This article originally appeared in Seatrade Cruise News.
Turn back the clock to about 1999 and you’ll get a sense of what internet service is like for most vessels at sea in 2021. If they’re lucky, they get download speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps, and the few that get more have a large monthly bill — some subject to wild fluctuations due to overages.
There’s typically a competition for bandwidth between ship operations, the crew, the guests or contractors, and any type of monitoring of the cargo or the ship’s systems. Forget about your crew being able to video-chat with their family when you’re using all the bandwidth to download a chart or send data back to the land office. Even when the business side of things is quiet, there’s often not enough for several crew members to stream video simultaneously. Everyone is competing for access to a small internet pipe.
It’s a simple case of demand outstripping supply. The move to VSAT has improved on the lower-frequency L-band satellite that’s been an important maritime connectivity tool for decades, but the traditional VSAT services fall far short of meeting the data demands of today’s world. All of us want lightning-fast internet everywhere we go, but the systems in use on most ships today simply can’t meet the need.
As Viasat, we’ve created a Ka-band satellite network that has the capacity to deliver. Our newest satellite — ViaSat-2 — has about 260 Gbps of capacity, dwarfing our competitors’ capabilities. It has completely changed the game in commercial aviation, and that high-speed internet experience is now available for the maritime world. Viasat has partnered with Cobham Antenna Systems to integrate our technology in a proven and respected antenna platform, in addition to launching a maritime service that delivers a true at-home internet experience at sea.
Viasat typically provides speeds of 25+ Mbps, with unlimited data, a fixed monthly bill and no surprise overages. With that kind of service, vessel operators can meet the personal connectivity needs of their crew and guests while running more efficient and safer ship operations. Cruise lines and super yachts can allow their guests to use the same applications they would at home to enhance their onboard experience. Just like our airline clients, cruise ships can offer guests an array of features and products, some sponsored by companies who want to reach this large audience.
How do we do it? Viasat engineers reimagined what a satellite operating in the high-frequency Ka-band could do a decade ago, culminating in the launch of the 140 Gbps ViaSat-1 satellite in 2011. Using dozens of smaller “spot” beams and innovative reuse of the spectrum within each beam, we were able to realize astonishing gains in capacity — quieting many critics who said it couldn’t be done.
This was an enormous leap in capacity, comparatively, at a time when many satellites had under 10 Gbps of capacity. ViaSat-2 raised the stakes even more, while adding coverage on both coasts of the U.S. in addition to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Our KA-SAT satellite covers our clients in Europe.
Next up is the launch of ViaSat-3, a three-satellite global constellation that will enable high-speed broadband on vessels almost anywhere on earth. Each of these satellites will have 1,000 Gbps (1 terabyte) of capacity and an even more innovative beam structure that will afford tremendous bandwidth flexibility to adjust capacity on the fly.
Global coverage is an essential leap for our Maritime Service, and soon our clients will get a great internet experience wherever they go. In the meantime, we bring this incredible new capability to all who need it in our current coverage area, whether it’s a fishing or research vessel, a cargo ship or tanker, a river or ocean cruise ship, an energy vessel or a yacht. It’s a sea change in more ways than one, and we’re eager to enhance communications in a way that’s never been done before.
Eric Verheylewegen is Director, Business Development-Maritime in Viasat’s Commercial Mobility businessunit. He has over 25 years of experience in the satellite communications industry, working in a variety of roles.
During his career, Eric has launched many groundbreaking satellite products and services, working with all the major verticals including maritime, government, resources, utilities and media. He has successfully established and developed global distribution networks for several major players in the industry.
Eric is passionate about applying satellite communication technology to improve people’s lives, safety and efficiency.