Young people tell me that the listicle is the way to go (flexible length, no need to build narrative flow) so here’s what I’m hoping for from Satellite 2015 next week.
From a maritime industry perspective, few of these things are likely: Satellite is peer-to-peer show more concerned with orbital insertion and the potential of nanosats than the niceties of maritime. That will get a lot more play the next week during CMA when the industry will talk about almost everything except communications.
- Less about HTS. The satellite industry is obsessed with HTS and its potential. And so they should be, since it brings potential communication speed out of the early 1990s dial-up era and into the early broadband era of the 2000s. In satellite that kind of improvement is worthy of this much fuss. Satellite is hard, expensive and tough to deliver to moving targets but the maritime industry for one is going to take some convincing that the next big thing is just that. It’s worth remembering the Stark Moore McMillan (as was) survey of a few years ago that found the majority of the maritime industry still working at 9.6kbps with thousands of seafarers still unconnected. HTS isn’t going to lift those people out of bandwidth poverty.
- More about end-users. If any of Satellite’s delegates have been paying attention, they will have noticed the Baltic Dry Index hitting its record low, all but a few containership operators bleeding red ink and global trade demand prospects so poor that even those who said this slump is not as bad as the 1980s are now keeping quiet. With the exception of tanker trades driven by low oil prices, the industry is in the toilet, so it’s not a great time to sell them new shiny things unless they are mandated by regulation. That doesn’t mean they won’t buy, just that satellite people have to listen first, sell second. The maritime satellite providers have talked a good game on the need for monitoring, telematics and chart updates but it would be good to see a little more evidence-based data of the need.
- Easier to buy VSAT. This is happening – KVH will say it has already happened – but if the industry is to take to VSAT in large numbers it needs to be a commodity sale just like L-Band has been. Owners are unsure about VSAT because they see a large per month expenditure, sometimes with expensive equipment on top and are unsure whether they can make it pay. Deciding whether or not they will monetise or incentivise their crew makes that clearer and I tend to think that crew would pay for a good service. The headlines tell us more and more owners are signing up for VSAT but they are still in the minority. No one issues a PR that says ‘Fleet77 unit still working, if pricey’.
- Making value added a reality. Shipping likes the idea of added value. Ship suppliers, classification societies, even satellite service providers use it to differentiate even though it means different things to them and their customers. Without it they are selling the same thing and price is the only thing that counts. But shipping is good at bolt-ons; telemedicine, e-learning, weather routeing and so on. When this stuff moves beyond the ‘bursty’ and into a continuous stream – then there is a supply-demand gap. Seafarers want it – and some companies too – but it is hard to get the bandwidth required to make it happen without confidence that your connection is robust enough to support it.
- Choice that is easier to choose. The maritime industry has seen satellite providers grow from IMO-mandated monopoly to duopoly then to a free market with a wealth of choice. But something has prevented them from seeing this as real choice.
Perhaps it is a lack of inertia because ‘no-one-ever got fired for buying Inmarsat’, perhaps that the alternatives on offer really weren’t that much better. And where the incumbent used to respond to market changes slowly, it is now pushing them to stay in contention not just at sea but in the air and on land. Between the remaining L-band providers and the FSS VSAT companies who think there is a gold mine awaiting them in shipping, there is a lot of interest in carving out territory. But there is also an imbalance between the very large service/distribution partners, some of whom run satellites themselves and the traditional SPs whose value lies in experienced people who also have a handy way with a spanner. Ultimately this is an ‘out of town supermarket versus the high street’ scenario. One may have a preference, but from this side of the pond, it’s pretty easy to see how that one ended.
See you at the show and if you are free on Tuesday at 16:30 come along to the MSUA-12 maritime session. Full details: www.satshow.com.