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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

VSAT industry ready for surging shipping interest

Tue 14 Jun 2016 by Martyn Wingrove

VSAT industry ready for surging shipping interest

The satellite communications industry is preparing for a major increase in deployment of VSAT on ships as owners plan to enable the benefits of connectivity. Presentations and news at the Posidonia exhibition in Athens, Greece last week revolved around these preparations amid a mixture of sector deals.

Top of the agenda was the involvement of Ka-band solutions, such as Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress, and to a lesser extent Telenor Satellite’s Thor 7, in the VSAT mix. Regular readers will know that Inmarsat announced the commercial launch of Fleet Xpress, after a prolonged period of testing and trialling, at the end of March. Inmarsat has a large portfolio of ships using its Xpress Link service of Ku-band VSAT prepared to migrate to Ka-band.

Although this sounds like a captive market, it is a costly one while owners take their time in these migrations. Last week in the Greek sun, Inmarsat moved to compensate for this. It signed agreements with service providers Marlink and SpeedCast International to gradually introduce around 4,000 ships to its Fleet Xpress service. 

Marlink said it would introduce around 2,000 ships (thought to be those on Xpress Link) to Inmarsat’s Ka-band service over five years, and SpeedCast said it would do the same. But in the meantime, SpeedCast (and presumably Marlink) will provide Ku-band VSAT services to the Inmarsat fleet. These deals benefit both service providers, which expect to add more vessels to existing services, and Inmarsat that can now concentrate on satellite operations and service development. It may also help the distribution partners that have complained for a long time about Inmarsat’s direct-to-market approach.

Also at Posidonia, Marlink explained near-global coverage on Ku-band VSAT would be available on its Sealink service and on 60cm antennas with guaranteed throughputs of up to 512 Kbps, while SpeedCast added another 150 ships to its Ku-band services through a partnership with Korean distributor KTsat.

Another service provider, EMC, announced a new global Ku-band VSAT package of connectivity and content optimised for high throughput satellites, including its SpeedNet and live television services. KVH Industries also presented its developments in the areas of improving the collation of data and transmission over VSAT, cyber security and media content improvements.

Also in Athens, satellite operator SES outlined its future plans for acquiring the O3b Networks constellation of medium earth orbit Ka-band satellites. These will fit in a layer of satellites that will include a constellation of geostationary Ku-band widebeam and higher orbit high throughput Ku-band spot beamers.

On the antenna side, Intellian highlighted how it has increased research investment and is ramping up production capacity for the expected onslaught of VSAT orders. There were also technical updates from Comtech EF Data, Orange Business Services and Phasor.

In addition, Iridium announced its pathway to providing more serious competition to Inmarsat for L-band back-up to VSAT. It revealed its Certus broadband service should be commercially available from the second quarter of 2017, once its Next satellite constellation is launched and commissioned.

From the news and presentations at Posidonia, shipowners can see there is plenty of value in what can be achieved through improving fleet connectivity. There is choice in what is available and that service companies, satellite operators and antenna manufacturers are prepared to deliver VSAT services. There is much more detail in Riviera’s Complete Guide to VSAT that has just been published. With high throughput satellites being commissioned, new services are being introduced and more bandwidth is available for shipping.

Read the Complete Guide to VSAT here


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