We frequently talk about ‘revolutions’ in technology and communications, but when it comes to satellite connectivity it really is starting to feel like we are at the dawn of a new era. In the last couple of years the next generation of high throughput satellites (HTS) in both Ku- and Ka-band have started delivering reliable, fast internet to key yachting areas. Of course, the downside of all this speed tends to be cost – if you want 1:1 contention and a big fat pipe of data for streaming movies in 4K and updating FaceTube, it can run to a monthly bill not of thousands, but of tens of thousands of dollars or more.

But the philosophies of the terrestrial mobile comms industry are starting to snake their way slowly toward our rarified world, it seems. When Inmarsat launched its high throughout Global Xpress service last year, it also threw in an intriguing rethink of conventional satellite communications architecture. Aside from offering set data packages backed up by a Service Level Agreement (SLA) guarantee, Inmarsat introduced what it called Application Programming Interfaces – a set of commands that allow an application to call up more bandwidth only when it is needed and tear it down afterwards, rather than the end user having to pay continuously for a larger data pipe when the spikes may be infrequent.

“Think of video conferencing,” says Rob Myers, senior director maritime market development at Inmarsat. “In this example, the app provider will interface with our network to call up more bandwidth when it needs it, and the cost of that bandwidth will be embedded within the service. This is all very new, and we’re looking to change the model and break the bandwidth bottleneck at sea, not just by throwing more bandwidth at it but by bringing solutions to superyacht owners in cleverer ways.”

Now other companies are looking at new ways to provide service to maritime sectors based on different models. KVH recently announced AgilePlans, a sort of flexi-plan leasing agreement for cost-effective satcomms without the expense of investing in the core hardware. With packages currently ranging from 500mb to 40gb of data per month at speeds of up to 4Mbps shore-to-ship and 1Mbps ship-to-shore, AgilePlans offer basic connectivity from $499 to $5,399 per month, equipment included. Want to terminate the contract? Simple – return the equipment and you’re done. The packages also include a number of complimentary add-ons such as free installation, zero maintenance costs, free technical assistance, free C-Map weekly chart updates, weather forecasting and news content.

While these sorts of packages are perhaps below the data requirements and speeds demanded by modern superyachts, not only could they find a potential home on larger tenders or chase boats, they also hint at the increasing desire for operators and service providers to offer choice and flexibility at an attractive price point for customers.

The next steps are likely to come within the next five years as the first true broadband low Earth orbit constellations make their way into the skies. Leading the charge is OneWeb – where currently a contingent combination agreement with Intelsat, backed by a $1.7 billion investment from SoftBank, is making its way through due process. Either way, the advent of LEO – OneWeb is aiming for a 2020 timeframe for the first elements of its service to come on-stream – could mean another massive shake-up in mobile global communications, particular as it gathers pace over the coming decade and attracts the attention of the wider mobility sector players, which in turn could help drive down costs as mass market economics come into play. “It will mean transforming satellite communications by making them easier and more economical to use,” comments Mark Rasmussen, Intelsat’s vice president and general manager, mobility. “The future is here, and it’s only going to get better.” We live in exciting times indeed.

 

Image courtesy of Intelsat

 

We take a more in-depth look at satcomms in the upcoming issue 179 of The Superyacht Report.

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