There are many technologies available to install internet connectivity on a ship. Some will need multiple large satellite antennas to achieve their goal and some will require no more than a small stick sized antenna. Whatever your requirements are it is important to be well informed on the possible choices, costs and performance.
On this and the following pages you will find a summary of the current possibilities, required equipment and services to connect your ship or fleet to the internet in a more informed manner. Some solutions will be more suitable than others and if in doubt don't hesitate to contact us.
What is VSAT
VSAT stands for Very Small Aperture Terminal and hinges around the (relatively) small size of a parabolic satellite antenna.
VSAT is mostly used when speaking about satellite internet connectivity whereas the term TVRO (TV Receive Only) applies to Satellite TV reception.
Maritime Satellite Internet Speed
Satellite Internet at sea will probably never be as fast as its land based cabled counterpart (unless you have huge resources) but it is coming close to broadband solutions offered today in homes and offices. 4 Mbps download speeds, and even 20 Mbps and more, are becoming available giving you almost the same high speed experience as cabled land based solutions.
Maritime Satellite Internet Cost
Even though prices for Airtime (the subscription part of your connection) have been decreasing, the regular rates remain very high due to the high cost of satellites and their 'limited' resources in comparison to terrestrial broadband.
While there are relatively cheap satellite solutions on the market it is always recommended to check with a professional first. These markets are in constant evolution and there is no one-size-fits-all solution as some would like you to believe.
Maritime Internet Options
There are several ways to have internet on board, it mostly depends on where you are and what is available. The solutions range from cabled or wireless access (WiFi) in port, 3G or 4G data connections, Regional Satellite Service or Global Satellite Service. Which one is best for you will depend on your requirements and budget.
For use on board we make a difference between the following solutions
- Global VSAT
- Regional VSAT
- Fleetbroadband and Iridium
- 3G, 4G, LTE and Wimax
- Wi-Fi (in port or other direct connection)
Global services will usually require an antenna of at least 100cm diameter and more if you will navigate outside the major shipping lanes.
Generally, these systems operate in the Ku-band and C-band frequencies. As a rule of thumb C-band suffers less from rain attenuation, but requires larger antennas, while Ku-band can use smaller antennas, but suffers from rain fade when experiencing heavy rain.
Even though the service offered is rarely truly global, unless combined with other services like Fleetbroadband or Iridium, it will cover most of the shipping routes. Global coverage is more expensive than its regional counterpart because it requires more satellites to be available to cover all routes (even those you might not use).
Regional Satellite connections become available for antennas with a diameter starting from 60cm. There are a few regional providers offering services for antennas of this small size but most will require a larger antenna (85cm up to 120cm) to be able to use their service.
The advantage for Regional Satellite connections is that they will usually cost less and might very well fulfill your needs. Even multiple satellites to cover a specific region can be more advantageous. Contact a Satellite Airtime Professional to advise you in all the possibilities.
Fleetbroadband and Iridium
Unlike the above regional and global flat fee services Fleetbroadband and Iridium offer Metered Global coverage. You can use these systems for data and voice. These systems are however not recommended for heavy use as prices can run up to $10 per Mbyte data transferred or even more.
They do however offer excellent backup service in case your VSAT service might be interrupted and you urgently need to make a call or transfer data.
3G, 4G, 4G LTE and WIMAX
If you will need internet access just for your personal use and don't really require it while sailing then you might find your best solution in a 3G or 4G connection depending on availability on your region. It will let you have a reasonable reach outside of the port areas (similar to your cell phone) and offer sufficient speed as well.
If you want to extend the reach of the signal you can install a 3G signal booster with a larger external antenna which will improve reception.
You need however be aware that these subscriptions are usually metered, which means you will be charged depending on the amount of data you will consume and when using this solution abroad (roaming) the prices will increase dramatically.
3G, 4G Signal Boosters
Cell phone signal boosters are designed to take the weak signal from land based towers, amplify it and broadcast it to passengers on the boat. If you're looking for better reception while docked or out on the water, then a marine cell phone signal booster might be the right choice for you.
A marine signal booster works by using an outside antenna mounted on the boat to receive a cell signal from the closest tower, which is then passed to an amplifierw hich broadcasts the boosted signal to the cabin(s) and/or living area(s) of the vessel via an inside antenna. The system also works in reverse when a call is being placed from a phone on the boat.
Cabled and/or WiFi in Port
The most cost effective and fast solution will most likely be if the port where you are has high speed land based internet connection and shares this with the vessels in the port. Speeds will however depend on how many users are sharing the connection.
You can either connect your devices (smartphone, laptop or other wireless device) directly to the network or you can have your wireless router pick up the signal and relay it on board. The second solution has the advantage of only having to configure one device when changing ports.