Intellian’s NX Series antenna systems are transforming the connectivity landscape for users in the superyacht sector: a revolution in an arena where users demand more bandwidth

Superyacht owners and operators on the hunt for an effective VSAT system are, in essence, no different from any other maritime VSAT customer, however specific their individual demands might appear. Their antenna requirements always contain the same basic list: easy installation, reliability, low maintenance and exceptional after-sales support.

Additionally, on the service side, they have requirements for a flexible, high-quality global service at a realistic price. To this is added the unspoken codicils that a customer’s VSAT solution of choice will be able to accommodate the high bandwidth demands generated in peak season, and that it should be ready to take advantage of new technologies in the rapidly-changing VSAT market. On this latter point, a truly future-proof solution has not been available to date, but with the launch of the new Intellian NX Series, superyacht owners and operators can now access multiple satellite bands and orbits with a single antenna.

If at first glance this looks like a lot of boxes to tick, it’s as well to remember that it’s in everyone’s best interest, from businesses to end users, if the satellite service providers, system integrators and tech manufacturers continue leveraging their partnerships to provide the most cost-effective return and optimisation of their VSAT solutions. And certainly, where aspects such as coping with spikes in bandwidth demand away from sources of terrestrial connectivity is concerned, a great deal hinges in the first instance upon managing the expectations of the crew, owners and guests on board, as Arjan Kleinveld, CEO and founder of the communication technology group One, observes.

“There tend to be two types of owners in the superyacht sector: one type understands that bandwidth is always limited on board, but the other type, maybe newer owners that are less accustomed to this, expect the same availability on their boat that they have at home. But once they understand the limitations, they’re usually fine to buy extra bandwidth for short periods of time, just when they need it. Worldwide bandwidth demand is always higher than what’s actually available: even if capacity is increased, people start using more. It’s a battle between availability and consumption.”

Contracted bandwidth
In this context, much will depend upon the stipulations set out in a VSAT user’s Service. Level Agreement: whether the contract is for dedicated or shared bandwidth, and if shared, how many other subscribers on the network are splitting a fixed level of bandwidth between them, and whether the arrangement is underscored with a CIR (Committed Information Rate) guarantee of minimum bandwidth.

“We provide flexible contract terms that are designed to allow clients to instantly change bandwidth speed in line with their needs,” comments Jens Ploch, Commercial Director with marine IT and VSAT service provider, OmniAccess. “It’s as simple as notifying the account manager to either activate bandwidth at the start of the season, upgrade for higher bandwidths during peak operations such as charters or while the owner is on board, downgrade while docked and/or suspend services during the off-season while in the shipyard. Short-term bandwidth upgrades can either be enabled in daily, weekly or monthly blocks. They are processed and activated all on the same day, so that customers can adjust bandwidth instantly.”

When asked to clarify how this additional bandwidth is supplied from a technical perspective, Mr Ploch explains: “OmniAccess operates an advanced global VSAT network with more than 32 permanent satellite beams in both C- and Ku-band, all of which are uplinked from several teleport locations across the globe. Our dedicated satellite capacity team and account managers work closely to plan bandwidth capacities, conduct capacity optimisations and space segmentation while forecasting seasonal demand fluctuations, always taking into consideration the seasonal migration patterns of yachts worldwide.”

Providing an overview of the situation in the most matter-of-fact manner, Mr Kleinveld of The One Group is philosophical. “The real problem with satellite bandwidth will always be latency. You can have as much bandwidth as you want, but it will always be slower than 4G and 5G. The data package needs to travel 40,000km up and then down, and then back and forth for all the additional information. This is why you see global operators trying to bundle data connections so that you only get one delay. This is also, I think, why global operators are increasing their bandwidth provision: mobile operators can let everybody watch Netflix on the beach, say, but this way it’s a plausible solution for yachts using VSAT as well.”

“What you’re now seeing is that they’re not buying just one subscription, but four or five, and trying to bundle that capacity to make it as efficient as possible. This can also give you extra bandwidth on your yacht in peak periods at less cost; it’s faster, and easier to upgrade or downgrade because it’s like buying another sim card.”

Practicable proposition
Increased VSAT service provision flexibility is one thing; but continual investment in the evolution of the hardware itself is pivotal. As the leading global producer of satellite antenna systems, Intellian has been a key contributor in the drive to make maritime VSAT a practicable and attractive proposition, with an expanding list of pioneering hardware initiatives that hold a conspicuous appeal for customers.

“Similar to us, Intellian has a ‘can-do’ mentality,” Mr Ploch enthuses. “In the multiple projects on which we have partnered

up, they have shown great expertise and flexibility, always willing to go the extra mile to find solutions. In addition to their great team, they have developed some of the most reliable and robust products on the market today.”

“Many of Intellian’s most beneficial innovations are embodied in our NX Series range,” notes Intellian CEO Eric Sung. “The recently-introduced v130NX, as an example, is the first ever 1.25m multi-orbit, dual-band VSAT terminal. With its orbit-agnostic tracking capability it will operate with GEO, MEO and LEO constellations so it offers true global coverage, enabling connectivity in polar regions which aren’t yet covered by GEO HTS, and also supports both Ku- and 2.5GHz Wide Ka-band networks: upgrading from Ku-band is effected by simply swapping over the RF assembly and feed.”

A growing number of superyacht clients, mindful of the expectation that uninterrupted, always-on broadband coverage will be on tap for crew and guest use irrespective of wherever their cruising itineraries might take them, are deploying a dual-antenna solution facilitated by another Intellian innovation, the Dual VSAT Mediator, which is a device that is now built into Intellian’s Antenna Control Unit. “This provides a means of controlling two Intellian VSAT systems at the same time,” Mr Sung explains, “so that if one of the antennas should become blocked for any reason, say by adverse conditions or by a part of the vessel’s superstructure, the mediator will automatically, rapidly and smoothly switch across to the other antenna, with no interruption to the service. Users can also choose to manually select one of the antennas if so desired.”

Into tomorrow
As regards the future for superyacht VSAT and the multi-orbit, multi-band services facilitated by the Intellian NX Series, Mr Ploch of OmniAccess is upbeat. “VSAT communications will experience a revolutionary change in the coming years with the introduction of LEO constellations that are capable of providing the true ‘at home’ user experience yacht clients are coming to expect, even in some of the most remote locations around the globe. These satellites’ proximity to the Earth – 1,000km, versus the 36,000km orbits of current GEO satellites – will substantially improve speed and provide lower latency.”

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