Choosing The Right Solution
Before investing in a VSAT solution, the following considerations should be made:
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?
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?
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.