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Ka-launch not the end for L-band in Maritime

A new study from Valour Consultancy forecasts 40% of maritime satellite service revenues will be allocated to L-band by 2018, despite a number of Ka-band solutions entering service this year.

Valour Consultancy - Blog Image-min

Many in the industry expect the launch of another VSAT technology to sound the death knell for the use of L-band at sea. Indeed, the last few years have seen a rapid uptake in faster VSAT solutions that are nibbling away at the dominant L-band sector. VSAT revenues exceeded $1bn for the first time in 2013 and are forecast to continue growing until at least 2018, aided by the availability of maritime Ka-band this year.

However, whilst the market is undoubtedly heading into an era of enhanced maritime connectivity, the evidence suggests L-band will continue to find a place on vessels and platforms, perhaps even offering growth potential for satellite operators and service providers in some instances. According to Craig Foster, Senior Consultant at Valour, “There are sectors of the market that cannot afford and simply do not require anything other than an L-band solution. Markets where data requirements are low, such as fishing, are going to be much slower adopters of VSAT solutions and will continue to make do with existing MSS equipment for some time. By 2018, we expect L-band to still account for the bulk (95%) of all connected fishing vessels.”

The fact that no other satellite operator, apart from Inmarsat, is certified to provide mandatory communications as part of a Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is another contributory factor. When Fleet Broadband obtains GMDSS compliance, the case for switching to VSAT may become less compelling in markets such as fishing. Furthermore, if arctic ice once again recedes to open up northern shipping passages, Iridium L-band will be the only viable satellite connectivity solution in these extreme regions.

It is plain to see why many in the maritime industry have written off L-band, slow projected uptake, diminishing ARPUs and sometimes cripplingly slow data connection speeds when compared to today’s ultra-fast mobile cellular LTE speeds. However, Valour forecasts L-band will account for over 90% of total maritime satellite subscribers this year. Foster continued “L-band provides a crucial bedrock of connectivity for the maritime market enabling the essential data communications required out at sea, especially in sectors where high data rates are not needed. Furthermore, L-band is extremely reliable, outperforming some VSAT solutions in adverse conditions and will, therefore, be used as a backup for a number of years to come.”

Although maritime Ka-band is tantalisingly close to providing communications at sea, commercial airlines are already using the technology. Valour’s upcoming report on in-flight connectivity provides a thorough analysis of this rapidly emerging marketplace. If you would like more information on this or the ‘Future of Maritime Communications’ analysis, please contact us.

Valour Consultancy is a UK-based provider of highly-detailed market intelligence and actionable consultancy. The company’s primary focus is on connectivity in the transportation sector, sometimes referred to as “connectivity on the move”. Its studies provide unparalleled insight into a number of different areas within this sector including the use of satellite connectivity in maritime and offshore applications, as well as the rapidly emerging market for in-flight Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.

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A new study from Valour Consultancy forecasts 40% of maritime satellite service revenues will be allocated to L-band by 2018, despite a number of Ka-band solutions entering service this year. Valour Consultancy - Blog Image-min Many in the industry expect the launch of another VSAT technology to sound the death knell for the use of L-band at sea. Indeed, the last few years have seen a rapid uptake in faster VSAT solutions that are nibbling away at the dominant L-band sector. VSAT revenues exceeded $1bn for the first time in 2013 and are forecast to continue growing until at least 2018, aided by the availability of maritime Ka-band this year. However, whilst the market is undoubtedly heading into an era of enhanced maritime connectivity, the evidence suggests L-band will continue to find a place on vessels and platforms, perhaps even offering growth potential for satellite operators and service providers in some instances. According to Craig Foster, Senior Consultant at Valour, "There are sectors of the market that cannot afford and simply do not require anything other than an L-band solution. Markets where data requirements are low, such as fishing, are going to be much slower adopters of VSAT solutions and will continue to make do with existing MSS equipment for some time. By 2018, we expect L-band to still account for the bulk (95%) of all connected fishing vessels." The fact that no other satellite operator, apart from Inmarsat, is certified to provide mandatory communications as part of a Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is another contributory factor. When Fleet Broadband obtains GMDSS compliance, the case for switching to VSAT may become less compelling in markets such as fishing. Furthermore, if arctic ice once again recedes to open up northern shipping passages, Iridium L-band will be the only viable satellite connectivity solution in these extreme regions. It is plain to see why many in the maritime industry have written off L-band, slow projected uptake, diminishing ARPUs and sometimes cripplingly slow data connection speeds when compared to today's ultra-fast mobile cellular LTE speeds. However, Valour forecasts L-band will account for over 90% of total maritime satellite subscribers this year. Foster continued "L-band provides a crucial bedrock of connectivity for the maritime market enabling the essential data communications required out at sea, especially in sectors where high data rates are not needed. Furthermore, L-band is extremely reliable, outperforming some VSAT solutions in adverse conditions and will, therefore, be used as a backup for a number of years to come." Although maritime Ka-band is tantalisingly close to providing communications at sea, commercial airlines are already using the technology. Valour's upcoming report on in-flight connectivity provides a thorough analysis of this rapidly emerging marketplace. If you would like more information on this or the 'Future of Maritime Communications' analysis, please contact us. Valour Consultancy is a UK-based provider of highly-detailed market intelligence and actionable consultancy. The company's primary focus is on connectivity in the transportation sector, sometimes referred to as "connectivity on the move". Its studies provide unparalleled insight into a number of different areas within this sector including the use of satellite connectivity in maritime and offshore applications, as well as the rapidly emerging market for in-flight Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.

The Non-melting Ice Caps and Maritime Connectivity

Over the past decade or so, there has been huge media focus on receding ice caps with anthropogenic global warming cited as the undeniable cause. If nothing was done, millions of polar bears and penguins would find themselves homeless and the oceans would rise to levels unseen since Moses was given the unenviable task of building an ark. In​ an attempt to bring about a reduction in man’s carbon dioxide emissions scientists claim as necessary to prevent flooding of biblical proportions, the powers that be have introduced wave-after-wave (excuse the pun) of punitive green taxes. Perhaps not sharing their desire to avert a climactic catastrophe, many in the shipping industry have undoubtedly prayed for ​ice melt and the subsequent opening of the northern passages that would bring about the holy grail of much shorter journey times.

010714_0002_TheNonmelti1 (1)-min

Source: United Nations Environment Programme

Not so long ago, it looked as though their prayers had been answered. As recently as August 2011, the BBC reported that melting summer ice had resulted in the smallest area of frozen water in northern polar regions since 1979. The maritime world rejoiced and a succession of tankers set sail from the Russian port of Murmansk along the Siberian coast (Northeast Passage) to deliver condensate gas to destinations in South-East Asia. Similarly, a lack of sea ice in Canada’s admittedly less navigable Northwest Passage/Northern Sea Route gave another option for vessels wishing to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

However, to the chagrin of politicians, environmentalists and shipping companies alike, 2013 saw the return of vast swathes of arctic ice, which was reported to have grown 29 per cent in just one year. More than twenty yachts that had planned to sail the Northwest Passage were left ice-bound, while a cruise ship attempting the route was turned back. At the end of the year, the irony of all ironies came to pass. MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ship containing scientists on an expedition to discover the extent of ice melt in the Southern Ocean over the last 100 years, got itself trapped in ten-feet thick ice slabs. The Chinese icebreaker that subsequently went to the aid of its stranded passengers then found itself stuck in the heavy ice too. In the end, a helicopter had to do the rescuing.

But what does any of this have to do with maritime connectivity I hear you ask?

Firstly, one could argue that the presence of ​record sea ice is good and bad news for satellite operators and connectivity service providers. On the upside, as global temperatures continue refusing to go where climate change computer models decree they must, it looks as though the Northeast and Northwest pas​sages will remain unnavigable for the foreseeable future. As certain ships will not then be able to take these northern shortcuts, they will find themselves ocean-bound for a longer period of time than they would like. With many ship-owners choosing to pay for L-band services on a “Pay As You Go” basis, satellite costs will remain higher than they otherwise would have been, and so too will service provider revenues. McLean-based Iridium might be a little less pleased about the situation, however. The company can lay claim to being the world’s only truly global satellite operator as its constellation of 66 low earth orbit (LEO) L-band satellites cover every inch of the earth’s surface. Despite the name, Inmarsat’s Global Xpress solution is not a truly a global one – its satellites will be in fixed geostationary (GEO) orbit and will not cover the ice caps when it commences commercial operations later this year. Iridium must have hoped that melting ice would therefore help it steal a march on its big rival as it would have been in pole position (excuse the pun, again) to offer advanced bandwidth in the northern extremities with the launch of its next generation constellation, Iridium NEXT, in 2015.

The maritime connectivity market is covered in great detail in Valour Consultancy’s recently-published report on the topic. If you would like to learn more, click here​ to read a description of the research and download a summary brochure.

Until the next time, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year.

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Over the past decade or so, there has been huge media focus on receding ice caps with anthropogenic global warming cited as the undeniable cause. If nothing was done, millions of polar bears and penguins would find themselves homeless and the oceans would rise to levels unseen since Moses was given the unenviable task of building an ark. In​ an attempt to bring about a reduction in man's carbon dioxide emissions scientists claim as necessary to prevent flooding of biblical proportions, the powers that be have introduced wave-after-wave (excuse the pun) of punitive green taxes. Perhaps not sharing their desire to avert a climactic catastrophe, many in the shipping industry have undoubtedly prayed for ​ice melt and the subsequent opening of the northern passages that would bring about the holy grail of much shorter journey times. 010714_0002_TheNonmelti1 (1)-min

Source: United Nations Environment Programme

Not so long ago, it looked as though their prayers had been answered. As recently as August 2011, the BBC reported that melting summer ice had resulted in the smallest area of frozen water in northern polar regions since 1979. The maritime world rejoiced and a succession of tankers set sail from the Russian port of Murmansk along the Siberian coast (Northeast Passage) to deliver condensate gas to destinations in South-East Asia. Similarly, a lack of sea ice in Canada's admittedly less navigable Northwest Passage/Northern Sea Route gave another option for vessels wishing to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. However, to the chagrin of politicians, environmentalists and shipping companies alike, 2013 saw the return of vast swathes of arctic ice, which was reported to have grown 29 per cent in just one year. More than twenty yachts that had planned to sail the Northwest Passage were left ice-bound, while a cruise ship attempting the route was turned back. At the end of the year, the irony of all ironies came to pass. MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ship containing scientists on an expedition to discover the extent of ice melt in the Southern Ocean over the last 100 years, got itself trapped in ten-feet thick ice slabs. The Chinese icebreaker that subsequently went to the aid of its stranded passengers then found itself stuck in the heavy ice too. In the end, a helicopter had to do the rescuing. But what does any of this have to do with maritime connectivity I hear you ask? Firstly, one could argue that the presence of ​record sea ice is good and bad news for satellite operators and connectivity service providers. On the upside, as global temperatures continue refusing to go where climate change computer models decree they must, it looks as though the Northeast and Northwest pas​sages will remain unnavigable for the foreseeable future. As certain ships will not then be able to take these northern shortcuts, they will find themselves ocean-bound for a longer period of time than they would like. With many ship-owners choosing to pay for L-band services on a "Pay As You Go" basis, satellite costs will remain higher than they otherwise would have been, and so too will service provider revenues. McLean-based Iridium might be a little less pleased about the situation, however. The company can lay claim to being the world's only truly global satellite operator as its constellation of 66 low earth orbit (LEO) L-band satellites cover every inch of the earth's surface. Despite the name, Inmarsat's Global Xpress solution is not a truly a global one – its satellites will be in fixed geostationary (GEO) orbit and will not cover the ice caps when it commences commercial operations later this year. Iridium must have hoped that melting ice would therefore help it steal a march on its big rival as it would have been in pole position (excuse the pun, again) to offer advanced bandwidth in the northern extremities with the launch of its next generation constellation, Iridium NEXT, in 2015. The maritime connectivity market is covered in great detail in Valour Consultancy's recently-published report on the topic. If you would like to learn more, click here​ to read a description of the research and download a summary brochure. Until the next time, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year.