assistance in performing the test, which can be done in compliance with the requirement predefined in the IEC standard.

We take seriously our responsibility to address concerns about any safety or quality issues that we may come across. In deference to the TÜV test report, we are in collaboration with Phoenix Testlab and a further independent European test-house to clarify the claims being made. It takes time for the test-labs to arrange a timeslot and finish their validations. Once available, we will clearly and promptly share our findings with you.

Posted by: Yuan - VP Alltek Marine at November 23, 2017 5:52 AM | Reply

This is simply incorrect.

Alltek has previously been advised by SRT of potential compliance issues with products and ignored. In this instance, we know that Alltek was immediately informed by Navico and others of the issue and provided with the test results. Suggested manufacturer involvement with independent testing is wholly inappropriate: that's the point of it.

Simon

Posted by: Simon - SRT CEO at November 23, 2017 8:15 AM | Reply

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