Better Connected


There are very few people in the marine industry that would argue that the VSAT market is growing very quickly indeed. Estimates vary but many experts are predicting that the market is going to double or triple by 2020.Consolidation among the big players to form VSAT super groups means competition is accelerating innovation and creating more value for ever more sophisticated and demanding customers.

Marlink first acquired Telemar and then it swallowed the Majorca based superyacht satellite service provider, OmniAccess and most recently it has acquired Radio Holland’s connectivity business and the business of Livewire Connections. The new combined group is the worldwide leader in maritime VSAT services, generating close to $500 million revenues, employing about 1000 people and operating a global infrastructure, supporting an install base of more than 4000 VSAT vessels 300 of them are superyachts. While leveraging the Marlink Group capabilities, OmniAccess will remain a stand-alone company.

Tore Morten Olsen, President Maritime, Marlink has had a focus on the superyacht market for over a decade, working with some of the best known service providers to the yachting market and delivering services direct to yachts ourselves. He said, “Towards the end of 2017 we expanded our work further, by embarking on an extensive growth and acquisition strategy in the market.” OmniAccess is an ideal fit for the Marlink Group and our superyacht customers.

NSSLGlobal Technologies AS, a fully owned subsidiary of NSSLGlobal Ltd, has through acquisition, taken full ownership of SatLink’s VSAT modem and Hub product families as well as retaining the SatLink’s software engineering team.

This means NSSLGlobal will now control and drive forward SatLink’s next-generation product, and will focus significant engineering R&D towards the ongoing needs of superyachts with the full flexibility and control to quickly adapt as those needs evolve. Sally-Anne Ray, Group CEO of NSSLGlobal comments: “SatLink has been a key strategic partner of ours for over a decade, and its products already form part of the core technology underpinning our fully owned and controlled VSAT network.”

They are not alone in the field of consolidation. Speedcast has enjoyed a healthy appetite for acquisitions and mergers and the MTN brand, which pioneered the first connections from yachts via satellite to the global internet infrastructure in 2003 has been rebranded as Priva. MTN began in 1980 and installed the first satellite links on board a yacht in 2003. MTN was first acquired by EMC in 2015, and then EMC was acquired by Global Eagle in 2016. “We have been the leader in yacht communications for years, and since we are now part of a larger global company, we are bringing that strength to the market and connecting VIP individuals in innovative ways with enriched service and entertainment options,” said Ole Sivertsen, Global Eagle Senior Vice President of Maritime.

These mergers and acquisitions mean there are fewer providers of VSAT than there were just two years ago. Martyn Wingrove Editor of Marine Electronics & Communications believes such moves, “Restrict owners’ options for broadband communications at a time when the number of maritime VSAT units are rapidly increasing. But, he adds, “It also provides opportunities for the smaller players to gain market share.”

As competition heats up it not only drives prices down it also drives greater research effort into building better equipment capable of handling greater speeds and larger capacity. FLEXIBILITY
The superyacht sector has a very high demand for bandwidth and quality of service, which does indeed push the boundaries of new product design. High Speed Zones services have been developed specifically to provide more bandwidth for superyachts as and when needed. These are specific areas of the Mediterranean and Caribbean where yachts can increase their bandwidth temporarily on request, without having to change the hardware configuration on board. They provide flexibility for upgrades to meet higher bandwidth demand during peak yachting periods.

The ability to massively increase connectivity speeds for temporary periods, i.e. when an owner and their guests are on board, ensures high end communication facilities for entertainment and work applications. With such high throughput, High Speed Zones enable a wide range of new applications, including the use of streaming services such as Netflix and fast internet connectivity available for all guests on board at the same time.

Marlink now a player in all maritime verticals, is at the forefront of developing new technologies and solutions together with its partners. Tore Morten Olsen says, “As new satellite systems in different orbits becomes available (LEO, MEO, GEO), we will work with the satellite operators to secure the best possible value proposition to the Yachting market.” Antoine Perry, SeaSatCom founder and director, has been involved with yachting and the maritime telecommunication market for more than 12 years. His company supplies communication packages to over 200 superyachts. He says, “We were the first to introduce the one-stop-shop concept and focus on ‘Internet always on’ like at home or office via satellite and/or cellular technologies. On the service provider side, things are also moving, slower, and while some companies have disappeared, I predict that in the next years, more will concentrate on merger and acquisition to become ever larger as value added services will be more differentiating and important than the simple internet connection which requires a minimum in size for service providers.

Antoine Perry says, “Prices in the VSAT market are dropping, you can now get VSAT connectivity for less than 1000€/month. But as always people are selling things they do not really understand and as it is a very complex world, clients get to hear things they do not understand like contention ratio, CIR vs MIR, speed, and they simply do not understand what the salesmen are talking of. There is a lack of education in the industry. I see it every day when I discuss with captains or owners and the fact that I use layman’s terms changes the paradigm considerably. Clients want to talk about more coverage, higher speeds to match the same quality they experience at home or in their office they want to use the same services and they want to hear familiar names such as Sky Sports and Netflix. What they don’t want to hear is that KA band is still available, while the KU has moved to HTS. What does it mean to a client when you say C band is still available, and aggregation of bandwidth is available using SD WAN when only experts truly understand what this really means? What is for example; Committed Information Rate (CIR) or shared contention? What do people mean when they talk about delivering end-to-end solutions and error responsibility? These are all nonsense terms unless they are fully explained to those who need to know.” COMMITTED INFORMATION RATE
“If ever there is an area where a captain or an owner can become confused or misled it is the issue of Committed Information Rate or CIR. So let me try to explain this,” says David Savage the Executive Group Chairman of Excelerate Technology. “VSAT is normally provided on some sort of monthly tariff which shows a monthly price set against a VSAT rate of speed so X Euros for say 1024 Kbps download speed x 512 Kbps upload speed. 1024 Kbps is often described as 1Mb (Meg) and 512Kbps as half a Mb etc. The pricing will also be determined by the number of customers sharing this bandwidth or not and customers will normally have a choice between tariffs where it is possible not to share this bandwidth at all which is called uncontended or normally for economic reasons they can choose a tariff which has a lower monthly cost but this does mean sharing it with a number of other customers and this is called contended. It is important to know with a contended service how many customers are potentially sharing the service with you and you should stay well clear of suppliers who can’t tell you, demonstrate to you or guarantee this because the maths are quite simple. In the service I’ve used for illustration here if it is uncontended, that is exclusive to you, then the CIR must be 1024 Kbps down and 512 Kbps up, yes? But if eight customers are sharing this level of service then the CIR per customer should be 128 Kbps down and 64 Kbps up. It is imperative then that a captain or owner fully understands the onboard bandwidth requirements so that VSAT CIR can be matched to the requirements of onboard users, devices and applications. Remember though that the CIR is the minimum and with a shared or contended service much higher speeds up to the tariff headline speed is possible depending on what the other users sharing that capacity are doing.”

David Savage continues, “Another reason for understanding CIR within the context of what your provider is offering is that it will help you choose the times when a contended service might actually be better than a more expensive uncontended service. This is particularly important at times when a yacht may have charter guests joining the yacht who want faster VSAT speeds for short durations. We certainly offer this type of concierge type flexibility at no penalty but I can’t say how many other suppliers can or do.”

Tore Morten Olsen, President Maritime, Marlink says, “Committed Information Rate is something we offer to anyone who needs it which ensures you will always receive the data speed equivalent to your CIR value. Contention ratio explains how many share a certain amount of bandwidth on a network. This means the more who share a network, the less each of them get of the total available bandwidth.” He adds, “Our focus is to make things as clear and predictable as possible for our customers. This is why we provide each customer with a Service Level Agreement stipulating exactly what is our responsibility and what we guarantee the customer of uptime. To keep our promises we do focus strongly on end to end solutions where we offer a managed service to the customer. This means we partly or as a whole take over the connectivity and IT responsibility. This allows the customer to focus on ensuring the owner and guests have the communication structure they want and we focus on making sure connectivity and IT always work.”

Suddenly flat panel antennae seem to dominate the headlines in yachting magazines. E3 based in Spain with offices in other countries around the Mediterranean concluded a series of sea trails using the motor yacht White Rose of Drachs while sailing yacht tests were undertaken on board The Maltese Falcon. The Captains of both yachts expressed their satisfaction with the hardware and in the case of White Rose of Drachs the Captain has committed the yacht to loosing 5 tons of domes and replacing them with Kymeta panels.

Are flat panel antennae’s next new thing, or a flash in the pan phenomena that will quickly pass into VSAT history?” Antoine Perry, points out that flat panels are not a new idea. They have, he says, “Existed in the aviation industry for many years, and the technology has been used effectively on trains and heavy road haulage vehicles. He adds, “What is new is their application to maritime industry and we shall have to wait and see if they catch on.” David Savage, says his firm has been looking at flat panel technology in its core government markets for at least 12 years but have never found a flat panel solution that anyone outside of the military could cost justify either in terms of capital cost or bandwidth costs. He says, “At the moment whilst the technology has moved on the drawbacks against the alternatives have not. He admits that, “One day flat panel technology will touch everything in our lives. Truly autonomous transport” He adds, “Cannot be achieved unless that transport has continuous guaranteed connectivity which cannot be delivered by 4G alone and so small 20CM flat panel antennas thinner than an iPhone will be invisibly embedded into the roofs of our cars connected to new satellite constellations covering the entire globe with near vertical look angles and seamless handoffs to adjacent beams as the vehicle travels from Seattle to San Francisco but that time is not now.”

Tore Morten Olsen, at Marlink says, “While the technology is interesting for specific areas of use, the current industry standard stabilised maritime antennas are the best way to meet the specific challenges of delivering a reliable connection at sea. We think flat panel antennas will start to appear in regular service, but don’t see them taking over from radomes, at least with the current generation of flat panel technology. There are some interesting technologies on the horizon, and we will assess, test and bring them to market when the quality and performance is at the level required to meet the demands of the clients in the Yachting market.”

It seems however that when it comes to flat panels there is a Cassette tape versus CD Rom music storage argument going on. Experts we have spoken to suggest that only one of the two technologies is going to survive into the future. No one it seems is prepared to say which system will be the ultimate winner. Kymeta uses Pixal Technology and Phasor is part of a wave of new antennas that will come to market in 2018. The mTenna ASM used by Kymeta has 30,000 individual elements that act collectively as ‘pixels’ to create a holographic beam. By changing the pattern, the antenna can be pointed in different directions with no moving parts. Protected by nearly 200 international patents, it means you will not see another metamaterials-based flat panel antenna on the market anytime soon. Phasor will be making its unique Electronically Steerable Antenna (ESA) available to the superyacht market for commercial service in 2018. As a flat panel, software defined antenna, this will the makers suggest, “Not only meet but exceed the requirements of the market, which requires enterprise grade connectivity to meet the demands of on-board users. It’s sleek and extremely compact design will allow it to conform to the vessel and it will require nominal maintenance as it is completely solid state. The Phasor antenna is also future proof, which is critical as this is a fast-developing market, and it will operate and interoperate between GEO-HTS and LEO/MEO constellations in the same frequency. It is able to track two satellites simultaneously which are essential for LEO small satellite systems. Antoine Perry, believes that flat panels will not wipe out regular Sat domes in the near future. They will he says, “Be used in some specific areas for years to come.”

When it comes to size and stability of the antennae flat or otherwise, the burning question asks: is bigger better? Tore Morten Olsen, President Maritime, Marlink explains, “A larger antenna will perform the best across most of a satellite’s footprint if we are talking about traditional wide beam satellites, which provide a single beam over a large coverage area. However, new HTS services use multiple spot beams to make up the coverage area and because of this, it is now possible to use smaller antennas and still enjoy reliable, high bandwidth connectivity. 60 cm VSAT antennas are now becoming more viable for global services as on HTS spot beams, the quality of service can match what would normally be achievable on antennas of 1 metre and larger.” Antoine Perry, SeaSatCom founder and director says, “Antennas are getting smaller and more efficient, as an example the V65 by Intellian which is very close in terms of efficiency as a regular 80cm.”

In Greece, SeaCom was founded on 2007 by its principal engineer, Panayiotis (Peter) Taranis. He is a professional engineer with over 35 years of technical and operational experience in marine electronics, superyacht and commercial shipping industries. He believes a good VSAT service is not just about hardware supply. He says, “We provide to our clients the best manufacturing brands of satellite systems, signal distribution and networks along with 24/7 support.

As services continue to expand our VSAT suppliers will have to remain committed to delivering the latest technologies for maritime turn-key solutions. Staff will need to support every aspect of a project, even at a moment’s notice when emergencies arise using a worldwide mobile workforce. Peter Taranis says, “We always supply the best equipment available that suits the requirements of the yacht. We demonstrate our commitment to customer service, by continuing to support our clients, after commission, at levels exceeding the equipment manufacturer’s warranties.”

In addition to providing connectivity services to 40% of the largest yachts in the world, Global Eagle will now support customer needs with a new 24/7 “VVIP” customer service programme whereby technicians and support teams are available anytime from PRIVA Technical Concierge centres in Miramar, Florida and Madrid, Spain. There are 50 trained technicians and specialists dedicated to yachts who are Priva customers, with a proven issue resolution of 80% completed within the first call. Each client is assigned a team of specialists, including an account manager, solutions architect and service manager to address a tailored solution for each specific need.SECURITY
There are, in some sectors of the industry, still concerns regarding the potential of electronically hijacking a yacht through flaws in a yachts VSAT security system. Without doubt VSAT security issues and future proofing a yachts VSAT system against such a potential threat are subjects for concern. David Savage at Excelerate Technology says, “What has also become increasingly important is the Cyber Securityelement of what we provide and whilst I see the start of this becoming more important in yachting generally it has always been a vital element of what we do. Ultimately it is our customers who devise and implement and uphold their internal security policies although we have the experience and capability to assist with this. Also, and probably unusually in the yacht market our satellite networks are ISO27001 certified which means that Excelerate has defined and put in place best practice information security processes. ISO27001 is the only auditable international standard that defines the requirements of information Security Management System (ISMS). An ISMS is a set of policies, procedures, processes, and systems that manages information risks such as cyber-attacks, hacks, data leaks or theft.” He adds, “Our dedicated Network and Operations Centre actively monitors our networks to ensure the best possible, reliable and secure connections and services and we have taken our wealth of experience and expertise gained in our core government business and applied it as part of what we do in our maritime business.”

At Marlink, Tore Morten Olsen, says, “Cyber-security is a vital aspect of having the Internet at sea and we do indeed provide services, such as Sky-File Anti Virus within our portfolio of Value Added Solutions to help keep our customers secure. But a key thing to remember about cyber-security is the human element. While our solutions provide a strong defence against cyber-attacks, training of crew is vital to ensure that, i.e., they understand that opening unsolicited attachments could have a serious negative impact on a vessel’s network, should it be infected with a virus or Trojan. Considering this, as well as developing cyber-security solutions we are working closely with our customers to help them prevent, detect and remove security risk.”

Marlink offers a wide portfolio of Value Added Solutions for connectivity in the market. In terms of new value added services from Marlink for superyacht customers, we would highlight XChange Telemed, a new fully integrated telemedicine solution. The system provides a cost-effective way for operators to manage both regular and emergency medical consultations for the welfare of crew and guests, thereby supporting medical health at sea and reducing the risk of spiralling costs incurred due to medical emergencies on board.

XChange Telemed is a unique offering for the maritime market. It is the only turnkey, fully integrated telemedicine system available, with everything delivered and managed by Marlink: On-board medical equipment, satellite communications service, secure patient data storage and a flexible web portal to be used by the medical experts. With XChange Telemed, the on-board medical station is used to establish medical measurements of a sick or injured person. All medical data is then automatically synchronised to the Web Portal and associated to the patient file for viewing by the doctor/medical professional on shore who may be able to advise a treatment right away or ask pertinent questions in order to establish a diagnosis quickly. The doctor can establish a live video consultation with the vessel to see the patient first hand. The video connection can also be used to guide an examination of the patient, for instance. Still images can also be quickly transferred from within the system. The benefits of XChange Telemed are quite clear. With live video and direct access to secured patient data and images, medical professionals can act and advise almost as if they were on board, supporting the health and safety of sick and injured crew members or guests.

“Lastly,” says David Savage, “I think we are all agreed that the connected world is getting bigger so the need for consistent bandwidth is also increasing. Great Wi-Fi networks onboard a yacht is no longer a ‘nice to have’ it is a must have. Some onboard activities won’t need to go beyond the yachts onboard Wi-Fi but most users, devices and applications, be they leisure, entertainment and fun related, work related or for yacht management and safety will increasingly need to access the internet at faster and faster speeds with greater resilience and no ‘not spots’. This will be achieved through a mixture of public and private networks and different technologies, all as I have said above with their different characteristics, advantages and disadvantages, risks and costs.”