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Strike Up The Bandwidth


Skyrocketing demand for satellite communications services for yachts has providers seeking new solutions.

Whereas yachting once was an escape from the rigors of daily life to the peace and serenity of the open seas, today’s yachtsmen are trending toward total connectivity for business and plea­sure, just as they have on land. More frequently, owners conduct business, watch the market, hold video conferences and entertain guests with streaming music and movies—all requiring more and more satellite bandwidth.

MTN Satellite Communications, a maritime and aviation communications provider, recently reported a 61 percent increase in bandwidth upgrades over the past year.

“A typical guest arrives with no less than two devices: a smartphone, tablet, laptop. They need fast, reliable broadband to post pictures to Facebook and Instagram, tweet about their latest adventures and publish videos to YouTube, or access Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV or other online content,” says Yacht Services Managing Director Derik Wagner. Cruisers also want these services “without having to understand the complexity of the network and equipment behind the connectivity,” Wagner adds, noting the crew has needs for similar services as well as ensuring that all of the yacht’s operational technology is running smoothly and efficiently.

Luis Soltero, chief technology officer of Global Marine Networks, an expeditor of data speeds and services, explains the physics of satellites.

“The longer the wavelength [lower frequency], the less power needed to transmit, the less information carried, but with better penetration. The shorter the wavelength [higher frequency], the higher power to transmit and information rate, but they bounce off walls and are absorbed by water”—an obvious detriment in the marine environment. Currently, many Internet-hungry yachts use a lower frequency L-band system, which can provide wide-range coverage reliably with the limited power available in space, plus a Ku- or C-band system (both commonly called VSAT) for higher bandwidth at lower cost when and where available. Service can vary depending on the bandwidth plan and how many vessels are vying for the same frequency, therefore, new solutions were sought by communications pro­viders needing to satisfy the increasing demand and to solve the “rain fade” issue of higher frequency bands adversely affected by humid atmospheric conditions.

London-based Inmarsat, a large provider of global mobile satellite communications services, has invested $1.6 billion in a new satellite constellation. The first of three satellites was launched from a rocket in early December 2013, and after a series of preparations including deployment of its 111-foot-wide solar array for power, the satellite should be ready for testing about the time you are reading this. The Inmarsat Global Xpress (GX) network will be the first commercial offering of global coverage using Ka-band high-speed mobile and fixed broadband services with impressive speeds of up to 50 Mbps (megabits per second). While these extra-high frequency bands can operate well in aviation environments where an airplane is above the weather and atmosphere, Inmarsat is coupling the Ka-band with its lower-frequency L-band FleetBroadband service to balance the efficacies of each wavelength for the marine market.

Inmarsat claims the new GX network will offer seamless global service that is easier to install and will provide more economical equipment and services. In addition, Inmarsat will include special marine applications for charting, engine monitoring and weather routing—another yachting advantage.

Pricing has not yet been published and two more satellites have yet to be launched, but in the interim, Inmarsat has acquired Florida-based Globe Wireless, a provider of maritime com­munications services to the shipping market. Inmarsat states that the acquisition of a “skilled engineering team will expand the company’s installation capabilities and enable a faster rollout of the GX system.”

To assist yacht operators in selecting the right services and satellite plans to suit the timing and needs of the yacht owner, guests and crew, MTN’s website offers a number of downloadable guides. You might also visit the website of Inmarsat’s fierce competitor KVH.

“Prioritization” is important, as the amount of band­width needed just to open a website can be dizzying, not including web browsing or viewing an HD movie.

Says Soleto: “Service plans depend on speed, ratio, allocation and contention—how fast, how much and how many vessels are competing for bandwidth.” Dedicated bandwidth is available from some providers, but at a premium price, so it is wise to do some research before deciding on satellite communications services.