Near­ing Nir­vana

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The launch of HTS ser­vices over the com­ing decade prom­ises to pro­vide some­thing of a nir­vana in mar­itime comms. But that’s far from the whole story.

The launch of HTS ser­vices over the com­ing decade prom­ises to pro­vide some­thing of a nir­vana in com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the mar­itime in­dus­try. Po­ten­tial in­creases, in band­width ca­pa­bil­ity and avail­able air­time, sug­gest that the sec­tor will fi­nally achieve some kind of par­ity to ter­res­trial through­put rates. While in some cases this may be true, it is far from the whole pic­ture, says Ge­off Dav­i­son, prod­uct man­ager, mar­itime, Thu­raya Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

A com­pre­hen­sive aware­ness of the mar­itime sat­coms land­scape is more than sim­ply recog­nis­ing the chang­ing dy­nam­ics of de­mand and sup­ply. One also needs to con­sider cus­tomer be­hav­iour and needs. Do­ing that makes it im­me­di­ately clear that, for the ma­jor­ity of own­ers and op­er­a­tors, legacy L band sys­tems will con­tinue to com­mand the lion’s share of voice and data traf­fic in com­ing years. That may seem counter- in­tu­itive given the lower per me­gabyte costs and pack­age deals to be had by up­grad­ing but the fact re­mains that many ship­ping com­pa­nies are still in sur­vival mode. Ask the av­er­age ship owner how much he pays per me­gabyte and the chances are he does not know. Ask the same ship owner how much his com­mu­ni­ca­tions bill is ev­ery month and he will be able to tell you quite eas­ily ( and it will be too high). Look ahead to the medium term and the driv­ers to sat­coms adop­tion are likely to re­main fo­cussed on a ser­vice that de­liv­ers on price, qual­ity of sig­nal, ro­bust­ness, ease of use and in­stal­la­tion.

HTS makes great news but ques­tions re­main

Do the ma­jor­ity of ship own­ers need a band­width pipe that big? Are they pre­pared for the com­plex­ity, the higher CAPEX on g r o u n d e q u i p m e n t a n d main­te­nance? Will these ser­vices work as well as L band in the mo­bil­ity mar­ket? Even the providers ac­cept that these ser­vices are likely to be at­trac­tive to com­par­a­tively few high- end users ~ mak­ing their pen­e­tra­tion a small per­cent­age of the ad­dress­able mar­ket. Any­one that has spent time in the mar­itime in­dus­try knows that the lead­ing edge is not al­ways rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the ma­jor­ity. Ship­ping’s mid­dle ground is a place of frag­mented own­er­ship and small to medium sized com­pa­nies work­ing in far lower pro­file niches. Ma n y V S A T v e n d o r s h a v e suc­ceeded in mak­ing sales to such own­ers based on de­mand for crew wel­fare com­mu­ni­ca­tions, but any com­mu­ni­ca­tions pack­age comes with lim­its, re­gard­less of what the sales brochures say. Crew use of so­cial me­dia will test the pa­ram­e­ters of con­tract clauses cov­er­ing best effort, com­mit­ted in­for­ma­tion rates, throt­tling back and max­i­mum MB con­sump­tion. As the oper­a­tor of a high ca­pac­ity L band net­work, our ex­pe­ri­ence is that for the ma­jor­ity of busi­ness users, a smaller pipe with more re­li­able through­put works fine ~ even ac­count­ing for peaks and troughs in de­mand. L band s i gnals , a n d t h ei r as­so­ci­ated ship­board and ground based sig­nals, are prized for their ro­bust­ness, re­sis­tance to rain- fade and that fact that for the most pa r t t h e c r e w c a n i n s t a l l , trou­bleshoot and even up­grade the equip­ment, with a lit­tle help from a ser­vice provider.

F i g u r e s f r o m N o r t h e r n S k y Re­search sug­gest that in- ser­vice Mar­itime Safety Ser­vices units will grow from 368,000 in 2011 to 955,000 in 2021, the vast ma­jor­ity of them nar­row­band. Rev­enues from HTS ser­vices will be­gin to emerge by 2015 but mar­itime L band rev­enues will be dou­ble those of Ku and Ka band com­bined by 2021. True, L band is not com­pletely

global but ‘ re­gion­al­ity’ is not lim­ited to L band providers. Most cur­rent VSAT cov­er­age is put to­gether from beams op­er­ated by FSS providers ( Fixed Satel­lite Ser­vices) and cov­er­age is rarely, if ever, global. The fact that mar­itime has never been a one- size- fits- all mar­ket, and is emerg­ing from the worst down­turn for al­most a gen­er­a­tion, is truer than ever. A suc­cess­ful ship­ping com­pany will need to be con­nected, but it will also need to keep costs un­der c on t r o l a n d e mploy pr ov e n sys­tems and ser­vices de­signed to fit its spe­cific needs. Mar­itime is an en­vi­ron­ment where equip­ment must be de­signed for p u r p o s e a n d r e l i a b i l i t y . A con­sis­tent and re­li­able ser­vice, al­beit at un­starry data rates, might be bet­ter for a mid- sized oper­a­tor com­pared t o a high s peed con­nec­tion that only gives 70 per­cent cov­er­age and a high dropout rate.

The price equa­tion will con­tinue to play a key role

Ship own­ers do not spend their har d earn ed dol l ar s with ou t m e a s u r a b l e a n d m e a n i n g f u l pay­back. So there is good rea­son to be­lieve that ded­i­cated L band op­er­a­tors, who un­der­stand their cus­tomers and have close links to their part­ners, can­not just sur­vive the HTS wave, they can pros­per by con­tin­u­ing to pro­vide a proven and trusted con­nec­tion.

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