VSAT promises a step change in connectivity for shipowners but they must understand what it can and cannot do, says Malcolm McMaster, President, Globecomm Maritime. In the following article, Mr McMaster explains risks and opportunities of upgrading to VSAT communications, from his perspective.
The shipping industry is migrating at an increasing speed from legacy L-Band systems to VSAT for a handful of compelling reasons. Higher bandwidth and fixed data allowances promise better use of more sophisticated applications and both purchase and operating costs are falling in real terms.
However some owners are still struggling to make sense of the transition. Very often, the suggestion we hear is that investing in VSAT will solve the user’s problems at a stroke. Not always fully understood is what they will be paying for and what VSAT will deliver relative to L-Band.
Given the poor state of most shipping markets, there is very limited money available for upgrades and monthly expenditure, so the decision must be ‘right first time’.
VSAT is an acronym jungle. The term All You Can Eat (AYCE) implies unlimited data and on most packages this will be true. Maximum Information Rate (MIR) is the ‘headline figure’ for throughput, but Committed Information Rate (CIR) is what will drive the price. Users must pay attention to the CIR because it says a lot about the experience they are likely to receive in practice.
The complaint we hear most often is that VSAT bundles with low headline prices do not deliver the anticipated user experience and that customers are either obliged to upgrade to more expensive plans or are ‘throttled back’ when they exceed contracted data allowance.
Another issue occurs when owners fail to specify VSAT in terms of their real needs. A low throughput speed at a budget price might be fine for low bandwidth tasks but attempt to use the same package for web browsing or office-style software and it will likely disappoint.
In many ways, what customers want hasn’t changed that much. They want open platforms that give a degree of choice around applications, wide coverage and system reliability at competitive cost.
For service providers like Globecomm the product may have changed but the rules are the same. We have to listen first and sell second – educate the customer and provide the service and package that accurately meets the need.
Our philosophy for our VSAT service – the Globecomm VSAT – is to be flexible and responsive: we ‘make the shoe to fit your foot’, rather than forcing your foot into the shoe. Our solution is a high-capacity system built on the iDirect Evolution platform and designed to deliver ‘industrial strength’ connectivity on a global basis.
Over the next five years we expect see the ‘lagging majority’ of users continue to move up from L-Band to VSAT. Buyers who are considering making the move should ensure that they are buying a system that does what its specification describes, if not more, so as to anticipate their future needs.
Properly understood and specified, VSAT can deliver a truly end-to-end managed global service that keeps you connected, whether on primary or backup channels. In order to represent real value, it should provide a significant improvement in end user experience. Lastly, it must take account of evolving technology and offer a choice – or a combination – of frequency bands.
At all costs, shipowners must avoid the VSAT hype and focus on their needs and how these are likely to evolve. In that way they can work with a service provider to discover what level of service they really need – and what kind of package will deliver it.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
Malcolm McMaster is the President of Globecomm Maritime, a global provider of managed network communication solutions.