The VSAT visionaires and the speed of technological change

Future-proofing

MTN Nexus™ combines three critical components into one network that, until now, have never been combined into one maritime communications solution: a hybrid satellite and wireless broadband network, a cloud computing–based optimisation platform, and new products and services enabled only through this hybrid solution to enhance the at-sea connectivity experience.

Plans are underway at GMC for new BOSS system modules. One such is a ‘heartbeat’ monitor to oversee essential components of a ship’s network, notifying pre-arranged individuals using an escalation procedure should any of them fail. This way if Wi-Fi access in the master suite fails whilst the owner is away, this can be rectified long before the owner is inconvenienced.

Rendering of the back of a superyacht

GMC is also developing Social Network modules, designed to prevent crew members from discussing VIPs until it is safe to do so, as well as a mast shadow module using predictive techniques to determine when a ship can expect to lose its connection.

So what else lies around the corner? 4G LTE is already being launched globally, often with very low subscription rates and high bandwidth offerings. This is likely to affect the demand and price for VSAT as crews switch to 4G LTE services when a yacht is near shore. Rumours are rife concerning a combined 3G or 4G data device that straps a number of radios together, combining their data pipes to provide huge bandwidth at a low price.

In the shape-shifting waters of marine telecoms, the only thing that SYOG can predict with any certainty is that the speed of technological change will be relentless. But rapid obsolescence and the quest for the world’s most sought-after equipment will give superyacht owners something to discuss over their canapés at Cannes. The wise owner will seek counsel from the experts listed in our reference section, and in online resources like Yachting Pages.

The VSAT checklist

CIR. Look at options for the Committed Information Rate (CIR) or dedicated and guaranteed bandwidth to avoid sharing. Steer away from using shared networks for Voice over IP (VoIP), Skype and streaming services. Your provider can help calculate your optimum CIR rate

Evaluate. Get references from two or three providers before signing. Don’t be rushed into something that looks cheaper on paper: small print invariably has
large ramifications

Connectivity. Choose the right VSAT dish (antenna) for your communications needs. On-board connectivity is essential, as is its quality. Cheaper services may cost more in the long run through ruined travel experiences for owners and guests

Contention. Check on shared ‘contention’ (competing with other yachts for bandwidth). A 10:1 ratio means contending with nine other superyachts. In peak season, contention increases and speeds decrease

Educate. Acquire basic VSAT knowledge before committing to anything – this is not a straightforward decision to make

© MTN

Fair use. Confirm the provider’s fair access policy (FAP) and do not assume you’ll be free to use your connection as you want. Some limit certain high-bandwidth applications or cap service at peak times. Check terms and conditions for additional costs to raise a connectivity cap – this could double or triple a stated rate card price

24/7 support. Choose a provider with 24/7/365 network operations and technical support. Check staffing levels, holiday cover, support centre locations, languages spoken and contingency plans in case of emergency. Radio silence when the owner is aboard is not an option

Antenna. Select the appropriate VSAT dish (antenna) for your bandwidth and coverage needs. A smaller dish to suit design concerns and budgets may not provide a strong enough signal or coverage area

Flexibility. Check that any agreements have flexible options and that you’re not locked into a rigid and lengthy contract. Those allowing pauses (when in dry dock) and sudden bandwidth upgrades (busy charter weeks) are preferable

Crew. Crew need to – and expect to – stay connected while away. Crew usage should be evaluated and managed, even if perhaps restricted. Cutting crew off from the world may lead to mutiny…

MTN Satellite Communications installed the first stabilised antenna on a maritime vessel more than 30 years ago. They continue to spearhead the industry with one of the largest and most reliable networks in the world.

SYOG mined MTN’s font of  telecoms knowledge to produce the VSAT Dos and Don’ts checklist. Courtesy MTN VSAT Dos and Don’ts: Charter and Management Edition.

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