Adoption of satcom connectivity continues to grow in the superyacht sector. Even at points where the industry has experienced an overall slowdown, the adoption of connectivity on-board superyachts has, to date, shown little sign of slowing significantly.
As a cash-rich sector, the superyacht industry has never been slow to invest in interesting technologies as they emerge. We’re seeing further evidence for this with the industry’s continuing adoption of 4G/satcom hybrid systems.
There have been a number of factors informing the general upsurge in data usage on-board superyachts.
The first, and most obvious, is good old-fashioned luxury and one-upmanship. No-one in this sector wants to be the only person without access to reasonable internet provision. What’s more, superyacht owners will also often be the kind of people for whom being out-of-touch with their businesses would be impractical.
There’s also the regulatory concerns ship owner/operators have to face. MLC-2006 has stipulated that all crew members must be provided with reasonable recreational facilities; amongst which is adequate access to comms and on-board digital entertainment facilities. This has also been one of the major drivers behind the continued adoption of rich media streaming services on-board superyachts; systems that allow for the ‘drip feed’ provisioning of new films and TV series across whatever connectivity is available and are cost-effective, to be played via an on-board microstreamer later on at the crew’s leisure.
Crew retention for Generation App
However, probably the single biggest factor behind the adoption of satcom systems, I believe, is the need for crew retention.
No matter how cash-rich you are, good, trained crew are hard to come by and time-consuming to train. Much of today’s crews don’t just rely on constant digital communication; they were raised with it.
As members of the ‘digital native’ generation, tools such as Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, etc., (and the use of mobile devices), are integral to these younger crewmembers lives, and to be without them for extended periods is, frankly, jarring for them.
A couple of years ago, an NSSLGlobal survey of a few hundred superyacht crews revealed that crewmembers, and particularly younger crewmembers, actually expected to see speeds available on-board that were analogous to the hard-wired connectivity they receive on-land.
Younger generations of crew simply won’t tolerate a digital ‘blackout’ for extended periods at sea, and so superyacht owners have to find ways to provision the best connectivity they can.
Growth in the use of 4G alongside satcom systems
Earlier this year NSSLGlobal launched its first-ever hybrid cellular/VSAT solution for maritime vessels, The Cellular Marine System. This service has been designed to complement NSSLGlobal’s airtime VSAT offering, and other services, allowing seafarers to transfer from satellite to mobile connectivity of up to 100 Mbit/s while operating up to 25km offshore.
Although these products are also sold to large, more commercial vessels, hybrid 4G/satcom products are of particular relevance to the superyacht market. As luxury vessels, superyachts tend to spend more time either at berth or within sight of shore than, say, a long-haul cargo vessel.
Such hybrid systems allow on-board systems to move to cheaper airtime when within sight of 4G antennas. Though as you might expect, price is not the primary concern in this market. Of more interest to the superyacht market is the fact that 4G can deliver a faster service. 100Mb/s connectivity can allow for a close-to-hard-wired service, allowing crew to access everyday internet services in an almost unlimited manner, and operate rich streaming media services.
The movement away from pure ‘satcoms’ for maritime communications providers
The gradual emergence of hybrid 4G/VSAT systems reflects something I’ve maintained for a while: In the not too distant future it’s very possible that the idea of a ‘satcom company’ will become obsolete. Ultimately, crews don’t care how they get connectivity, just that it’s there.
Increasingly I suspect, maritime satcom companies will start to move away from identifying themselves as selling ‘VSAT’ or ‘BGAN’ solutions, and instead will simply sell ‘connectivity anywhere, any time’. As prices continue to fall, hybrid solutions become more common, and technologies become more integrated and invisible to the end-user, the logical end point is that devices will ‘just work’, without asking the user to dedicate to one technology or another.
As such, for maritime satcom companies, the move towards 4G-hybrid systems is really a no-brainer. I predict that any satcom companies that don’t start to mesh their satellite technologies with others across the next few years will be left in a disadvantaged position, as superyacht customers seek to enable 4G and 5G services via other providers.