Evidence that ships are migrating from L-band satellite communications to faster-connectivity VSAT is clear in Inmarsat’s interim results. The London-listed group has seen an acceleration of ships being added to its Fleet Xpress Ka-band communications services year-on-year.
Inmarsat chief executive Rupert Pearce said more than 260 ships were added to Fleet Xpress per quarter this year, up from 135 VSAT ship additions per quarter in 2016. These ship deployments involve installing a Ka-band antenna, sometimes upgrading the L-band equipment, and replacing below-deck units and network management devices.
“We have added more key distributors, which has increased the number of committed ships to Fleet Xpress to over 10,000,” said Mr Pearce. “The expected future escalation in take-up of Fleet Xpress provides our maritime business with a strong foundation for future growth.”
These ships will continue to use Inmarsat’s L-band FleetBroadband service, but as a back-up to the Ka-band service. Which is why Inmarsat continues to invest in the L-band and Ka-band satellites and ground infrastructure.
Inmarsat reported continued growth in its higher-bandwidth VSAT services, while its L-band revenues remained resilient. Demand for VSAT connectivity from shipowners, managers and operators continues to rise, which is why Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout told Marine Electronics & Communications in the latest issue that Inmarsat had strengthened its own installation capability and distribution network.
Inmarsat’s revenue from its VSAT products, of XpressLink and Fleet Xpress, increased by 19.5% to US$59.7M in H1 this year. This reflected growth of 18% in Q1 and 21% in Q2. The installation orderbook grew to around 680 by the end of June compared with 650 at the end of March this year. At the end of June there were 1,337 vessels using Fleet Xpress.
There is also strong growth in the number of smaller vessels deploying Inmarsat’s L-band Fleet One service. Inmarsat has a customer base of more than 2,000 vessels after adding 400 between April and June this year.
Ships are migrating to VSAT to use more online applications to improve crew welfare and enhance vessel efficiency that the higher connectivity enables. Shipowners have choice in the frequencies of VSAT they can use.
There are a number of rival Ku-band services to Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress that use different satellite constellations. This is described in depth in our supplement The Complete Guide to VSAT, published in June this year.