Posted: 16th August 2018 | Written by: Simon Saunders
For an ETO, one of the challenges of the job is ensuring VSAT, TV, 4G and IT remain up and running throughout the season. While every VSAT contract comes with access to a Network Operation Centre (NOC), many yachts opt for a superior level of support, covering all the systems offered by the communications integrator who provided their services.
The problem with support is that it's really difficult to quantify how important it is. From a provider’s perspective, it is key to a customer’s satisfaction and their ongoing loyalty, while ETOs and captains value technical support as it gives them peace of mind. A good team will keep in close contact with them, build a strong relationship and demonstrate they have knowledge and understanding of their systems.
Palma-based integrator e3 Systems, for example, provides “to the modem and beyond” support to customers worldwide via a Support Operations Centre (SOC) located at its HQ. Heading up the support team at e3’s SOC is senior satellite systems engineer, Pablo Galarza. With over 10 years of experience across the maritime VSAT business, in roles ranging from project management for maritime installations to new product development, Pablo’s knowledge of the superyacht VSAT market is second to none.
This also makes him the ideal candidate to explain the issues and challenges regarding the technical support available to yachts.
I believe that the level of support a client opts for is extremely important, more so in the yachting market than in any other sector, as the technical demands and challenges are greater than most. You just don’t want to leave anything to chance.
The degree of support will depend on many factors, such as budget, intended cruising grounds, the demands of the owner and guests and also the services a yacht is using. Most service providers offer access to technical assistance through their NOC, however, they will have very limited information of the ship’s system, hardware, history and needs.
It has to be remembered that a provider’s responsibility stops at VSAT and won’t extend to other services such as TVRO, 4G and IPTV, so when you’re running these, you need support that covers them. An integrator or yacht specialist is generally responsible for installing and commissioning the onboard technology, so will see the bigger picture and have intricate knowledge of the systems.
Taking e3 as an example, we provide access to a support desk facility located within our SOC, where engineers are on hand to deal with any technical enquiries and issues. Clients know that when there is an issue, they get to speak with an engineer directly and not a pre-recorded message. The system works around a ticketing tool and any issues reported to us via email or over the phone are added to the system and allocated to one of the team.
Remote monitoring takes support to the next level and provides total peace of mind for yachts. For example, at our facilities in Palma we can proactively monitor a vessel’s IT and communications systems which are displayed ‘live’ on our screens. This allows us to detect problems and hopefully fix them before those on board realise there is even an issue.
When a ticket is opened we generally work with the ETO to check their systems and find out where the fault lies, which may involve us contacting service providers. We also have a number of tools for troubleshooting and hopefully solving faults on VSAT, TVRO, 4G and IPTV.
What are the main issues a yacht will encounter?
Issues vary considerably over a season. Between March and June, most yachts are reactivating their services following refit or downtime and are preparing for the new summer season in the Med. There are many hardware issues, for example, with antennas that have not been used for months it may be necessary to iron out issues related to re-activating the VSAT and 4G services, or simply renewing TVRO subscriptions.
Between July and September, most yachts are at sea and we generally get requests for testing upgrades or questions related to footprint coverage for different services. Around November the cycle begins again as yachts head to the Caribbean for the winter.
The SOC is really the first line of support, but there is a limit to what we can do remotely. If it is a hardware issue, it may well call for a field engineer to be sent out to the boat with all the right tools and all the knowledge. A fast response is essential as a yacht needs to be at sea, and this can be helped with planning such as keeping a good stock of parts for the most popular antennas and ensuring engineers are up to date with all the latest VSAT and antenna developments. This involves regular technical training and close contact with VSAT providers to stay updated on their beam coverage and service.
A good example of this happened recently when a yacht reported a loss of TV signal. Unfortunately, they were in Alaska! Our SOC team worked with the captain to quickly diagnose a problem in the multi-switch. A new one was immediately dispatched but didn't solve the problem completely as some of the decoders still had no signal. One of our field engineers therefore travelled from Florida and was able to fix all the TV problems, as well as taking the opportunity to migrate their VSAT to a service with better coverage in Alaska, leaving a very happy customer.
Ultimately the best way to know if we are successful is when we receive great testimonials – it’s very satisfying.