Maritime Mobile Satellite Services Operators Opinion Satellite Vertical Markets

Connectivity that’s affordable

UAE-based solutions providers, Tile Marine, in partnership with the One Horizon Group, are creating bandwidth-efficient VOIP platforms that are making connectivity at sea affordable to crew.

UAE-based solutions providers, Tile Marine, in partnership with the One Horizon Group, are creating bandwidth-efficient VOIP platforms making connectivity at sea affordable to crew.

Dubai-based Tile Marine has installed the Horizon VOIP solution in six vessels in Dubai.

“Typically, data and voice consumption per vessel ranges from US $500- 1,500 depending on size and the number of crew on-board. Hardware such as the Horizon VoIP PBX enables up to eight simultaneous calls from a single VSAT system, or MSS terminal operating over Inmarsat, Thuraya or Iridium networks. Such a VoIP solution can reduce monthly bills by as much as 50%,” says Pravin Raghavan, managing director, Tile Marine LLC, a Dubai-based company offering equipment sales, services and solutions in the field of marine telecommunications.

Products supplied to the vessels included Horizon’s proprietary SmartPacket Technology, that reportedly optimises calls over satellite systems, reducing the required packets to a minimum, making communication affordable for seafarers with VoIP from only 2kbps compared to around 8kbps

Pravin Raghavan, managing director, Tile Marine LLC

“In this period of recession and constrained budgets, moving to VoIP is a natural evolution for ships that need internet and intranet access, whether supplied by Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) or VSAT applications,” observes Raghavan.

The Horizon VoIP solution offers both post-paid and pre-paid licences. Raghavan explains, “Over the Inmarsat network, Horizon data usage is ‘carved out’ of their bill, meaning individual crew members can make use of the same corporate system for personal use. This gives corporations the flexibility to provide crew calling and data solutions with optimised tariffs that cater for both the business and the wellbeing of those running it.

“Complex bills can be avoided with the ship owners using a post-paid system with inclusive minutes, while the man on deck has pre-paid minutes free to spend on mail, chat and calling home.”

Maintenance of the systems is also provided by Tile and Horizon. Horizon, on their part, maintain a 24/7 help-desk.

The hardware deployed

The Thrane & Thrane Sailor FB150 systems deployed on the vessels are in Raghavan’s words, “small and lightweight, enabling easy user-installation for smaller vessels.”

With the feature to provide data and voice simultaneously, and the ability of the Horizon’s SmartPacket technology to deliver up to eight over-the-data channels, the marine Satcom solution becomes attractive, says Raghavan.

In the recent past, Inmarsat has made two major changes to their FleetBroadBand (FBB) services, with the price increment on the standard ‘Pay as you Go’ plan from US$ 50 up to 200, and the removing of voice allowance from all plans.

With the introduction of money bundle plans from Inmarsat, resulting in the foregoing of voice packages and the extra premium they now carry, industry experts believe this is a clear indication that operators such as Inmarsat are preparing for more IP-based consumption going forward.

Underscoring the benefits of the Horizonbased VOIP solution, Raghavan says, “With Horizon voice utilising VoIP protocol, users now enjoy a fraction of the cost they would pay through FBB PSTN voice.”

Offshore communication is touted as one of the key drivers of crew retention as the crew has come to expect connectivity to Facebook, Skype, online banking, among other areas, to match what they have at home, regardless of where they are stationed. In previous years, the industry typically viewed communication networks primarily as a cost centre.

Traditionally calls over the PSTN and GSM networks could easily ramp up heavy monthly bills. Finding the right maritime VoIP communications solutions for a vessel, with adequate bandwidth within budget, becomes increasingly crucial for marine systems integrators such as Tile Marine.

Customer feedback

Raghavan says that the customers are happy with the solution. He adds, “It is about three months since we started using Horizon. We started by integrating the solution with our VSAT system and this was appreciated by our customers. Since a month ago, we have extended the solution to be promoted with the FBB airtime.

“While we did have initial teething problems, this solution is already shifting communication costs to affordable levels for the crew.”

With marine VOIP over satellite promising to overcome the three stumbling blocks for affordable marine Satcom of price, throughput and interoperability, this is a trend worth monitoring.