KVH Industries TracPhone V7 satellite communications system and mini-VSAT Broadband network recently exceeded two years of service and boasts more than 500 units sold, with valuable new features and service regions ensuring viability for years to come that represents almost 10 percent of the installed base of maritime VSAT systems as estimated in the 2008 Maritime VSAT Markets Report published by COMSYS.
Two years ago, the mini-VSAT Broadbandsm network became the preferred day-to-day communications solution for vessels worldwide. Introduced in late 2007, KVHs mini-VSAT Broadband network and TracPhone® V7 hardware offered mariners a fully integrated hardware, network, and service solution the first to offer a 24-inch VSAT antenna and ViaSats patented ArcLight® spread spectrum technology. mini-VSAT Broadband operates using the KVH TracPhone V7 antenna, which is 85 percent smaller by volume and 75 percent lighter than those employed in 1-meter VSAT equipment the TracPhone V7 is only 24 (60 cm) in diameter and weighs 60 lbs (27 kg) as compared to the 40 (1 m) or larger traditional VSAT antennas that weigh 250-400 lbs (115-180 kg). As a result, the compact TracPhone V7 reduces the cost for hardware and installation, often by more than 50 percent and, there is no compromise in performance. KVH and ViaSat are offering voice service and Internet access as fast as 512 Kbps (upload) and 2 Mbps (download) at fixed monthly rates to mariners as well as network coverage to the ViaSat Yondersm mobile broadband service, and others who want to stay connected with high-speed mobile networking.
For many vessel operators, the KVH solution is an option for new vessels as well as a replacement for existing solutions. A vital factor in the growth of demand and continued enthusiasm among mariners have been KVHs aggressive efforts to roll out the mini-VSAT Broadband network to ensure boaters would have the coverage where needed. At the start of 2009, the network was operational in a limited number of regions: North America and the Caribbean, the North Atlantic, and Europe. In January, KVH announced mini-VSAT Broadband coverage in the Pacific Ocean region, starting off the year with coverage for Alaska, the west coasts of Canada and the United States, Hawaii, and part of Asia. Over the course of the year, mini-VSAT Broadband went live in the Persian Gulf, Asia-Pacific waters, Australia, New Zealand, and a further expansion within the Atlantic. Africa and the Indian Ocean are also under contract and expected to offer live service this year.
The network is now supported by seven secure Earth stations around the globe, together with seven of the worlds most powerful communications satellites. With this coverage, mariners can enjoy mini-VSAT Broadband service in every key maritime region in the world, with the exception of South America, where service is currently in development and expected to go live early in 2010. Shifting among each of these coverage regions and the associated satellites is a simple affair, as the network was designed from the start to offer seamless regional roaming. As a result, mariners using mini-VSAT Broadband no longer need to swap out antenna hardware or make configuration changes to the modem and control systems. Instead, it is a fully automatic process.
During 2009, KVH also took steps to assist mariners who had already made an investment in other communications technology, such as Inmarsats L-band systems, which offer global coverage but also carry a higher airtime usage cost. By pairing mini-VSAT Broadband with an existing service such as Inmarsat Fleet or FleetBroadband, mariners enjoy greater flexibility and affordability with mini-VSAT Broadband as the day-to-day communications system and Inmarsat as the supplemental system to ensure that communications are never lost, even outside the mini-VSAT Broadband coverage area. KVH now support several options for hybrid satellite communications solutions including the LiveWire Service Selector and other middleware solutions, such as Dualog and Virtek, which can be set to use the mini-VSAT Broadband service by default and switch to another service only when the vessel travels outside the mini-VSAT Broadband coverage area.
Compatibility with these software solutions was one of KVHs major developments in 2009, especially when paired with the new hardware lease with bundled airtime options. Introduced in early 2009, the program helps spread the cost of the TracPhone V7 hardware out over the course of the airtime agreement during which time the airtime cost savings enjoyed often more than cover the cost of the hardware lease itself. These options are quickly gaining popularity among commercial mariners who want to make use of the systems they already have while adding mini-VSAT Broadband in a budget-friendly manner.
While the mini-VSAT Broadband network offers a powerful and affordable pipe for data, 2009 also saw KVH continue to develop new options for the mini-VSAT Broadband service to increase the versatility of the system and meet the growing needs of mariners. In June, KVH launched its new cost-saving crew calling solution. This option makes it easy for fleet owners to manage crew members network use separately from the ships day-to-day business with several options designed to minimize time spent managing the crew calling program. In October, KVH announced that it is collaborating with On-Waves Ehf to develop an affordable picocell solution that will allow crew members, passengers, and onboard contractors to use their own GSM cell phones onboard ships via the mini-VSAT Broadband network.
As the demand for maritime broadband grows, KVH will continue to add valuable new functionality to the mini-VSAT Broadband network, allowing mariners to do more, in more places, with less time and money. This is great for commercial operators and yacht owners, as new cost-saving measures and convenient features will make their vessels more productive.
In the field, however, it seems that this is already the case. As Captain Bryant of the American No. 1 explained, The TracPhone V7 and mini-VSAT Broadband are changing the entire way we do business!
Article written by Nicole Chevrette, a member of the KVH Industries Marketing Communications team.