The cruise industry was an early adopter of COTM technology and services. “The joint venture partnership that later became MTN helped develop the original stabilized VSAT antennas for the commercial satellite market,” says Errol Olivier, president and COO of MTN. “What started off as a solution for cruise liners, we kept evolving and became adopted by a number of other industries.”
Olivier points out the dramatic impact the Internet has had on the cruise industry noting that many mainstays of ship life require bandwidth, such as a ship’s Internet café, Wi-Fi hotspots, gaming operations, crew communications and corporate communications between the ship and corporate headquarters, as well as third-party networks for gift shops on board cruise liners. Some vendors are even monitoring remote equipment in a ship’s refrigeration systems while the vessel is underway via the ship’s satellite link.
“The clientele on cruise ships has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years,” Olivier continued. “People used to go on cruises to escape and be by themselves; now people want to stay connected, or need to stay connected, while they are on a cruise.”
Olivier notes that there has also been a shift in traffic patterns, with less voice traffic and more data. “Passengers like to stay connected through social networking, email and texting. We have had to adapt our network to accommodate these traffic shifts. Overall, bandwidth demand is going up. Of course, cruise ships are much larger now, with some holding up to 5,000 passengers. Bandwidth demand has grown on a typical ship from 128 Kbps 10 years ago to 1 Mbps today. Large ships require even more bandwidth,” he says.
The demand for COTM services is a huge potential growth market for MSS operators such as Iridium and Inmarsat. Both operators, which are building next-generation constellations of satellites, are looking to tap into the demand for COTM services. Inmarsat’s global footprint reaches everywhere except the poles and the MSS company, and with maritime roots has expanded their BGAN service offering to include communication services to mobile devices on land, sea and in the air. BGAN represented a huge boost in performance to end-users, offering IP connectivity at data speeds up to 492 kbps. The initial BGAN terminals were stationary, but mobile platforms that could communicate while in motion were introduced shortly after the service launch and new variants continue to be released.
The Hughes 9450-C11 is a good example, incorporating a small auto-acquire antenna, Ethernet or integrated Wi-Fi, and advanced software optimized for vehicular fleets to effectively control usage costs. The incorporation of a BGAN terminal using Ethernet or Wi-Fi has a number of benefits. The integrated system has common software, making commissioning much easier than dealing with a hodgepodge of different communication devices from different manufacturers; the terminal has a single power supply, making it easier to install in vehicles; and it has an intelligent power management system that senses when the vehicle’s ignition is off and automatically powers down.
Iridium also continues to introduce new COTM solutions to the market. “Data is now the fastest growing segment within Iridium,” says Patrick Shay, vice president and general manager, Data Services, Iridium.“That segment has been growing at a 60 percent annual rate and we expect the growth to continue.”
One of the reasons for optimism is the release last year of the new 9602 Data Module. The matchbook-sized OEM module allows manufacturers to integrate satellite communications capability into a wide range of products. Irdium is looking to exploit a perceived demand machine-to-machine market for a satellite communication device that can provide global coverage and two-way (duplex), low-latency, short-burst data connections at an economical price. Iridium took orders for more than 100,000 9602 modules last year.