The rivalry between Ku- and Ka-band solutions has reached a critical phase with some experts predicting the shift from L-band to VSAT solutions will accelerate this still further. At the same time, new higher throughput L-band capability will soon be reaching the market, which could cause a reversal in recent L-band price increases.
Industry execs at the SATELLITE 2017 panel “Maritime Focus: Which Technologies Will Lead the Way in the New Mobile Maritime Era” on Wednesday offered a variety of takes on where the maritime satellite industry stands and what companies should consider moving forward.
“Where we see the industry going over the next few years is the area of application development and bringing these applications together with bandwidth to deliver something unique and effective, creating a new maritime ecosystem,” said Inmarsat Senior Vice President Drew Brandy. “For us it’s no longer just about working with our airtime partners and terminal manufacturers. The maritime industry will consist of application developers, solution vendors, airtime providers. All of these things together, we believe will ultimately drive the success of this industry.”
In addition, Bandy said his company noticed a clear increasing commoditization in bandwidth and addressed that by investing in a new platform for application development. “We believe … operators will look to utilize and be able to have better management over their vessels, to be able to address some of the issues of operational efficiencies and cost control,” he said.
Marlink Chief Marketing Officer Ghani Behloul said that his 600-person company focuses on working directly with customers on-site globally, including putting team members aboard ships. “One area is how we can help the ship have a much more efficient crew management,” Behloul said. “Obviously connectivity, IT and application and solution are the way to achieve that efficiently.”
Intelsat Director of Mobility Product Management Mark Richman said his increasingly busy company is moving forward “aggressively” with the rollout of High Throughput Satellites (HTS). “That’s well underway … we’re about halfway there,” Richman said. “We’ve got three or four more launches to go and by the end of 2018 our constellation will be up and complete and in service.”
Of course, one of the biggest pieces of recent news in the maritime satellite sector was the announcement of Kymeta’s first commercial product, Kalo, which is a partnership with Intelsat. Seated a couple spots down from Richman on the panel was Kymeta Vice President of Maritime Håkan Olsson.
Kalo is “a global service that’s going to be available the third quarter this year based on data plans,” Olsson said. “The reason I think this is important, not just for maritime but other markets, is what I call the ‘killer app,’ which is ease of use.”
Andrew Smith, director for Applied Satellite Technology, said that when companies look at the future of the maritime field, they should think most about products that add greater value for customers. “Technology is obviously evolving, and that’s going to affect things like cost-per-byte. We’re going to get higher speed pipes. That’s all about increasing data. That’s happening, and it’s going to continue to happen. But what we also see, through feedback from our customers, is use is also evolving … It’s now all about the applications and that comes with significant challenges because those applications are changing also,” he said. “More bandwidth isn’t going to solve every problem. That bandwidth needs to be efficient and that cost needs to be kept down.”
Meanwhile, Brandy said it’s important to look at the issues the industry faces when it decides what to do next. “We all know that the maritime industry is facing challenges,” he said. “We’ve seen that over the past few years with vessel commissioning being at an all-time low. We’ve seen vessels being decommissioned and scrapped. During those times we’ve found it’s an opportunity from a technology and communications that address those issues such as operational efficiencies and cost control.”
And despite the challenges Brandy referred to, panelists acknowledged that the maritime satellite industry is in a period of growth. Along those lines, Ghani said that there were great opportunities to sell to commercial vessels that could be enhanced much further once companies can figure out ways to get costs down to under $1,000 per vessel, which he said could open up currently underserved markets. Ghani especially talked in detail about the importance of looking to various client demands when evaluating services.
Smith also said he saw opportunities working with smaller users. “We need to get close to the operators,” he said. “It’s happening, but it needs to continue to drive forward.”
Multiple panelists responded to a question about the fishing industry by saying more could be done, including both commercial and leisure fish. Smith and Ghani, especially, pointed to that part of the industry as a spot where satellite companies could look at contouring their services to what their clients were demanding.
Richman agreed with others on the panel that there could be considerable opportunity for firms astute enough to get ahead of a fast-moving curve, frequently referring to the current era as the fourth Industrial Revolution.
“There are a lot of pieces out there and one of the challenges is bringing it all together,” Richman said. “Connectivity is just one of the pieces, the antenna is just one of the pieces, the implication is just one of the pieces.
“I think the challenge for us is to be the company that is ready to deliver not just operational information and operational data — which we all have the capability to do that — but what I call operational insights. Can we take that information, that data, and turn that into something that’s insightful and can give the operator some good choices about how they manage their fleet and how they can do things a little more efficiency? The company that can bring that all together and be able to demonstrate that there’s a real return on that investment, real dollars and cents savings and quantify that and tell that story … that would be transformational. There’s a great opportunity for everyone to participate in,” Richman added. VS