Maritime VSAT Satellite Internet

Maritime internet comes in various shapes and sizes so it is important that before deciding what to install you already have a rough idea of what the possibilities are.

This list is not exhaustive and you should always talk to a satellite professional you can trust

How to get connected?

The 3 most common ways to connect your ship to the internet are:

  • 3G/4G/5G While this is by far the cheapest LOCAL solution it has limited terrestrial coverage and nearly no signal at sea unless in coastal areas. Roaming on 3G can easily become more expensive than VSAT.
  • VSAT satellite internet has near global availability and will offer you the most reliable high speed connection. It is important to know how to compare VSAT services because communication rates can vary greatly (while in the end everyone uses the same satellites)
  • L-Band/MSS (Iridium or Inmarsat) has the largest geographical coverage (including the poles) but usually comes at a high cost and long term committments. While these services might seem ideal at first they are usually very slow (by today’s standards) and can easily break the bank.

Type of satellite VSAT service

There are a few technical aspects to keep in mind while looking at satellite VSAT service.

Frequency Band: Most current VSAT services are in either C-, Ku- or Ka-Band. These indicate the different radio frequencies at which the service operates. Each frequency has its technical characteristics which should be kept in mind:

  • C-Band usually covers very large (continent-wide) geographical areas but also needs very large (1.8m and more) parabolic satellite antennas. This frequency has less attenuation during heavy rain than higher frequencies Ku- and Ka-Band.
  • Ku-Band is the most common frequency band used and can be affected by rainfade. typical maritime satellite antenna size for Ku-Band is 100cm for global services and 85cm for regional.
  • Ka-Band has become more popular over the last years even though it is more influenced by rain than C- and Ku Band. It does offer the promise of higher throughput due to frequency reuse but also does not always have the option of near global coverage

VSAT connection costs

The actual cost of a VSAT link is defined by its CIR (Committed Information Rate), this is the minimum guaranteed bandwidth you will receive during normal operation. In a shared environment providers will often advertise MIR (Maximum Information Rates) but these may or may not be reached, they aren’t guaranteed.

For easy speed based comparison between offers you should compare the cost per Mbps CIR of each proposal. It will allow you to compare guaranteed speed vs cost. The MIR is anything you will get extra, paid for by other users of the pool you are in., so you shouldn’t be charged for it. If they all use their internet connection at the same time you do then you will just get the CIR.

Upload speed is equally important as download speed, without upload you would not be able to request any data. So don’t forget to check your upload requirements as well especially if you need to do video conferencing, transfer large amounts of data or expect high social media upload volumes. Insufficient upload capacity will throttle your download speed.

The cost of your VSAT connection will either be based on the bandwidth (speed) you are receiving or the volume of data (amount of MegaBytes) used within a period (metered connection). Additionally there can be a fair user policy (FUP) or fair access policy (FAP) which will limit the amount of speed you will receive depending on the volume of data you already have used. This type of connection can look cheap and offer very high speed but in the end you always get what you pay for … or even less. Contact us for more detail.

If you choose for a volume based package or unlimited package with FUP (see below) it is best to calculate the actual cost per GB data. Some services will cost over thousands of $ per GB while others less than ten $.

Managing the connections

Once you have chosen which connection methods to use you will need to manage these automatically. While this might seem an easy task based on simple availability of a link, the actual real life management tends to be somewhat more complicated. The setup of your SD-WAN (software defined WAN) will most likely be configured based on least cost routing/availability.

Switching from a $10 per GB VSAT link to a $10.000 per GB automatically (e.g. because of mast blockage or other temporary outage) and still giving the crew unlimited access will have very expensive consequences.

While 3G/4G tend to be faster and cheaper than VSAT they can under certain circumstances offer a very slow connection or have high latency (e.g. when roaming or in saturated areas where many vessels are trying to use tha same 4G service). In these cases the link is still present but the quality of the link is far worse than the slower VSAT link. You will need a link manager that can assess the link quality.

To manage the different links properly you will need o invest in equipment (multi-wan routers and firewalls) and in its configuration + monitoring.

Managing the Local Network

Allowing all users the same access rights to the network connectivity will quickly take down the communication links, unless if you have terrestrial like speeds available on board. The only way to prevent this is by setting rules on the usage (speed, volume, time, content or a combination thereof) of the connections. There are many ways to configure this based of available speed, crew size, critical application requirements, user rank, content type, application type, …

Depending on the complexity of your requirements you will need to select specific bandwidth management appliances capable of the necessary configurations. Not all devices can provide the necessary filters and rules to achieve the required goals.

Service and support

While many large maritime Internet Service Providers (who are omnipresent, you know who they are) will pride themselves on their global presence (and charge you accordingly) the reality is that your issues will most likely be solved remotely unless something is physically broken, in which case a spare will be sent and most of the time the crew will be able to replace the part. Gone are the days of sending service engineers to load an option file or replace a faulty modem or BUC.

If issues occur at satellite or teleport level then no amount of global service offices will be able to make a difference, excepty in your budget. This has an immense influence on the rates they will charge you and you should use the comparison above and wonder why you would pay twice or more times the cost.

This is why we recommend a service provider who will manage your network but does not have its own Teleport infrastructure. The reason for this is that they will always try to fix their problem first and only in a last resort search for a third party solution in case of trouble. For an infrastructure independent provider, having multiple Teleports in his portfolio, the most important thing is that your connection works flawlessly. If anything happens he will almost immediately be able to relocate the service to an operational infrastructure. The continuity of the client’s connection being paramount.

Conclusion

There are many aspects to keep in mind before committing to a particular service but comparing the market wisely is the first step. Don’t hesitate to ask for professional assistance in getting the best value for your specific application.

For any questions on the above you can always contact us or use the form below.