The VSAT visionaires – early adopters

Antenna choice, Fleet Broadband(FB) and hello ‘phased array’.

Antenna choice

To protect the communications budget from rapid product obsolescence, select upgradeable antennae that allow for ready modem swapping for access to more than 100 VSAT service providers. As with unlocked mobile telephones, this then makes it easier to switch service providers should better deals and faster service become available. Antennae that offer Ku-band today and can work with Ka-band in the future, are also a wise investment. Palma-based Jan Holmen represents Maritime Network Systems.

A superyacht in the evening on the ocean

He said, “In the future, many companies will provide Ka-band coverage for areas with high traffic density, and Ku-band for more remote areas and at sea. Antennae with support for both are already available from Sea Tel.”

"A final consideration should revolve around service depots. No matter how good the warranty appears, getting service away from a yacht’s home port can be problematic. MTN’s Technical Services Department has designed three hands-on training courses based on the principles of satellite communications specific to maritime VSAT technology: an Onboard Course (for captains and crew), an Operator’s Course (for VSAT operators) and an Engineer’s Course.

Fleet Broadband (FB)

Marine satellite antenna builder Intellian has introduced three innovative new models for Inmarsat’s FB. Backed by a three-year warranty, each includes a broad range of IP and networking-related features such as IP routing, firewall capability and vessel fleet tracking. Intellian’s high performance FB150 provides global, high quality data and voice services for a myriad of applications in a compact and lightweight above-deck unit.

The FB250 allows commercial vessels to enter the broadband arena at a low initial investment, while the FB500 is Intellian’s fastest solution, for intensive use on hard-working superyachts. All provide simultaneous voice and data services and have compact and reliable hardware; IP connection for email, internet and fax; SMS and LAN interfaces; single and multi-user router features with IP handset interface; and stylish matching domes. It is worth noting that FB offers a limited connectivity (432KBPS shared contention) and a pay per use pricing model (per time or KB usage).

Goodbye dome, hello ‘phased array’

In time, flat-profile high-gain ‘phased array’ antenna systems will replace the familiar sight of large moving parabolic dish antennae in their domes. Some manufacturers have successfully tested revolutionary new flat antennae, that are just one inch thick, on geostationary satellites. Built using thousands of static, electronically self-steerable semi-conductors, these near-invisible antennae can already be built into aircraft fuselages, news van rooftops or military vehicles, enabling high-speed connectivity without an antenna that points directly at a satellite.

A satellite communications hub on a yacht

Since 2005, London’s Phasor Solutions has been developing new phased array antenna technology for commercial and defence satellite communications markets. Their patented antennae allow travellers and operators in trains, planes, ships and military vehicles to obtain high bandwidth communications in the world’s most remote locations. At just an inch tall and with no moving parts, the antennae can fit any surface and are considered by the manufacturer to be more reliable than existing systems.

Early adopters

Within the marine industry, superyachts are early adopters in the communications technology sector and demand is growing more quickly than on commercial vessels. While Merchant Navy captains need only communicate with their head office, superyacht users include owners, guests, captains and crew – with voracious appetites for data and the goodies that lie therein. Video streaming is standard; iPlayer Global and Netflix are all in great demand in the superyacht seas. 

Dealing with on-board usage can be tricky. By default it has become the responsibility of the Captain to keep the network running – often an unwanted task for those who went to sea to become masters of yachts, not networks! Shore-based networks benefit from a full IT department, but on board, things are different. Ashore, bandwidth, usage and performance can be monitored but, until now, the esoteric tools to do so have meant that only certified network engineers can interpret the results.

© MTN

The superyacht industry’s IT needs have matured to the point that intelligent bandwidth monitoring has become a necessity – a challenge identified by the son of a superyacht owner while on board his father’s yacht.

He realised that with the increasing importance placed on a ship’s Internet connection (which started as a novelty, morphed into a fun addition and is now a critical part of the superyacht experience), marine-centric network monitoring tools would become essential to the smooth running of the ship. He noted that as internet dependence grew, so did the frustration of those trying to use the network. Costas Charalambos is sales director at Global Marine Communications (GMC). He said,

We believe the owner’s browsing experience should not be adversely affected by that of a member of the ship’s company, and that the owner’s internet packets should be delivered ahead of any others on board to ensure that the best possible service is experienced by the chap signing the cheques.

The Bandwidth Optimiser and  Security Server (BOSS) system presents this information in a clear and meaningful way across all devices used by an authorised user. There are times when a Captain may wish to grant internet access only to senior crew and guests or perhaps to impose a ‘speed limit’ on a particularly heavy user.

In short, the system provides levels of control previously unheard of and does so with minimal or no investment by the Captain beyond the initial set-up when crew budgets are first established, putting the Captain firmly in charge of this very important resource.

BOSS does not record sites visited, so if the owner browses www.SellMyBoat.com or the Captain logs into www.SackMyCrew.com, it will remain their little secret! Tested aboard the White Rose of Drachs, everyone enjoyed a hugely improved user experience once meaningful rules were placed on crew and guests to ensure a consistent level of service for all.

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