Posted: 31st May 2018 | Written by: David Savage
As the Med season approaches, who among us is not interested in faster, more reliable and significantly cheaper connectivity? There are some universal limitations, such as the speed of light, but most owners could save a fortune and enjoy a better experience with minimal capital outlay. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Let’s begin by comparing the user experience with different bearers, or networks, used to deliver your connectivity, which include 4G, your internet connection at home or in the office, the Wi-Fi connection in a marina or the satellite broadband (VSAT) onboard your yacht.
Obviously speeds and costs vary between bearers and providers, but even with the fastest networks you will notice some differences, particularly between a satellite connection and fibre or 4G. These are down to the laws of physics rather than a fault, and they cannot be mitigated completely, but your provider should be able to explain this to you, or even demonstrate it, as do we.
MY Excelerate arriving in Cannes for demonstrations onboard
This is one of the reasons we bought our own yacht, a 28m Sunseeker, MY Excelerate Z, so we could sit down with a captain, ETO or owner and show them in real time what the differences are. The most pertinent comparisons are the port Wi-Fi, a local 4G service and our onboard VSAT which is both a KU and a KA service. We can set the VSAT speeds and contention to the same levels we offer our customers all the way up to 12Mb x 1 Mb on KU and 24Mb x 5Mb on KA.
The Laws of Physics
Most customers will do speed tests on the networks which is fine, but these will not indicate a true speed due the latency aspects of 4G and particularly VSAT. Nonetheless, we must accept that this is what happens in reality.
More surprising is the fact that in certain circumstances you will experience faster connectivity at much lower cost on 4G than the VSAT equivalent. However, you need to be aware that 4G speeds will vary according to network coverage, network congestion and fair usage policies, so costs are not completely predictable and left unmanaged this can lead to some shockingly high bills. On the other hand, with the right provider your VSAT experience should be completely consistent and your bills should be totally predictable no matter how much you use it.
A limitation that no one has overcome is the fact that a spacecraft or satellite can handle fewer users than a terrestrial 4G network, hence the difference in pricing, so despite progress I doubt I will see satellite broadband costs as low as fibre or 4G in my lifetime.
Another factor concerns distance. Generally the distance for your data (voice, data or video) to do a round trip between your yacht, a spacecraft, an earth station and back is about 72,000 kilometres and due to the limitations of the speed of light, this takes longer than with a fibre connection or even 4G. This delay is referred to as latency and when we do speed tests onboard for different bearers, you will see three important things.
Understanding Speed Tests
Firstly you will notice that the speed test also does what is called a ping test which indicates the time it takes on a particular bearer for the signal to travel. This is typically around 60 milliseconds on 4 G (although it varies depending on the yacht’s position in relation to the 4G base station), compared to just under 600 milliseconds on the satellite network. This isn’t because the satellite network is slower, it’s because the satellite is further away.
As we repeat the speed test, you’ll also notice that the speed readings over each test will probably vary on the 4G connection but they will be consistent and predictable on our VSAT network. Connecting to a website or doing anything on the 4G network also appears to be faster at first, due to the latency differences described above, but once connected, the VSAT should be just as good (depending on how much speed you need for the application), and also more predictable and stable, particularly when the yacht is under way, where you might lose 4G completely.
In reality it’s all about horses for courses, preferences, practicalities, applications and budgets, but understanding the differences and limitations allows you to make a more informed choice.
The same applies to purchasing hardware. Making shrewd and well informed choices now will negate the need for expensive changes later, and increase your options when choosing a network provider.
For yachts cruising only in the Med or the Caribbean this is relatively simple, but for yachts cruising further afield there’s insufficient choice of HTS grade KU and KA networks in all regions, although this is set to change dramatically and soon.
Either way, for new builds or yachts undergoing refit, the most important consideration is where the vessel intends to go so we can tailor the service to all requirements.
My main advice is as follows:
Avoid propriety technology to avoid becoming a hostage to one supplier or service.
Choose the largest antennas you can afford or that your yacht can accommodate, preferably not less than 80cm.
Choose an antenna that can be converted to either KU or KA relatively cheaply to avoid the need to change the antenna itself.
Choose a VSAT modem that is compatible with KU and KU and also HTS compatible.
Choose a provider who can handle the whole process from supply to integration and who also runs their own networks, as we do at Excelerate Marine. This way any problem is our problem and not something we pass on to a multitude of middlemen.
Many yachts over 40m are likely to have VSAT antennas that won’t need replacing for a good few years, but most are already compatible with our networks as well as those of our competitors. This means that with minimal outlay owners can save a fortune in just one season, and captains can enjoy total confidence in a service tailored to their needs.
To book a demonstration onboard MY Excelerate please call: +33 (0)4 83 58 03 43.