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Part 2: KVH’s low cost per megabyte, Sea Tel
By Tim Clark — March 2002
KVH hopes that in the long run the extraordinary speed of the system will offset these initial costs. "Especially on a cost-per-megabyte-download basis, we really blow [the competition] away," says Jim Dodez, KVH’s marketing vice president. A table on KVH’s Web site compares the price tags for downloading a megabyte of data on different systems now available. At 400 kbps and 79 cents per minute for either a satellite or cellular uplink–a figure based on the monthly purchase of bundled minutes–a 20-second, one-megabyte download from KVH would cost just 26 cents. For Inmarsat’s Mini-M, at 2.4 kbps and $2.25 per minute, KVH calculates $125 per megabyte. At Globalstar’s relatively faster 9.6 kbps with a per-minute charge of $1.29, the contrast remains huge: almost $18 for the 14 minutes necessary to download the data. Even if KVH were courteous enough to calculate these figures using the cheaper bundled-minutes rates available from some of these services, the differences in costs would still be striking.
The abilities of the TracNet server are also noteworthy. Its hard drive allows users to download and cache data from a variety of Web sites for later, leisurely off-line viewing–"a typical strategy," says Dodez, "that people adopt when they’re paying on a per-minute basis." In addition to the satellite/cellular modems to provide an uplink while underway, the TracNet’s return path can be routed through a landline for cheaper charges while at the dock (19 cents per minute). Finally, the server’s wireless connection allows multiple laptops or PCs with 802.11b PCMCIA cards to connect from almost anywhere onboard. The skipper can search for weather updates at the helm while the mistress of the yacht reads e-mails from the comfort of the aft deck settee.
One drawback to KVH’s system is its limited range. Because DirecPC satellite broadcasts are aimed toward KVH’s greatest concentration of customers, namely landlubbers, the coverage area extends only up to 100 miles off the coast of the United States. A supplemental low-speed coverage exists for Alaska and part of the Caribbean, but it’s just 9.6 kbps, workable for e-mail, perhaps, but not really for Web browsing.
The system that at press time Sea Tel planned to debut at the Miami International Boat Show in February features significantly wider coverage, including North America and the Caribbean, plus the North Atlantic, Europe, and the Mediterranean. While the promised download speed is not nearly as fast as KVH’s 400 kbps, it is much faster than most other existing maritime services.
This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.