Market forecasts show that the number of maritime vessels relying on VSAT as their primary means of communications will more than double by 2016, to more than 26,000. Terry Neumann, iDirect’s director of market strategy, talks current trends and future direction of this market with regards to HTS.
Set the current stage with regards to the adoption of VSAT broadband in maritime and where you see the biggest opportunities ahead.
Neumann: We have already seen operators in segments like cruise, offshore oil and gas, and super yachts heavily adopt the use VSAT technology. They are actively leveraging their VSAT networks to help improve ship-to-shore communications, boost business productivity and address crew welfare. Demand in these markets continues to grow as new IP applications are increasing throughput requirements every year.
Outside of these segments there is still plenty of opportunity for VSAT broadband to further permeate the maritime market. Large market segments, like industrial fishing or commercial shipping, have been slower to adopt VSAT despite the fact that they could greatly benefit from using VSAT for all the aforementioned purposes and more. To date, they have been hesitant to adopt due to a range of variables including cost and bandwidth requirements.
With high throughput satellites (HTS) coming on board, in what ways do you see this technology improving the economic factors you just described?
Neumann: HTS will drive down the cost of service to the end user. In the satellite industry you hear everyone talking about cost/bit and HTS changes that formula, making capacity more affordable or increasing the amount of capacity the customer receives. This will directly impact the adoption of VSAT in the maritime marketability for a maritime customer to utilize new services or enhance what they have already deployed.
Let’s take commercial shipping. A large portion of this 60,000-vessel segment has not yet made the switch to VSAT. HTS will make VSAT service more affordable to deploy with lower cost terminals and more affordable bandwidth. HTS will enable early adopters of VSAT to go beyond basic crew welfare, rolling out applications to improve productivity and operational performance of the ships. We are already seeing VSAT networks used for electronic charting and weather applications, remote IT services, and electronic port and customs documentation.
With that being said, multiple operator models exist in the market today, ranging from globally integrated services, to regionalized approaches. How do you suggest a service provider goes about choosing the right approach?
Neumann: As HTS capacity comes to market, new business models will begin to emerge. HTS may require new levels of infrastructure sharing and collaboration. This means service providers will need to remain flexible in order to build the services that meet the needs of their customers. Choosing the right model comes down to knowing the approach that best aligns with their core business strategy and the competencies they have in the market.
You can go with a vertically integrated services approach for example – an end-to-end model from the solution layer down to the infrastructure and hardware components. Or you can go with a model that is a bit more customized.
Speaking to the latter, you have particular services designed to be backwards compatible, which will help service providers take advantage of the higher capabilities of HTS, yet still maintain value in their existing infrastructure investment. To some, that is a very important aspect due to the investment they have already made. To the end customer the type of service or provider they choose will largely be based on the specialized requirements they have in their business.
Regardless of the model, in what ways is iDirect helping deliver through new enhancements in technology?
Neumann: iDirect is well suited to facilitate new business models for VSAT broadband within the maritime market. We have expanded the iDirect platform to meet the specific speed and scale requirements of HTS.
Our new X7 remote is built on a multi-core processor, which means much higher throughput on a TDMA network. We have already seen the X7 being heavily adopted by a number of our service providers to deliver the data rates necessary to support their customer’s high-bandwidth applications.
As we look forward, it will be exciting to see topics like global roaming and dynamic bandwidth management become areas of discussion that will impact the services being offered to maritime customers.