Alberto Carpene, head of London-based Satcomtrader, gives us a snapshot of the maritime industry in the last decade and the challenges ahead.
“The maritime VSAT service environment has exhibited continuing growth, but looks set to change fundamentally over the next few years,” says Simon Bull, senior consultant at COMSYS and chairman of the VSAT2012 conference.
He adds, “Channel positioning, teleport infrastructure, investment criteria and customer ownership are all possible elements that may be caught in the mix. Large and small operators are likely to face difficult, but often very different decisions.”
Describing himself, at the recently concluded VSAT2012 conference, as the typical ‘iDirect generation’ Satcom player, with the first IP Uplink in Italy over North Africa and Mediterranean in 2002, and admitting that his reason for entering maritime was because it “appears to be a cool thing”, Alberto Carpene, head of London-based Satcomtrader, gives us a snapshot of the maritime industry in the last decade.
What the maritime industry offered, in 2001, surprised him. “We found that there was incredible demand from the end customer. However we found that the ‘Maritime Communications’ guys barely knew what a VSAT was, and they all thought it was a joke.”
Making his maritime Satcom debut by supplying in Ku and C-Bands to two of the major players over the Mediterranean, like other similar solutions providers in the market, Carpene and his team enjoyed the benefits of an expanding market till the period between 2010 and 2011. “Is the party over?” Carpene asked himself.
Case of maritime overheating?
The iDirect ‘beam switching’ technology had become widespread. In addition, major VSAT players had emerged and others had consolidated and this was coupled with factors such as Capex and network dimensioning becoming critical
Describing it as a classic case of overheating in the maritime sector, Carpene says, “The iDirect ‘beam switching’ technology had become widespread. In addition, major VSAT players had emerged and others had consolidated and this was coupled with factors such as Capex and network dimensioning becoming critical.
“Competition became stiffer as many teleports started offering coverage over the seas. Most importantly, Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband became an important equation in the market in addition to the fact that Xpress Ku and Ka-bands were on the anvil. To make matters more competitive, other major players such as Intelsat were getting interested at this stage and there was an oversupply of Ku-based alternatives on the market.”
To counter the multiple challenges, value-added service (VAS) and “multiband integration” according to Carpene has become key.
2012 – 2015: A critical phase
Carpene believes the 2012 – 2015 is a critical timeframe for the maritime communication industry.
“The small players (the teleports) will give up most of their ‘almost global’ VSAT network. A wholesale ‘white label’ Ku- and C-band network will emerge. Ku will be the most widely used capacity globally, and that will remain the biggest market segment.”
About the impact of the Global Xpress network, Carpene says, “Nobody knows,” but hastens to add, “atleast I don’t”. He adds, “But it will catch on only after 2015. In the meantime, L-band (FleetBroadBand) will remain a key factor; it will remain competitive primarily due to various bundles and hard-to-beat VAS. The most dramatic transformation will come from former and current mid-sized Inmarsat distributors. The small players who, having given up their networks, will concentrate on multi-band and VAS integration and trading.”
On Inmarsat’s dominant position, Carpene says, that “an assured global access that is incorporated into the global maritime regulatory framework, along with an array of services, has given Inmarsat a bullet-proof positioning in certain applications”. But there is transformation under way.
Of the future, Carpene says, “Expect mergers and all sorts of integration. The small VSAT players – both the ‘teleports at sea’ and the ‘iDirect generation cowboys’ with key end-user knowledge will merge or establish working relationships with strong regional maritime VSAT players including with mid-sized to large ‘Inmarsat orphans’.