Ka-launch not the end for L-band in Maritime

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A new study from Valour Consultancy forecasts 40% of maritime satellite service revenues will be allocated to L-band by 2018, despite a number of Ka-band solutions entering service this year.

Many in the industry expect the launch of another VSAT technology to sound the death knell for the use of L-band at sea. Indeed, the last few years have seen a rapid uptake in faster VSAT solutions that are nibbling away at the dominant L-band sector. VSAT revenues exceeded $1bn for the first time in 2013 and are forecast to continue growing until at least 2018, aided by the availability of maritime Ka-band this year.

However, whilst the market is undoubtedly heading into an era of enhanced maritime connectivity, the evidence suggests L-band will continue to find a place on vessels and platforms, perhaps even offering growth potential for satellite operators and service providers in some instances. According to Craig Foster, Senior Consultant at Valour, “There are sectors of the market that cannot afford and simply do not require anything other than an L-band solution. Markets where data requirements are low, such as fishing, are going to be much slower adopters of VSAT solutions and will continue to make do with existing MSS equipment for some time. By 2018, we expect L-band to still account for the bulk (95%) of all connected fishing vessels.”

The fact that no other satellite operator, apart from Inmarsat, is certified to provide mandatory communications as part of a Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is another contributory factor. When Fleet Broadband obtains GMDSS compliance, the case for switching to VSAT may become less compelling in markets such as fishing. Furthermore, if arctic ice once again recedes to open up northern shipping passages, Iridium L-band will be the only viable satellite connectivity solution in these extreme regions.

It is plain to see why many in the maritime industry have written off L-band, slow projected uptake, diminishing ARPUs and sometimes cripplingly slow data connection speeds when compared to today’s ultra-fast mobile cellular LTE speeds. However, Valour forecasts L-band will account for over 90% of total maritime satellite subscribers this year. Foster continued “L-band provides a crucial bedrock of connectivity for the maritime market enabling the essential data communications required out at sea, especially in sectors where high data rates are not needed. Furthermore, L-band is extremely reliable, outperforming some VSAT solutions in adverse conditions and will, therefore, be used as a backup for a number of years to come.”

Although maritime Ka-band is tantalisingly close to providing communications at sea, commercial airlines are already using the technology. Valour’s upcoming report on in-flight connectivity provides a thorough analysis of this rapidly emerging marketplace. If you would like more information on this or the ‘Future of Maritime Communications’ analysis, please contact us.

Valour Consultancy is a UK-based provider of highly-detailed market intelligence and actionable consultancy. The company’s primary focus is on connectivity in the transportation sector, sometimes referred to as “connectivity on the move”. Its studies provide unparalleled insight into a number of different areas within this sector including the use of satellite connectivity in maritime and offshore applications, as well as the rapidly emerging market for in-flight Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.

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Craig Foster
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