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Offshore Communications 2010 Conference Review: Key Takeaways

By | November 9, 2010

      [Satellite News 11-09-10] The 2010 Offshore Communications conference in Houston featured a growing number of attendees, speakers and exhibitors excited about the maritime and energy sector’s progress throughout the last year. Satellite News spoke with several company representatives and customers about the key issues and takeaways from the show, with the top five listed below.

      VSAT providers have enhanced and expanded their video offerings over the past year.

      While attendees widely acknowledged that the use of video in the energy sector has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, most say progress accelerated dramatically over the past year. Customers are most interested in HD video solutions for teleconferencing and operations management, searching for platforms with the ability to deliver larger and larger file sizes at faster rates.
      Ka-band video platforms received a lot of attention from international energy sector communications customers, according to GVF Director of International Programs Kristen Kloster. “Satellite’s achievements in delivering high-quality video over Ka-band VSAT is making a big impression on the sector. High-quality video conferencing is a crucial capability for offshore platform operators. Satellite providers made a lot of progress this year on delivering these services and, in return, we are seeing a lot of excitement and engagement from customers at this year’s show.”

      A majority of offshore customers still do not believe that satellite- or WiMax-only platforms are viable.

      At the conference’s opening session roundtable, Chevron IT Co. Senior Engineer Bryan Frederick was quite frank with his affordability assessment of WiMax versus VSAT. For Chevron, WiMax is slated to replace satellite VSAT connectivity in the future. While Frederick might have believed he was continuing the conversation from September’s Comsys 2010 show over whether WiMax and VSAT are enemies or friends in the oil and gas sector, a majority of attendees have invested in the potential and capability of hybrid systems.
      “While there are some [information technology] professionals that still insist on one platform over the other, most of us know that applications can perform equally as well over both,” said one conference attendee, adding that offshore IT circles have gotten over the perception that VSAT is a last resort. 

      Platform operators are spending more money on crew welfare connectivity.

      With VSAT providers gaining the confidence of customers with the fact that they are providing reliability benefits minus the cost of installation, vendors are finding that customers are willing to pay a higher price for crew welfare services. “These crew members will not work for long periods of time with no contact with friends and loved ones. They use the Web to pay bills, attend distance-learning classes and even visit doctors,” said SES World Skies Senior Sales Director of North America Edward Cox.
      Rig owners acknowledge that these applications require considerable amounts of bandwidth and are segregating bandwidth for the crew’s use and mitigating connection issues and costs by allotting limited bandwidth to crews and enforcing quality of service policies and guidelines for use. The bottom line for vendors is clear — larger budgets are being dedicated to casual connectivity, as the applications become more demanding.

      The offshore energy sector is expanding globally.

      Offshore Communications 2010 saw a growing international presence and a wide variety of regions represented on the show floor and on panel sessions. "We see a good mix of domestic and international customers. The location of show in Houston definitely brings out customers with an interest in the Gulf [of Mexico], but it is a surprising variety. We expect to use this opportunity to find out where customers see future growth,” said Cox.
      Representatives and conference vendors from CapRock Communications told Satellite News that the Offshore Communications conference provided an opportunity for satellite companies to promote a seamless connectivity experience across different regions, as the oil and gas market sees more drilling operations moving out of the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea and into the Middle East and Asia.

      The offshore connectivity customer is much more educated, confident and engaged in new technologies.

      Cobham Satcom Sea Tel
      Product Manager Atul Chawla described the show’s dynamic as a sign that offshore customers are becoming more engaged with their connectivity providers. "I have noticed an energetic buzz between vendors, end users and customers. Everyone seems to be engaged with each other, and this has provided an excellent opportunity."
          Intelsat Senior Director North American Sales Randy Anders said the show provided a good environment for communication with customers. “It has great place for us to let our customers know what’s out there. Customers have a lot more questions and requirements this year, and since satellite has had a good year, we have more offerings to give them."
          GComm Product Manager Rick Henegar said customers seemed to be more proactive in forming relationships with potential vendors. “Customers are talking more about their needs and being much more specific about their applications. There’s a confidence in the atmosphere, which is always a good sign for the state of the market."

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