Digital Ship August 2011 page 2
Vol 11 No 10
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and Ku-band VSAT service for a flat fee of$2,999 per month.The rationale behind this new servicewas to create a distinct upgrade path todraw in customers to Inmarsat’s upcom-ing Global Xpress (GX) VSAT service,with the new package including the prom-ise of a free upgrade to the Ka-band serv-ice when it becomes available in 2013.This Ku-band/FleetBroadband pack-age, which will be commercially availablein 2012, will initially be available throughInmarsat subsidiaries Ship Equip andStratos at the time of the launch, the afore-mentioned “direct distribution channel”,though the company says this will beextended over time to include all GlobalXpress-appointed distributors when thosepartners are finally named.Stratos has confirmed that the servicewill be offered under the brand nameXpressLink, and will incorporate a rangeof its own value added services.The deal requires a five-year contract,and will include Ku-band hardware fromSea Tel that has been approved byInmarsat as upgradable to Ka-band undera leasing agreement as part of the month-ly fee.As it currently stands today Sea Tel arethe only Inmarsat-appointed Ku-bandmanufacturer that will provide anupgrade path, using a 1 metre dish,which will require the replacement of anumber of parts inside the unit, but notthe whole dome.This antenna is expected to be availableand in full production from March of nextyear.This agreed upgrade to Ka-band musttake place within the five year durationof the contract, which will then bereplaced by a new GX contract – currentlyanticipated to be an additional three yearcommitment.As such the total commitment requiredcould range from something like fiveyears, where a contract in 2012 is followedby an upgrade to Ka-band in 2014 thatlasts for three years to 2017, up to eightyears, where the ship uses Ku-band/FleetBroadband for the full fiveyears and then moves to a three year GXagreement.FleetBroadband 500 hardware will alsobe required, though Inmarsat says that thevessel operator will need to provide thisthemselves.The bandwidth speed on offer will be512 kbps both to and from the ship, with acommitted information rate (CIR) of128kbps. When the upgrade to Ka-band iscompleted the bandwidth available underthe package will double to 1 Mbps both toand from the ship, with a CIR of 256 kbps.A switching system between the VSATand FleetBroadband is included in thepackage, which Inmarsat says will be pro-vided by Ship Equip and Stratos usingtheir existing technologies.
This new service is being aimed at whatInmarsat sees as the ‘higher end’ of themarket in terms of bandwidth usage, peo-ple who are prepared to pay the pricesrequired for this kind of throughput,according to Frank Coles, senior directorin the Global Xpress programme.“Anybody who’s a potential VSAT cus-tomer today will be much more inclined tolook at a package, because anybody todaywho looks at VSAT still has the added costof FleetBroadband, or any other service,(as a back-up) when their VSAT service isdown,” he told us.“We’ve just added that and provided abetter solution.”Mr Coles notes that the service will beproviding ‘unlimited’ traffic while theship is connected to the VSAT service,though restrictions will apply when theFleetBroadband is in operation.“There is no FAP (fair access policy)under that speed (the CIR of 128 kbps),other than when you fall back ontoFleetBroadband. It will only go over toFleetBroadband if and when the Ku-bandis not available,” he said.“(Traffic on the FleetBroadband) is notexpected to be huge because we will havea service (on Ku-band) that is quite global.The actual specifics are being dealt withby Ship Equip and Stratos, but there willbe some limitations.”When asked about how other InmarsatDistribution Partners besides Stratosmight react to the announcement of aservice that is initially set to be availablethrough just one of their competitors, MrColes noted that he has already been indiscussions with a number of DPs abouthow they might apply this new servicethemselves.“It’s a question of whether they’d liketo use their own current Ku-band servicebefore the upgrade to Ka-band, whetherthey would like to use the Ship Equip net-work, and how many units they would beprepared to bring over to Ka-band, if theywould like to use this new service,” saidMr Coles.“It doesn’t have to be the Ship Equipnetwork for the current service, but therewill be a requirement that those ships con-vert to Global Xpress. They are alsorequired to use the upgradeable Ku-bandantenna, so it has to be the Sea Tel 1 metreupgradeable Ku-band antenna. But it canbe another Ku-band provider on the Ku-band airtime.”“In terms of distribution it’s very earlydays, we’ll be beginning discussions withall of the current DPs as and when they areready to come and talk to us, and as werefine the terms and conditions.”
Competitors up the ante
While Inmarsat may be hopeful that otherDistribution Partners will join its largestdistributor Stratos in offering this service,its second largest distributor, Vizada, hastaken an alternative direction andlaunched its own flat-fee hybrid VSAT / L-band service, just weeks after Inmarsat’sannouncement.Vizada’s offering is similar toInmarsat’s in the sense that Ku-band andL-band airtime are both included in a fixedmonthly fee, but also features a number ofsignificant differences which could makecompetition between the two new servicesparticularly intense.The top-end package from Vizada willoffer higher bandwidth speeds than thosebeing touted by Inmarsat, with 1024 kbpson the Ku-band compared with 512 kbpson the Inmarsat package, and at a lowerprice of $2,750 rather than $2,999.On this 1024 kbps service Vizada saysthat a ‘fair use’ policy will be applied,though without any cap on the number ofgigabytes transferred, in contrast withInmarsat’s promise not to have a fairaccess policy on its service.A reduced bandwidth plan of 256/128kbps, for $2,500, is also available fromVizada, again including L-band airtime inthe fee.The amount of inclusive L-band trafficavailable under the Vizada deal will varyaccording to the package selected, with 5,25, 50, 75, or 126 MB options available.These allowances may also be pooledamong ships in a fleet, and that traffic canbe further compressed and filtered usingVizada’s XChange network managementtool to extend the relative transferamounts allowed by that allocation.Inmarsat and Stratos have not, as of yet,indicated what kind of similar restrictionsin total amount of L-band satellite trafficwill apply to the XpressLink service.However, with this in mind Vizadabelieves that, given the current coveragearea of its Pharostar VSAT service, whichwill be bolstered by further coverageextensions in 2011 and 2012, there will be“very few vessels not just in-transit inthose small spots” and that they shouldnot require “more than 50 to 100 MB oftraffic to manage vessel operations andprovide messaging to crew.”The L-band airtime available can alsocome from a wider range of systems inthe case of the Vizada product, withIridium OpenPort available as the back-up solution in place of FleetBroadband(either 250 or 500) if the customerrequires. Unlike Inmarsat’s offering thelease of this L-band terminal will beincluded in the monthly fee.Further flexibility is added in the formof antenna choice – vessels that sign up forVizada’s service may choose from a VSATantenna from Thrane & Thrane, Intellianor Sea Tel.The final major difference is in contractterms. Vizada says it will make these prod-ucts available with commitments of 12, 36or 60 months, and including vessel lay-up
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‘Anybody who’s a potential VSAT customer today will be much more inclined to look at a package’ – Frank Coles, Inmarsat