On-board connectivity is finding itself increasingly under the spotlight in the context of improving technology on board bigger yachts that necessitate higher numbers of crew. In issue 67 of The Crew Report, we interview Derik Wagner, managing director of MTN Communications’ yacht business unit, about how this ever-growing innovation is affecting today’s ‘technology generation’ of crew and how they can better understand the demands on a yacht’s bandwidth. Here's a preview...

What’s the biggest paradigm shift in the world of superyacht communications that you’re noticing as we enter 2014?

Crew are starting to understand that they need more control of their bandwidth. Where in the past we just needed to guarantee a good, reliable link to the boat and its on-board antennas, crew now expect to have access to that link and are instead looking more at its functionality and how they can best use it. It all comes down to the different applications they benefit from given their level of bandwidth.

With this in mind, how can a single yacht’s bandwidth cater to the varying demands of its on-board users simultaneously?

Voice calls to PBX, wireless use from smartphones, different applications (Skype, video conferencing and high-definition video streaming, for example) add a lot of complexity to how that bandwidth is used and the biggest question is: how are you going to do all of these things simultaneously? How are you going to have crew using the internet for their emails and social media, the owner having their high-definition video conference call and a guest streaming a video all at the same time?
It’s about trying to enable the level of priority through profiling, bandwidth shaping and local area network (LAN) management. It’s possible to define bandwidth priorities and/or limits so you can actually section out how much goes where. For example, if you are receiving 10 megabits per second (Mbps) of capacity, you could say the crew is going to get two Mbps and the owner will get eight Mbps – that’s one way to control it. You could say the crew is always going to be cut off at two Mbps, or you could say the crew gets two Mbps. Yet, if that other eight Mbps isn’t being used, they could use it, too. The first ways of prioritising bandwidth meant the owners and guests got all of it and the crew got none of it, but now there are tools to allow all parties to get it all the time and without shutting it down totally – you just set and adjust the limits depending on the actual needs.

The cost of using data on board is something that is frequently bemoaned by today’s generation of technology-dependent crew. Is there anything in the industry pipeline to suggest this may change?

Just receiving one Mbps of bandwidth at sea five years ago was a feat in itself, and very few people were getting any more than that. For those who were, the price was very high – six figures for just a few Mbps – because satellite bandwidth from the operators was expensive. Today we can provide more than 100 Mbps, though that still may be considered costly and unnecessary for many. Today, getting 10-15 Mbps on a link is more commonplace and affordable thanks to technology improvements over the past five years. But alongside that, with everyone’s craze for smartphones and applications, the demand for bandwidth has gone up exponentially and has increased more than the prices have decreased. Unfortunately when budgets are being decided this isn’t typically understood, so today we have boats getting more bandwidth but having an even higher demand, and that’s what people haven’t figured out – they’re set up for disappointing performance.

Find the full interview in issue 67 of The Crew Report - click here to download.