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Jan De Nul Group has moved its entire fleet of 82 vessels and jack-up barges to Castor Marine’s global VSAT and Iridium L-band services on a long-term contract to guarantee solid vessel connectivity.

Greek shipmanager A.M. Nomikos has chosen KVH AgilePlans to provide VSAT connectivity for crew welfare and vessel operations.

Many years ago and in another industry, not so distant from maritime connectivity… I wrote a piece providing viewpoints on “how much an airline would pay for an early release movie (early window content is the industry term). The piece got me into a considerable amount of bother, writes Joshua Flood, senior research consultant at Valour Consultancy.

The fundamental issue being how secretive these negotiations were and Hollywood studios, airlines and their content service providers did not wish to shed any light upon the subject. Or I was terribly wrong in my viewpoints. I will stick to the former point.

Now after many years elsewhere, (similar to Yoda in swamp planet of Dagobah), I have decided to return to one of my favorite types of pieces.

To push myself further, I plan to write a series of pieces talking about how each type of commercial vessel (merchant, fishing, passenger, offshore and leisure) would pay for their connectivity solutions, typically VSAT and MSS.

Merchant satellite subscriptions

Addressing the title of this piece, merchant ships come in a number of shapes, sizes and purposes.

Breaking out the merchant market from a bird’s eye view; there are roughly 150,000 MSS and VSAT satellite subscriptions in the market. This may confuse some, due to the popularly touted figure of 80-90,000 merchant vessels (depending on your source and classifications). Clearly, this number is less than the number of maritime satellite subscriptions.

To quickly quash this, a significant number of large merchant vessels require multiple terminals for safety purposes. In addition, some vessels will also subscribe to a multitude of solutions for certain purposes. An example could be subscribing Ku-band VSAT services from Intelsat or Eutelsat, Fleetbroadband from Inmarsat and Certus from Iridium.

Emergence of VSAT technology

In the past, merchant operators were satisfied with just MSS (L-band) services, however, over the last decade the use of VSAT technology has become a dominant force within all commercial maritime vessels. There are around 20,000 VSAT merchant vessels active today.

Looking into the key types of merchant vessels. There is an array of different variations. And when speaking about shipping, certain regions are known for their trade. Asia and Northern Europe for commodity and container vessels, as an example.

Extra special LNGs

One of my favourite research interviews of 2021 was with a Cypriot service provider. I won’t say which one or whom, however, it was most definitely one of my most entertaining.

It was almost like having a conversation with the Cheshire Cat in Alice of Wonderland. I went through a list of vessel types with “the Cat” providing their average monthly airtime fees the company gets for connectivity airtime packages. Bulk carriers, a short grunt and allocated to the bottom of the list of data usage and associated ARPU revenue. MPP and ro-ro vessels followed in quick succession, just above bulk carriers. General cargo and container vessels pique his interest and were placed in middle position of the rankings. PCC and vehicle carriers excite Mr Cat further.

Finally, we reached tankers, and LPG and LNG types cropped up.

With a delightful purr, “Beautiful, Joshua! We love both, although LNGs are extra special. LNGs are our favourites!”

I still chuckle at this answer.

VSAT connectivity – let’s talk numbers

Moving away from this abstract narrative, the merchant market is highly fragmented and different vessel types have a big difference in their respective airtime ARPU, depending on usage type, areas of coverage and congestion of such areas.

In general, globally, the VSAT connectivity ARPU for a bulk carrier will just surpass $1,300 per month. An LNG tanker will be in the range of $3,000 to $4,000 per month with lucrative value-add service inclusions.

As such, the customer type and their fleet of vessels are very important. Also, I will also state the more prestigious customers know how valuable their business is worth and therefore expect very good service and also heavy discounts. In fact, some prestige names are not as lucrative as some outsiders perceive.

In 2019, Valour Consultancy estimated the average connectivity package per merchant vessel was around $800 (combining both MSS and VSAT services). MSS service per vessel are less than $500 per month generally.

For Ku-band, this works out around $1,500 and Ka-band around $1,300. The latter will have gone up in 2020, too. For more information on the final point and our latest maritime connectivity research, please download our latest report brochure for more information here.

Average Monthly Connectivity Revenues in Merchant Vessel in 2019

MSS only

<$500

MSS & VSAT

$800

Ku-band

$1,500

Ka-band

$1,300 (this will have increased in 2020 & 2021)

Bulk Carrier

$1,300

LNG

$3,000 to $4,000

German ship manager Briese Schiffahrt has expanded its relationship with KVH Industries as it continues to roll out its subscription-based Connectivity as a Service (CaaS) programme, AgilePlans.

Inmarsat has expanded its agreement to deliver maritime broadband to Hapag-Lloyd, after the global transport group renewed its Fleet Xpress contract for a further five years and committed 33 more ships to the market’s leading very small aperture terminal (VSAT) service.

GTMaritime has released two product updates addressing the evolving cybersecurity and digitalisation needs in shipping.

SatADSL’s cloud-based virtual operations support system/business support system and satellite aggregation platform, is now available to the maritime sector.

Satcom Global has launched a new maritime VSAT solution that allows vessel managers and owners to make unlimited changes to their onboard connectivity. Customers can upgrade, downgrade and even suspend their service on-demand via a dedicated and secure customer portal, without penalisation.

Ship operator RIX Shipmanagement has chosen KVH’s AgilePlans subscription-based connectivity as a service (CaaS) program to supply its vessels with VSAT connectivity.

IEC Telecom and GTMaritime have partnered to deliver two vital services over one company antenna, with minimal bandwidth requirements. The connectivity package, MarineStar E-Lite, provides voice and data services that are optimised for smaller vessels.

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