ITC Global vice president Sanjay Singam said all VSAT service claims should be investigated and tested to ensure they are reliable, high-speed and have the global coverage needed to enable enterprise-class voice, video and data transmissions
With dramatic variations in knowledge and technical understanding of network connectivity services across the maritime sector, purchasing decisions by operations and C-suite executives are often made based on assessing qualifications on paper.
This type of assessment is done “without an understanding of the full impact their decisions might have on their ability to manage ship operations and efficiencies” said ITC Global vice president Sanjay Singam.
Mr Singam said network performance can be just as variable as industry knowledge and decision makers need to closely examine claims made on paper and test these services before committing to a network.
“Often, proposed connectivity solutions fall short in delivering on a customer’s key requirements, even though they might technically meet what was promised on paper,” he explained to Riviera Maritime Media.
“Network design is as much art as it is science,” said Mr Singam. Not all network providers deliver results that meet expectations, and some may not be equipped to deliver advanced network capabilities.
“Some service providers may not deliver on their network connectivity promises. These attempts at cutting corners call into question how providers measure up against the evolving solutions landscape for the maritime connectivity sector,” said Mr Singam.
“Network design is as much art as it is science”
He called on owners to conduct technical assessments of the common claims made on paper for remote-operations connectivity.
Network quality and availability, service level agreements and network throughput are key benchmarks for measuring customer expectations and service performance. A connectivity solution with near 100% uptime and offering a high-quality user experience is vital to ship operations when remote monitoring and operational communications is required.
Therefore, VSAT providers need to manage their services to hundreds of ships and configure their network for peak performance for long-term success, said Mr Singam. “For example, many service providers are betting on the assumption that not all of their customers on the network will need bandwidth simultaneously, which causes points where remote sites experience congestion.”
If shipowners want to minimise congestion issues they need to benchmark VSAT services against various parameters.
Committed information rate
A customer’s guaranteed minimum bandwidth, committed information rate (CIR), should always be available, even when all vessels within a beam require their contracted capacity simultaneously. But this is not always the case, said Mr Singam.
“Some connectivity providers deploy a methodology in which they design their network hoping that all sites on a beam will not require their CIR simultaneously,” he said. This is known as dynamic CIR.
“While comparative service offerings may look similar on paper, some providers regularly ‘pack’ the network,” said Mr Singam.
“They take a chance that customers will not have high bandwidth demands at the same time, limiting customers’ ability to burst to a higher throughput.”
Maximum information rate
VSAT providers also offer a maximum information rate (MIR) – the maximum achievable bandwidth rate for a ship – if they design the network to ensure customers can experience the speeds that match their expectations. This can be listed as a ‘best effort’ offering.
But, to maximise profitability some providers expect ships to share a smaller amount of bandwidth by having higher CIR and MIR oversubscription ratios.
“With high-oversubscription ratios, shipowners are less likely to reach their maximum data rate for bursting,” said Mr Singam.
In recent tests, a commercial maritime fleet operator was only able to achieve approximately 20-25% of their MIR at any time. “While most service providers will not guarantee MIR rates, by the nature of network planning and design, owners should expect to see their MIR 20% of the time,” said Mr Singam.
“The service becomes congested as everyone is fighting for the same bandwidth”
MIR oversubscription rates in many VSAT networks for maritime customers range from a ratio of 8:1 to 32:1. “Service providers who subscribe to higher contention ratios are betting that for every 32 customers, only one will need their burst,” he continued.
“If more customers need a burst, the service becomes congested as everyone is fighting for the same bandwidth within a network.”
To mitigate this, VSAT providers should offer advanced connectivity technologies for high-throughput, such as smart-satellite beam switching to support efficiency and scalability for remote operations.
Mr Singam thinks not all VSAT providers design networks for maritime mobility. Beam switching technology should be based on optimal operation of ships during voyages.
“The network is designed so that a VSAT antenna does not wait until the signal strength degrades into substandard performance before attempting to acquire another satellite and restabilise,” he explained.
“Instead, the system is designed to proactively switch to a new beam as a vessel travels along its maritime route, meaning the shipowner does not experience a network issue and the beam switch is conducted seamlessly.
“It may seem small, but it makes a big difference for customers in remote maritime operations”
“It may seem small, but it makes a big difference for customers in remote maritime operations,” said Mr Singam.
Coverage delivered by region, not by beam, can positively affect customer experience. “In many cases, services are provided on a single beam,” he continued.
“Should that beam fail, the customer has no backup service in which to transition, leaving them stranded without service for hours or days.”
A network incorporating multiple beams across every region that can land at several teleports ensures business and operational continuity.
“Between the power of a properly configured network and this type of redundancy, customers are assured of high-availability service,” said Mr Singam. ITC Global provides this type of network using Panasonic’s VSAT network based around multiple satellites and beams from different operators.
“It is critical for maritime customers seeking a communications solution to carefully consider not only the technology portfolio offered, but also the implementation of the technology,” said Mr Singam.
“Solidifying advanced technology in a connectivity package leads to many benefits in the future, including cost and operational efficiencies, and agility for business growth.”
He urges shipowners to investigate VSAT providers’ claims and ensure there is ample capacity and redundancy in a network. “The notion that common promises of ‘superior service quality’ do not always ring true,” Mr Singam said.