Review of Onboard VSAT Connectivity on the Spirit of Tasmania

As part of Valour Consultancy’s remit to produce concise and comprehensive market research reports on the maritime connectivity market, we also like to get out of the office to test maritime connectivity systems out.

On Thursday 17th of January 2019, I crossed the Bass Strait from Melbourne to Devonport on the Spirit of Tasmania. The voyage was a relatively short duration of slightly more than 9 hours. I left Port Phillip Bay at 21:45 and arrived in Devonport at 07:00 of the morning of Friday 18th of January 2019.

During the journey, I purchased the onboard Full Sailing Wi-Fi pass for $20 AUD, equating to $14.35 USD. One other option was available, an hour Wi-Fi pass for $10 AUD.

Performance of Wi-Fi Network
Time – 22:24


My first speed test, 45 minutes into my journey, showed a download speed of 9.85 Mbps, and upload speed of 0.85 Mbps. The high download speed likely reflects the relatively few passengers using the service at the time. I didn’t test out internet pass for streaming any audio or video content, however, on the vessel’s marketing material, it states “certain types of content or high bandwidth intensive usages may be limited or blocked”. It was noticeable that web pages were taking 2-3 seconds to load up, and this is most likely a reflection of the high latency of the connection, which was stated in the marketing material of the vessel’s Internet pass.

Time – 00:28

My second speed test, almost three hours into the journey, and a significant distance from port, resulted in a much lower download speed, 2.54 Mbps, and an upload speed that was slightly lower than my first test of 0.80 Mbps.
It is unlikely more passengers would have been using the vessel’s connectivity system. It is possible more vessels were using the same capacity in the same area, or the system switched to another beam with less available capacity. On closer examination of Thaicom 4’s sport beams, it looks like there is one spot beam covering the Port Phillip Bay area close to land and another covering much of the rest of the Bass Strait and Tasmania.
Overall, I was very impressed with the speed of the service and ease of use, although I did encounter a few security warnings upon initially joining the network.

Service Provider and Satellite Operator

Shortly after purchasing the Internet pass, I received an invoice from Nava System – a service platform run by Orion Satellite Systems for its maritime activities. The company is based in Perth, Western Australia and is owned 100 per cent by Thaicom.
The Thai satellite operator serves five key verticals, and its maritime service resides in its mobility portfolio. The service operates predominantly on its IPStar (Thaicom – 4 satellite) Ku-band HTS service which is regionally focussed on China, India, Japan and the South East Asian countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand. The satellite has a Ku-band capacity of 45 Gbps.
Overall, the satellite operator has four other satellites and serves 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions.
Please see the coverage map of Thaicom’s satellite 4 coverage service below:

Spirit of Tasmania aside, Thaicom’s other notable wins include announcing, in August 2018, Uniwise Offshore Limited, an Asian offshore support vessel operator that will use Nava on its entire fleet of more than 30 vessels. In November 2018 during in the firm’s Q3 2018 investor relations presentation, it was revealed that an additional 27 vessels were added to the Nava platform in Thailand, reaching a total of 47 vessels. Thaicom has also signed a contract with the Royal Thai Navy for an additional 12 vessels.

Equipment

Upon investigation on the top deck I caught a glimpse of two units, a large VSAT unit manufactured by SeaTel, and a Sailor L-band FBB terminal as a back-up system. It was difficult to gauge the size of the antenna due to the distance they were away from me.