Choosing The Right Solution

 

Before investing in a VSAT solution, the following considerations should be made:

 

Firstly when considering a VSAT solution, take the time to do your homework and ensure you have considered what you really need. For example, when considering coverage, you may require global or you may only need coverage for a certain fixed region or selection of regions. A secondary carrier may or may not be needed as back up and if so, the cost of this should be explored as well as how the switching will occur. Another consideration is with regards to the crew, and to what extent they should be able to access data. This can be controlled through additional options (Value Added Services) like prepaid cards, content filtering and Bring Your Own Device solutions; enabling crew to access Wi-Fi using their own smartphone, laptops or tablets. Should certain applications or LANs be prioritised? For example, should data for business operations be prioritised higher than crew internet? Or should access for clients onboard or suppliers take priority? These are all points to think about and determine in order to select the right product, hardware and Value Added Services for your operation.
Since there is no firm industry standard on VSAT terminology, different suppliers use different definitions making it difficult to make a true comparison between the different services on offer. When comparing VSAT solutions, be careful that you are comparing solutions on an equal level. See the section Understanding VSAT for more information.

A clear benefit of VSAT is that it enables ship owners to budget and predict costs thanks to fixed monthly charges, whereas comparatively, the cost of running an MSS solution onboard can lead to fluctuations and variations in costs on a monthly basis. However, when comparing the costs of VSAT solutions available, remember to look much further than the monthly fee. Consider if you are really moving towards fixed monthly cost? Are there start-up costs or hidden costs?

Often an installation fee will apply, and will vary according to what equipment is being installed. With this can also come charges for the engineers travel, port admin/ charges, and logistics or shipping fees. Make sure you have the full picture.

On the other hand, what are the operational savings and how can you measure these? With a VSAT contract, all data costs are covered meaning ‘data hungry’ applications can be implemented to improve operational efficiency, for example, weather reports and forecasting, route planners, remote monitoring, video conferencing etc. There is also a strong safety benefit resulting from VSAT, since the onboard response to emergency situations can be significantly enhanced thanks to always-on and faster communications systems.

Increased onboard access to IT systems and business tools enables ship owners to benefit from proactive system and engine maintenance, advanced ordering of spares and supplies, cargo tracking, weather and navigation systems, map and chart access, telemedicine, payroll and human resource management systems as well as other ERP functions.

Another of the important drivers behind the need for broadband and telephony at sea is crew welfare and morale. Many VSAT providers also offer the option of television, which in addition to Internet on board offers entertainment for crew. Good working and living conditions onboard a ship are quickly becoming a key requirement to attract and retain highly skilled crew.

The amount of customer support offered on an ongoing basis will vary greatly across different service providers and different technologies. If you are adopting a new service, it may be that you need more support than when opting for a long-running VSAT product. Make sure you have a full overview of the support available to you, and a clear understanding of what elements of this are included in the fixed monthly VSAT fee, versus which services are additionally charged for. Does the VSAT provider have control of their own network or are they reselling services via a third party distributor? Consider their terrestrial infrastructure, network control and availability of support.

A strong relationship with your supplier will also be built on transparency. Are they able to offer you reporting tools, network monitoring, portals for traffic management and a clear Service Level Agreement?

The Maritime VSAT industry is characterised by constant changes and developments, both in its technologies and in terms of the companies operating within it. Within this competitive market, the industry has seen a great deal of consolidation over the past 5 years especially, with a tendency for many of the larger operators to acquire smaller competitors. There are several elements to consider when determining if your VSAT solution will be future-proof:

Service Provider

Does the Service Provider show signs of being well supported financially? Will the supplier be there in the future? Can that supplier grow with your business?

System Design

Is the VSAT product upgradeable? Can changes be made to your system/set-up? Does it have the flexibility to be adapted to your evolving needs?

Open or Proprietary Services

Are you using the Service Provider’s own services, or a third party’s? To what extent is your Service Provider in control of the products/services they provide? Are you tied to their own Value Added Services, software and hardware? Are they being incentivised to offer you one service over another or are they operating independently?

Ensure that you are aware of the consequences of locking yourself in to one technology or service partner and that they are able to adapt to your changing business needs.

 

Choosing a VSAT Provider
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