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For the yachting professional on the Mediterranean

THE NEED FOR SPEED

Article by Adam Fiander

WITH THE CHARTER SEASON IN FULL SWING, HOW DO THE VSAT AND COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS COPE WITH THE NEED TO SERVE GUESTS AND OWNERS WITH COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF DATA? WORDS: ADAM FIANDER

With 5G already implemented in parts of the USA and with the help of working-parties and user groups, European 5G coverage gradually being introduced in ‘trial’ cities, it’s testament to the relentless demand and voracious appetite for faster, ever more sophisticated mobile connectivity.

Areas of society set to benefit greatly from 5G are numerous; pretty much all of us in fact. The world of media and entertainment, for example, is one of the more obvious areas. Others are the energy industry, the health industry and manufacturing where robotics, logistics and anywhere, in fact, where inter-business communication is required. The much talked about ‘driverless car technology’ will also rely upon 5G when the technology becomes available.

Just as shore-based needs are set to benefit, it’s much the same for yachts. During busy peak-periods on a large 30m or 40m+ yacht, it would not be unreasonable to assume that at least 12 data-hungry guests, and up to 20 or more hard-working crew, are expecting to receive instant, lag-free connectivity, uninterrupted telephoning, video-conferencing, almost continuous use of social-media, online gaming, use of cloud-based applications, HD TV and potentially all at the same time!

With that kind of demand in place, it’s good to know that cellular technology and land-based communications providers are very much part of the future framework for yacht connectivity moving forward. In fact, the yacht market now has a very good choice of both VSAT (very small aperture terminals) and land-based communication providers. All the companies I spoke to offer a sensible and logical ‘hybrid’ solution, switching between the two systems to maintain continuity, speed and reliability.
Satellite companies have brought about accelerated developments in progressive LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite technology, and High Throughput Satellites (HTS) and GEO satellite platforms, where impressive technology gains are being made.

OMNIACCESS
OMNIACCESS
YACHTPROJECTS INTERNATIONAL
YACHTPROJECTS INTERNATIONAL

Within the next decade, experts predict the earth will be covered by small satellites at low heights working directly above, not within range of the human eye, of course, that would be ridiculous, but capable of providing vastly improved mobile coverage and faster connectivity akin to the home experience.

As the name suggests, Low Orbit Satellites orbit the earth as low as a few hundred kilometres high and, although the concept is not actually new, in terms of numbers, the LEO satellite market can shortly expect to receive a greatly increased number and large constellations in the thousands of these relatively small, relatively low-cost satellites, that can be upgraded, swapped out and changed far quicker than their larger, more costly GEO satellite (Geostationary Earth Orbit) counterparts.

‘Traditional’ GEO satellites, with their large data-carrying payloads, are satellites located at 36,000km height and remain in a stationary position relevant to the earth and follow the earth’s own rotational course. LEO satellites (and to an even lesser extent, MEO – Middle Earth Orbit satellites), on the other hand, are not held in fixed earth positions, and they can be deployed to different locations, but need physically many more of them to give true global coverage.

Broadly speaking, the two different satellite types are complementary, and consumers derive the best combined service when both types are deployed and working together. To receive higher-capacity, higher-speed connectivity, yachts may need to review their existing antennas, thus ensuring they can receive and transmit this lovely additional data set to come our way.

I intentionally use the word ‘review’ here (as opposed to using the word ‘replace’) because chances are replacement of a ‘full-fat’ Dome antenna may not be required, but for any other reason than the more attractive, low-profile appearance of flat-panel antenna terminals, which, from an aesthetic point of view, most of us would probably prefer.

One thing that stood out with companies I talked to, is the provision of flexible, demand-based data that enables service providers to point additional bandwidth to yachts during busy periods. The process is quick if the yacht is known to the provider and vice-versa.

Operating from eight strategic sites in the UK, Ships Electronics Services Ltd (SES) has years of experience working within global leisure and commercial marine industries, including military, and is a dealer and distributor for some of communications’ biggest names.

SES Leisure Manager, Paul Rees, told me, “Flexibility is key to providing what’s required. We work with large airtime providers that offer an opportunity to upgrade or downgrade bandwidth requirements on a monthly basis. “We can offer data plans that are not subject to capped tariffs and other usage restrictions, in this sector you will most likely be limited by either what your hardware can handle, or airtime cost.”

Real time data wireless & satellite communications company, Excelerate, CEO, David Savage, told me, “Yacht clients generally want full internet requirements, including consistency of speed and service and expect the same standard as a good 5-star hotel. “The charter season is finite, so this itself presents logistical problems. We buy and manage our data in real-time, so we can change the speed of VSAT onboard in a matter of seconds compared to others. “I’ve never understood why yachts should be tied to long contracts because why would a yacht want to pay for high bandwidth capacity when there’s no one onboard? The flexibility that we provide presents challenges at times, but we have plenty of headroom on our networks anyway and we always ensure seasonal capacity to cope with the unusually high demands.

SES MARINE
SES MARINE

“Buying and managing our own satellite capacity in real time, means we can deal instantaneously with requests and can wind it back when that demand subsides, or normally when guests depart that is.”

The concept of flexible data plans allowing users to cope with highly fluctuating data volume is supported by OmniAccess, whose Plexus Controller provides an easy to use tool for network selection, monitoring and controlling user traffic. OmniAccess Deputy CEO, Carlos Carbajal, told me, “The ‘like-home’ experience lies in combining different technologies available (WIFI, 4G/5G, VSAT) and being able to steer traffic through the correct channel depending on the requirements of the specific application. Video streaming, data download or uploads are not latency sensitive and can be channelled through our VSAT connection, whilst gaming or video-conferencing is better channelled through 4G or Wifi, when available.”

Plexus Controller appears to be well up to the job when Carlos said, “Plexus TV will compress high bandwidth video into a smaller IP stream whilst ensuring you retain HD video quality, and our NextGen iO ‘traffic steering’ capability automatically selects between VSAT, 4G/5G or local WiFi networks depending on the device requirements and available connectivity.”

Regarding the ever-present need to have security in place, Excelerate have their roots working with Government emergency response and mission-critical incidents, so their level of network security and protection ticks almost every box.

David said, “Our teleports are ISO 27001 accredited, and this gives us capability and credibility for Level 4 risk – an internationally recognised 24/7 security level required by many Government departments before major contracts are offered. Not just for cyber-security, but total resilience, whereby we operate 2x teleports and 2x satellites inter-connected, with instantaneous failover, so if one goes down the network continues to function via the other.”

“In the same way some businesses have good cyber-security policies in place and others don’t, the same rule applies to yachts, so, where we can, we try and ‘mitigate’ risk by offering all our clients help with their on-board security advice or needs.”

When questioned about security, OmniAccess’ Carlos Carbajal, confirmed, “Security is paramount and present in all our products in multiple forms. We we take a global view, utilising a combination of tools, applications and processes to ensure our clients traffic is always secured. From encryption of over-the¬air traffic, management of on-board firewalls and encryption of VOIP communications, we take security very seriously indeed.”

EXCELERATE MARINE

With speeds of up to 400mbps achievable from GEO satellites, final delivery is still very good, but from iphone to satellite and back it’s a 72,000km round-trip, and latency can present problems, combined with other logistical difficulties associated with the vast distances involved.

Regarded a major and significant step-change within the communications industry, low earth orbit LEO satellites are predicted to overcome many of the difficulties some users are currently experiencing, a view commonly held by David Savage, when he said, “In the next decade or so, I foresee we will walk out of the office, the i-phone will be working on Low

Orbit satellites and a 5G network and we won’t even know it because it will all work seamlessly, on one bill, that won’t be excessively expensive either.”

Others such as OmniAccess have clearly set out their future strategy, as Carlos Cabajal told me, “We’re closely engaged with Telesat as launching partner of their upcoming LEO constellation projected for 2022-23. The planned LEO constellation includes 200+ new satellites, which will offer global coverage, much higher speeds than current VSAT technology, as well as much lower latency. We have already started testing the first LEO satellite recently launched by Telesat and we’re confident this is the future of satellite connectivity for the marine industry and the service will more than satisfy the demands of Owners.”