Additionally, on the service side, they have requirements for a flexible, high-quality global service at a realistic price. To this is added the unspoken codicils that a customer’s VSAT solution of choice will be able to accommodate the high bandwidth demands generated in peak season, and that it should be ready to take advantage of new technologies in the rapidly-changing VSAT market. On this latter point, a truly future-proof solution has not been available to date, but with the launch of the new Intellian NX Series, superyacht owners and operators can now access multiple satellite bands and orbits with a single antenna.
If at first glance this looks like a lot of boxes to tick, it’s as well to remember that it’s in everyone’s best interest, from businesses to end users, if the satellite service providers, system integrators and tech manufacturers continue leveraging their partnerships to provide the most cost-effective return and optimisation of their VSAT solutions. And certainly, where aspects such as coping with spikes in bandwidth demand away from sources of terrestrial connectivity is concerned, a great deal hinges in the first instance upon managing the expectations of the crew, owners and guests on board, as Arjan Kleinveld, CEO and founder of the communication technology group One, observes.
“There tend to be two types of owners in the superyacht sector: one type understands that bandwidth is always limited on board, but the other type, maybe newer owners that are less accustomed to this, expect the same availability on their boat that they have at home. But once they understand the limitations, they’re usually fine to buy extra bandwidth for short periods of time, just when they need it. Worldwide bandwidth demand is always higher than what’s actually available: even if capacity is increased, people start using more. It’s a battle between availability and consumption.”
In this context, much will depend upon the stipulations set out in a VSAT user’s Service. Level Agreement: whether the contract is for dedicated or shared bandwidth, and if shared, how many other subscribers on the network are splitting a fixed level of bandwidth between them, and whether the arrangement is underscored with a CIR (Committed Information Rate) guarantee of minimum bandwidth.
“We provide flexible contract terms that are designed to allow clients to instantly change bandwidth speed in line with their needs,” comments Jens Ploch, Commercial Director with marine IT and VSAT service provider, OmniAccess. “It’s as simple as notifying the account manager to either activate bandwidth at the start of the season, upgrade for higher bandwidths during peak operations such as charters or while the owner is on board, downgrade while docked and/or suspend services during the off-season while in the shipyard. Short-term bandwidth upgrades can either be enabled in daily, weekly or monthly blocks. They are processed and activated all on the same day, so that customers can adjust bandwidth instantly.”
When asked to clarify how this additional bandwidth is supplied from a technical perspective, Mr Ploch explains: “OmniAccess operates an advanced global VSAT network with more than 32 permanent satellite beams in both C- and Ku-band, all of which are uplinked from several teleport locations across the globe. Our dedicated satellite capacity team and account managers work closely to plan bandwidth capacities, conduct capacity optimisations and space segmentation while forecasting seasonal demand fluctuations, always taking into consideration the seasonal migration patterns of yachts worldwide.”
Providing an overview of the situation in the most matter-of-fact manner, Mr Kleinveld of The One Group is philosophical. “The real problem with satellite bandwidth will always be latency. You can have as much bandwidth as you want, but it will always be slower than 4G and 5G. The data package needs to travel 40,000km up and then down, and then back and forth for all the additional information. This is why you see global operators trying to bundle data connections so that you only get one delay. This is also, I think, why global operators are increasing their bandwidth provision: mobile operators can let everybody watch Netflix on the beach, say, but this way it’s a plausible solution for yachts using VSAT as well.”
“What you’re now seeing is that they’re not buying just one subscription, but four or five, and trying to bundle that capacity to make it as efficient as possible. This can also give you extra bandwidth on your yacht in peak periods at less cost; it’s faster, and easier to upgrade or downgrade because it’s like buying another sim card.”