HTS and the evolution of maritime satcoms
Digital Ship recently organised a round table discussion session in Monaco, bringing together a panel of four vessel
operators, three communications technology suppliers and one market forecaster to discuss the future development of
satellite communications in the shipping industry. Amongst a wide range of subjects the debate covered the potential of
high throughput satellites, VSAT as ‘a new standard’, and what a shipping company really looks for when choosing a system
The panel consisted of (abbreviations in brackets):
(WL) – Wei Li, Senior consultant at Euroconsult, in charge of research reports on
mobile satellite communications, mainly in the maritime and aeronautical sectors.
(KS) – Kevin Sinclair, IT applications manager at Scorpio Ship Management,
involved with managing satellite communications and network systems for the company
(replacing Alasthair Saunders, IT vessel support manager, who was unable to
attend the round table).
(ALT) – Alain Laplace-Toulouse, Area sales manager with Marlink, based in
Antibes in France and responsible for distribution and service for maritime satellite
(SG)– Simone Gori, General manager at Seatec Communications, part of the
V.Group supplying IT, navigation and communications equipment and airtime services
(WB) – William Biegun, Head of navigation, communication and vessel IT systems
at CMA SHIPS (Ship Management company of CMA CGM) and responsible for
approximately 100 owned vessels.
(BB) – Barbara Bersani, Head of sales for South Europe, Middle East & Africa at
Airbus Defence and Space, managing maritime sales efforts across these regions.
(MVP) – Marjolijn van Tiel-Postma, Purchasing manager at Beltship Management
Limited in Monaco for the last 10 years, a manager and owner of self-discharging
bulk carriers and gearless bulk carriers.
(CI) – Chris Insall, Senior principal product manager for maritime services at
Intelsat, a satellite operator partnering with the majority of maritime VSAT service
Digital Ship’s 2015 round table discussion, titled ‘HTS and the evolution
of maritime satcoms’ and hosted by Airbus Defence and Space at the
Novotel Monte Carlo in Monaco, brought together a panel of eight experts with
decades of experience in the field of vessel operations and the application of technology
in the shipping environment. The goal of the discussion was to examine
some of the current, emerging and planned future communications technologies
on offer to the maritime market, and to gather opinions on how the evolution in
the technologies on offer might change the operational environment in coming years.
Digital Ship posed a number of questions to the panel (identified in the table on
the right), starting with a review of the current satcom usage among our vessel operators
and how that affects their view of the new generation of emerging technologies.
Digital Ship (DS): To start us off, I’d like to get an idea of what type of satellite
communications systems our shipping companies here today are using, to learn
about the type of experiences you’ve had with these services to date. Kevin, could
we start with you?
Kevin Sinclair (KS): We’re using VSAT, Ku-band VSAT systems, as the mainstream
communications system. We use FBBs (FleetBroadbands) as a backup. That’s pret-
ty much the satellite situation we have on board the fleet, we have about 70 vessels
that are equipped in this manner.
DS: Is it a standardised set-up, do you have the same system on each ship?
KS: We’ve rolled out five vessels per month, on average, for the past year. We’ll
be doing this for the next year and probably through to the end of 2016. Yes, it’s
fully standardised, and we have simple installation as well on the vessels.
DS: What were you replacing with this roll-out?
KS: It’s all newbuilds, so we’re not replacing anything. We had a fleet of 20
vessels that still had ‘F’ terminals and we replaced the F terminals with the combo,
the VSAT plus the FBB, as they were doing drydocks.
So that was 20 vessels, of which we’ve probably sold about 10 so we’re only left
with 10 legacy vessels, that are now up to standard. It’s a very young fleet.
DS: So Ku-band VSAT is the system of choice for you?
DS: Simone, what are your ships using?
Simone Gori (SG): For shipmanage- ment it’s a little bit different from when
you own the ship as well, so we have quite a lot of variety in terms of products.
FleetBroadband of course is one, and VSAT, and L-band with Iridium.
Talking in terms of Seatec Communications, as part of the V.Group
we are trying to standardise the solution, but it’s not always easy. What we are trying
to do is offer consultancy about how the owner can save money and also satisfy
DS: So what kind of advice to you give in terms of the type of satellite communica-
tions systems you see as being most effective and most efficient?
SG: Believe it or not, there are still owners with Fleet77 and Inmarsat-B systems,
even at the end oflast year there were thousands of Inmarsat-B systems all over
the world. So we need to be cost effective as well, so FleetBroadband may be the first
solution to go to, but if you look a little bit ahead then the VSAT can be the right solution,
William Biegun (WB): At CMA CGM we are using a mixture of F systems, like
Fleet77, and FleetBroadband and VSAT. I have to go back a bit into history to explain
why we have so many devices on board. A few years ago we actually had only
one single Fleet77 on board our vessels, but that was causing some operational issues
when the Fleet77 was broken or out of order. So we had the idea that we should
introduce a second system on board. That was in 2009, and at that time we
were suffering a major crisis in the container shipping market. We could not afford the
high costs involved with the Fleet77, so we decided to install FleetBroadband on board
our vessels. We kept the Fleet77 on board as a backup and FleetBroadband became our
It was ok for some time, but then eventually, in mid-2013, we decided to introduce
Ku-band VSAT on board our vessels, for reasons that I will explain later on. But
still, theinitial idea was that the VSAT would replace the Fleet77, but unluckily for us, most
pedestals for the Fleet77s were in the X-band radar beam, so there was some interference
and we could not replace them at the same location. So we decided to keep the
Fleet77 as a second backup! The VSAT was installed somewhere else more appropriate on board. So that
explains our variety of systems, which in some senses is good because, as we are trading
worldwide, we see that in different parts of the world we might have different blocking
areas in ports, sometimes it’s affecting the VSAT, sometimes it’s morethe
FleetBroadband, so for the time being we are quite happy with the three systems
For the newbuild vessels we kept this structure where we have three systems on
board – VSAT and two FleetBroadbands.
DS: So that’s the standard fit for you at the moment?
Marjolijn van Tiel-Postma (MVP): We were quite similar, we had Fleet77s
because it was on ships before everything else came out, then we started with
Iridium OpenPort with the first generation almost as soon as it came out.
That was enough for where the ships were sailing, then we got ships from Brazil
for a Brazilian owner, which we built for them, and they wanted to offer crew internet
facilities. So we added FleetBroadband, with Iridium as a back-up.
For the ships that went to Africa, because the crew couldn’t go ashore there,
we also added VSAT. Not just for that reason,but also to be able to remotely monitor
parts of the equipment on board because it was a 24-hour operation.
DS: So you have a mix, a little bit of everything?
DS: It’s interesting that with each of our shipping companies represented here
today, you are now at the stage where you are all using VSAT to some extent on
board at least some of your ships, something we would probably not have seen
just a few years ago. Maybe our other panellists can tell us a bit about how this is
reflected in wider trends across the industry? Wei, that’s your area in particular.
Wei Li (WL): I think industry-wide we have seen very strong growth in VSAT in
the last five years. For now, according to our last report, we see globally speaking
14,000 or 15,000 VSATs active globally. Other reports have said figures like 30,000
but we are less optimistic than that, we’re not counting that many.
DS: What type of vessels are you including in that, does it extend to oil rigs and
platforms or just ships?
WL: We’re counting everything in maritime and offshore, so including the rigs
and support vessels, all of the merchant ships and commercial ships, all of the
superyachts and cruise ships, and government vessels like the Coast Guard.
Counting all of that we came up with something like 14,000 to 15,000 VSAT vessels
active globally, and we see that growing very fast.
Many of these users come from migration from legacy Inmarsat systems, they
are demanding more bandwidthand want to have more traffic per month,
and Inmarsat is too expensive to support this kindof usage so they are moving to VSAT.
In terms of the frequency, most of these new VSAT users are in Ku-band, but there
is still some C-band in legacy systems that have been installed for some time, people
are not trying to replace them so they are still being used.
There are some ships that require high quality in their connections and global coverage
and they may stay with C-band, but we think that the numbers using C-band
will stay relatively stable in the next five years, the majority of growth will come
VSAT is growing very fast, but on the other side MSS (mobile satellite services)
are growing fast as well. So if we compare the net addition of VSAT and MSS, in
VSAT it increased between 1,500 and 1,800 in the last year globally but
FleetBroadband increased by more than 10,000 in one year. Many of those are com-
ing from migration from old systems as they tried to push people on to
FleetBroadband, it doesn’t mean there are 10,000 new vessels in the market.
There’s also a big difference between regions, we talked to many service
providers and ship owners in Europe and the Middle East and many of their newbuilds
have VSAT from the very beginning, but if we look at Asia or some Latin
American countries, many of the newbuilds there have FleetBroadband or
Iridium to begin with. So there are big differences in the dynamics between regions.
We believe that in the future both MSS and VSAT will keep growing, but in terms
of revenue VSAT will show more growth.
Right now more than 50 per cent of the revenues in the market are coming from
MSS, but within the next five to ten years VSAT will be responsible for more than 50
In terms of revenue it will be bigger, though in terms of terminals, about 80 per
cent of the terminals will be MSS, because they’ll be on for back-up on VSAT vessels
while there will be many vessels that still only use MSS and no VSAT. Those are the
trends we see for the moment.
WB: When do you foresee the end of dial-up technology, Fleet77 for instance?
WL: In the next five years. I think Inmarsat have had plans to terminate some
services but have been late sometimes in doing that, sometimes because people
haven’t been willing to migrate, but I think their plan is to stop older generations of
systems because it’s not efficient in terms of spectrum usage and management.
They’ll want to free up that spectrum for new generations of systems that are
more efficient and easier to manage. So I think that in the next five year’s all of the
Inmarsat-3 generation except Inmarsat-C will be terminated.
DS: There are GMDSS issues to consider in that, with ships using Fleet77 for their
GMDSS for example, politically it won’t be easy to switch that off.
MVP: It happened with Inmarsat-D though, I had to change SSAS equipment
on two ships because the satellite came falling out of the sky!
SG: It’s interesting, I remember the Inmarsat-B and Inmarsat said it was supposed
to shut down in 2014 – but once they discovered that so many terminals were
still out there they decided to postpone.
Alain Laplace-Toulouse (ALT):
Concerning Inmarsat-C, it’s a bit different because Inmarsat has a 10-year period to
give notice before they close down the service, as it’s a GMDSS service.
Chris Insall (CI): Some of the safety product agreements are formal, others
informal. This affects how long a terminal is maintained on a vessel.
ALT: Even if it’s informal, I think they’ll keep to it because they have all of those
vessels fitted with Inmarsat-C.
CI: The industry, as we see, is very careful about letting go of equipment which
has been so useful on a vessel, but in terms of old systems there is the danger that you
end up with pricing plans whichare not suitable and that an operator can’t then
access all of the advantages of clearing a deck space and putting in new systems.
You’re subject to the whim of your operator for old systems that have pricing
plans that are encouraging you away from those systems. It’s a challenge if you don’t
have a plan to replace those systems, then you’re at the mercy of the L-band operator.
MVP: I agree with that, the problem though is that because it’s new technology
it changes all the time. Putting Iridium on board the ship five years ago, when it was
brand new and ‘the next big thing’, within a year the same guy that came to sell the
Iridium comes and tells me I need to put a VSAT antenna on board.
When we were designing the newbuilds for Brazil five years ago I think I talked to
every single company almost that’s out there, but it moves so quickly. Sometimes
you just want to hang on to your old equipment due to the fact that you know
that it works, even if it’s expensive. Every time you put a new thing on
board you have all the start-up issues, things don’t work, people need to learn
how to use it, you lose the connection stuff like that.
So I can understand that people want to hang on to things. But you do run out of
space, we are considering putting VSAT on the Brazilian ships because the owner complains
about the speed of the crew internet, and we don’t know where to put it.
Barbara Bersani (BB): This is interesting, we are a supplier of various
technologies from MSS up to very high-end customisedVSAT, and what we see in the
market is that ship owners or managers tend to hesitate today because there are so
many different technologies, not only for today but being announced to be available
in the future. There is a tendency for some to ‘wait and see’.
However, we are at a crossroads at the moment, and we have technologies that
can evolve with the new advances. So you can follow a route that will allow you to
evolve to follow what will come next, and reduce that fear while taking advantage of
the best that exists today.
There are many different technologies, it’s like a jungle and it’s not so easy to
understand the differences between the technologies and what is to come.
MVP: I have an IT background so they can tell me anything really, but because
I’ve talked to so many companies and studied everything I have a pretty good
idea. Another problem is space and the size of the antennas. Compare an Iridium
antenna, which you can basically put under your arm and carry up the ladder,
with a VSAT antenna – with VSAT you need a crane to put it in place so it’s a different
Our ships in Brazil sail between Brazil and China, anchoring in Singapore for
bunkering only – where are you going to put it on board? We’d need to hire a floating
crane in Singapore and that’s going to cost more than the VSAT antenna.
KS: We delayed our VSAT programme by about two years for the reason that
Barbara mentioned – it’s just a jungle. There were many systems available at the
time, then Global Xpress was announced so do you wait for it, what do you do?
In the end, two years later than we had planned, we actually decided to standardise
everything and go with VSAT on Ku-band, and have all of our vessels installed with
that technology for a long span of time rather than changing every three years.
We went with that solution and chickened out of C-band because of the size of
the antenna, thinking that that would justmake things more difficult. As Barbara was
saying, at some stage you’ve got to go and start doing something, if you just keep
looking at the market you’ll never move because there are so many changes and so
many choices. The best choice is the one you make now and go ahead with.
DS: Do any of you have an opinion on what a minimum monthly data requirement
would be in 2015 for a modern shipping company to operate in competition
with the best in the business? And a minimum bandwidth that it would be hard to operate
MVP: There are so many variables, for example our ships that went to Africa doubled
in crew, instead of 23 crew all of a sudden there were 45 crew. They cannot go
ashore and they work in 12-hour shifts so they have a lot of time to be on the internet.
So that creates a huge requirement.
KS: It’s not a question of bandwidth, of how much data, it’s about giving your crew
internet. That’s what you need. If you don’t have that people will not want to join
your vessel. Crew retention and welfare is absolutely paramount at this stage.
We’ve had to introduce a system where the crew has to pay for their internet with
one of our third party ship managers, because their entire fleet is based on a pay
per usage internet package.
Introducing vessels with VSAT with free internet would have been a total disaster
for them because they realised that if they did it the rest of their crew would
want to go on those vessels. That really, in 2015, is becoming paramount.
DS: So having IP capability and internet access is the minimum requirement?
KS: Absolutely, having packet data and free internet for the crew.
MVP: The big problem with that is how it’s described, providers may say they can
implement a ‘crew internet café’ on the ship, but of course it will never be like
walking into a crew internet café on shore. Things the crews do on shore, like talking
on Skype with relatives face to face with video, if then they go on board the ship it’s
going to be different, it has to go from the ship into space and back to shore.
With the talk in the industry about crew internet, they think it’s going to be the
same as on shore. But it can’t be.
SG: If you look at the number of devices they are bringing on board too, the have a
smartphone, an iPad, so many devices. They expect to have service with these.
Publicado el junio 19, 2015 en Technical y etiquetado en communications technologies, evolution, future communications, it, maritime, maritime satcoms, shipping environment. Guarda el enlace permanente. Deja un comentario.