A new mini-VSAT broadband system from KVH makes onboard entertainment and connectivity the next boating blockbuster.
There’s really no denying it: The idea of going to sea to get away has itself gone away. If you look to get out on the boat to forget about your land-based business affairs, you may as well point the bow to the horizon and just keep on going. In today’s world, if you take your eye off the ball the price is indeed dear.
Just look at the earliest of our early adopters—teenagers and young people. As painful as it can be to watch, they stay connected and keep a finger on the pulse through e-mail, text messaging, and social media. They don’t miss out on developments in their lives even when they step away.
“There are almost as many Internet-connected devices as there are people in the world,” says Jim Dodez, senior vice president of marketing and strategic planning at KVH (www.kvh.com). “Consistent, reliable connectivity on a boat allows people to get out and still work remotely and get things done.”
Staying connected has gotten easier for everyone onboard as satellite broadband systems and onboard Wi-Fi have developed. And thanks to a new range of mini-VSAT broadband satellite systems from KVH called TracPhone Vip, the systems are simpler to set up and use than ever before, and offer features that will complement a satellite-TV system for onboard entertainment.
TracPhone Vip is available with three antenna sizes to accommodate a variety of yachts, starting with the 14 ½-inch-diameter TracPhone V3ip for smaller boats, the 24-inch-diameter V7ip for larger yachts, and the 42 ½-inch-diameter V11ip for globetrotting megayachts. Of course with satellite antennas, a larger dish means better transmission speeds over the range of the boat.
The V3ip and V7ip connect through a Ku-band signal that offers ocean-crossing coverage in the northern hemisphere and the coastal areas of all continents the world over, according to KVH. The company says the V11ip uses the Ku-band, but also adds coverage of C-band in a dual-mode system that allows global connectivity even in remote corners of the ocean. All antennas use advanced controllers for high-speed tracking and the company’s RingFire design. Prices for the TracPhone Vip system start at $16,995. Subscription costs for data start at a usage-based plan for $49 per month for 50 megabytes of data, while voice calling is 49 cents per minute anywhere in the world.
For the boater, what will really set the Vip series apart is the Integrated Commbox Modem (ICM). According to KVH, the ICM takes the functionality once acquired through a rack of multiple components all wired together and combines them in a single unit that is roughly the size of that old VCR you may have on a shelf in your garage, and manages the entire system. It’s got an IP-enabled network manager, which basically means it can function in the world of computers as an equal—it has an IP address just like every device that connects to the Internet. And it’s got a network manager built in so it can communicate with multiple devices on its own. The unit offers voice over IP capability, so the satellite telephone is integrated. An Ethernet switch keeps data flowing smoothly, and the ICM offers Wi-Fi capabilities so you don’t have to run wires everywhere you wish to connect onboard. A browser-based user interface and an iPhone app let the user access system status, and get support as needed.
The ICM also has KVH’s ArcLight spread spectrum modem, which employs some serious technology to optimize the connectivity of a satellite system. To give an oversimplified explanation, the system uses a technology called Code Reuse Multiple Access (CRMA) that allows simultaneous transmissions—antenna systems can burst data to the hub at any time, is how KVH puts it. Another technology touted by KVH is Paired Carrier Multiple Access (PCMA), which was explained to me this way: Instead of requiring independent channels for sending and receiving, the system allows sending and receiving on one channel. And spread spectrum technology is a system that allows antennas to be 85 percent smaller by mitigating interference from adjacent satellites, according to KVH.
The result is an efficient satellite communications system that will work pretty much anywhere most boaters would want to cruise.
And that efficiency means additional capabilities that may help you feel more at home onboard. Recently KVH announced the introduction of IP-MobileCast, which is a subscription system of streaming content for mini-VSAT broadband users. KVH acquired a UK-based company called Headland Media to manage this service and license the content for its recreational customers as the company has done for the commercial maritime sector. Preliminary pricing indicates that packages will start at $295 per month for streaming movies and television, as well as digital music sorted by genre and daily digital newspapers. In the least expensive package, a user will be able to stream ten movies each month, which then remain available for unlimited viewing for a year. The best part: that rate includes the transmitting cost of large multimedia files, without adding cost to the TracPhone Vip data subscription.
“The efficiency of the network allows us to offer this streaming media with no impact to our customers’ normal two-way satellite services,” Dodez says. “Our network is sized to meet peak demand spikes, so most of the time it’s running at about 60 percent of total capacity. We are simply using some of that unused capacity during quiet times when it’s not needed for our normal two-way service to broadcast content to our customers.”
Streaming music and access to Hollywood entertainment may sound wonderful, but keep in mind the importance of connectivity. The recent announcement by NOAA that it would stop producing paper charts is a stark reminder that our dependence on electronic devices is growing. VSAT connectivity ensures a boat’s navigation and computer systems will have access to cartography and software updates that will keep things running smoothly, no matter where you point the bow.
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.