In an increasingly digital environment, efficient communication is crucial to the offshore industry. This requirement drives diverse options and choices for communications services among maritime operators including 4G LTE and Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT).
While there is a common misconception that 4G LTE can be an inefficient and costly solution, service providers are rolling out new global roaming plans that are seeing strong uptake.
The industry is witnessing more mainstream cellular operators in Europe and the United States deploy extensive 4G LTE network coverage. Previously, consumers were limited to using Wi-Fi in their homes or hotels where they have their own domestic high-speed Wi-Fi service. Now, they are able to get those same speeds, or better, whilst mobile via their cellphones with 4G LTE coverage from their cellular service provider. This allows users to stream movies and live sporting events whilst away from home.
As consumers grow accustomed to this level of connectivity in their daily life, there is an expectation that they will continue to have the same data rates and connectivity on board cruise ships and other commercial vessels. This leads to an increased drive from maritime communications providers to increase satellite bandwidth during sea-time in order to support the higher internet access demands of those on board.
Additionally, some ship owners and operators have experienced 4G LTE bill shocks due to misuse from crews. Introducing cost control measures such as subscription credit limits, and access and service management of the 4G LTE networks can help complement VSAT and yield stable operating expenses to the maritime community.
The yachting industry is a great example of growing bandwidth demand. 4G LTE is being increasingly integrated as an additional connectivity method, due to the bandwidth demand on board yachts sometimes outstripping the capacity of VSAT in particular hot spots. In areas where hundreds of yachts may be attempting to use the same beam to deliver connectivity for owners and crew members, 4G LTE is able to provide higher bandwidth with lower latency compared to a traditional VSAT solution.
While incorporating 4G LTE in these cases is a good option, creating a hybrid network allows crew on board a ship to switch between solutions based on which solution or network is available at any given time. Some connectivity solutions provide network management devices that intelligently automatically switch between VSAT, L-Band and 4G LTE networks, reducing the requirement for human interaction.
The communications provider’s control over the 4G LTE and VSAT services gives them the ability to manage network utilization and performance, and helps them understand where there can be a hand-off on particular vessels from VSAT to near-shore, 4G LTE solutions. This decreases congestion on satellite networks and allows for better bandwidth utilization.
Allowing a communications provider to manage a ship operator’s connectivity regardless of the network provides the customer with the most cost-effective bandwidth available. In turn, the customer experiences stable operational expenses and a connectivity confidence, regardless of the geographic location of the ship.
Finally, a hybrid network provides capabilities unmatched by a single solution. The increase of passengers on cruise ships, ferries and other commercial ships increases vessels’ requirement for connectivity, whether via VSAT or 4G LTE. This growth drives up bandwidth requirements on board the vessel, which in turn is exponentially increased by proliferation of devices such as cellphones, tablets and laptops. With the growing pressure on communications providers and cruise and ferry operators operating in the offshore environment to reduce internet rates, having a hybrid network and the ability to switch between solutions without a delay in service will help reduce cost without sacrificing quality of service. VS