It’s more than just an antenna…
It is no longer a challenge to get satellite internet onboard any vessel nowadays. But “what’s best for you” still remains unclear for some ship owners and operators. While there are many different ways to get satellite internet onboard a vessel, the common ones are L-band (Inmarsat and Iridium) and VSAT (C-band, X-band, Ku-band, Ka-band).
The L-Band technology has been very popular due to its solid connectivity and lower monthly rates. However, this service can jack up your monthly bill if you are not careful due to the per-megabyte price structure. With the L-Band services, you will get different sizes of data packages at different price levels. Now, if you exceed your data package limit, then you will be getting charged per-MB for the extra data at a higher rate. That’s when the charges start piling-up very quickly and will be added to your monthly bill in addition to the standard price for the package. There are many scenarios that can make a client exceed the selected package on any given day. Let’s say a client wants to install a new software on board a vessel that might require extra data consumption. Naturally, a higher data package with a higher price is required to accommodate the expansion. But if the client doesn’t prepare for the upgrade before using the new software, the monthly bill will definitely be very high. The L-Band is great when you have a business operation that requires a manageable amount of data consumption. It is also a very reliable option if your project requires a lot more data to accommodate much larger operations. But at this point, the price of the L-Band and VSAT are very comparable and understanding VSAT is extremely important to comprehend the values that VSAT can do for your business.
On the other hand, the VSAT (C,X,Ku,Ka) option has always been available as an alternative option for satellite connectivity. However, the high cost of the Single Channel Per Carrier (SCPC) technology used to dedicate and manage bandwidth on-board the vessels had made the VSAT solution a lot more expensive than the L-Band counterpart. The introduction of Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) VSAT network has helped slashing the high pricing level and make it comparable to the L-Band services. With the VSAT technology, the billing structure is different. The client pays for the speed of the connectivity only because they get unlimited data with VSAT. The higher the speed, the higher the price. It is also a flat monthly fee and you don’t have to worry about exceeding packages or any other unnecessary charges. Moreover, segmenting, managing and controlling the bandwidth across the vessels is possible to maximize the usage of the connectivity. The VSAT technology is gaining traction in the maritime market in terms of speed and affordability.
What’s in it for me?
VSAT will enhance your efficiency. It is usually the senior level management that takes the decisions on implementing solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), CRM, ORACLE, ECDIS and any other regulatory technology to ensure compliance with IMO, SOLAS or CLASS requirements and so forth. In order to deploy all these applications, you will need solutions that are very fast, always on, and offers fixed IP connectivity. All those applications can be remotely updated as well to stay up-to-date. Accordingly, all the investments in various technologies that are geared towards improving business operations and processes are in jeopardy if these solutions don’t have a solid communications backbone. VSAT offers the speed that you need for your business. Smooth running operation requires speed and bandwidth.
Not only that, but also VSAT can also make your vessel an extension of your office. VSAT networks can enable any client to build an advanced network on-board the vessel, a VPN for example. This network can deliver live data to the head office that are vital for many departments to ensure efficient operations. With a VPN, you can have live reporting, crew accounting, Outlook 365, purchasing, maintenance planning, quality assurance…etc. And with internet you can extract data from sensors on the ship for remote monitoring purposes such as fuel consumption, engine and other systems that will reduce your monthly cost. You can also make video conference calls, install CCTV cameras, name it. There are many ways to use internet onboard and that might require a good chunk of bandwidth as well, which also translates to speed.
Moreover, the VSAT will make your crew happy when they get many different ways to stay in touch with their beloved ones on shore. With VSAT, you can extend the internet onboard to your crew which will have a positive impact on your crew welfare and crew retention as well. Can you imagine how happy the crew can be when they can talk with their family and do their online banking and have access to their Facebook? In addition, online education and training is possible with VSAT. Most of the crew members have more than one smart device on board with them. Whether it is a smart phone, a laptop or a tablet, the need to get online triples at this point. It is known in the marine industry that crew will jump ships once they find internet availability on other ships. So keep that in mind.
Another benefit VSAT can offer you is the control of you your own connectivity. To maximize the experience of using a VSAT, you will need a bandwidth manager. As a ship owner or operator, you will be able to control the bandwidth to serve your operations more effectively. You can customize the bandwidth usage the way your operation sees fit. For example, you can dedicate part of the bandwidth to the senior officers on board the vessels to do their commercial activities. You can also dedicate a pool of data to be shared with your crew. You can also allocate some of the bandwidth to certain groups on board, R&D for example. The bandwidth manager will ensure that your connectivity is well managed in order not to compromise the quality of the connectivity.
Lastly, the high speed VSAT connectivity can offer the ship operator a way to reduce their monthly communication cost by using the crew calling technology available with the VSAT setup. The crew calling platform provides the ship operator the ability to sell pre-paid PINs to the crew members. You can also implement the same with data. You can have PINs for crew data. This way, the ship owner can reduce the communication monthly cost by selling pre-paid PINs to the crew. So in a sense, the crew will be paying some of communication cost rather than having the ship owner or operator bear the entire cost. Of course this policy is different from one company to another. Some companies are happy to provide free internet access to their crew at no cost. In either scenario, the VSAT technology can offer this setup for your crew.
There is no doubt that the VSAT technology is a necessity when it comes to upgrading the business processes and systems. People invest in technology to improve their current situations and make them more efficient and more profitable. But investing in sophisticated software and networks without investing in the communication backbone itself that will make all these technologies operable is like investing in a Lamborghini without a steering wheel!!!
The immediate benefits and values that the VSAT will bring to your business are not comparable to any other services. It will bring many advantages to your vessels and fleet operators and it will enhance your growth and profits. That’s why VSAT is gaining so much popularity in the maritime sector nowadays.
I will be more than happy to assist you in your next VSAT project. Please don’t hesitate to reach me if you need any help or consultations. I’m positive and I can show you many ways to enhance your operations and bring profits to your business. Act Now!!