KVH launching HTS upgrade this year, preps for OneWeb

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WASHINGTON — Maritime satellite services and hardware provider KVH is kicking off an upgrade to mix high-throughput capacity from geostationary and low Earth orbit satellites into its network, CEO Martin Kits van Heyningen said Jan. 10.

Speaking to investors at the 19th Annual Needham Growth Conference in New York, Kits van Heyningen said the inclusion of HTS overlays on the KVH network will happen this year, and should enable speeds that are triple what the company can provide today.

“We are launching a new high-capacity network using…Ku-band spot beam satellites that have a capacity up to 60 gigabits per second, which is a huge improvement over the technology that was available before,” he said.

Kits van Heyningen, who has hinted at an interest in using HTS since at least 2015, anticipates these systems will bring higher speeds at a similar price point for customers when factoring in the additional pricing pressure exerted by oversupply.

KVH uses 19 satellites and 12 teleports to support a global C- and Ku-band network for maritime vessels. Kits van Heyningen sized the company’s addressable market at about 250,000 vessels, of which he estimated less than 10 percent use Very Small Aperture Terminals, or VSATs, for connectivity today. That number is soon to change though, he said.

“We are at the beginning of a major upgrade cycle in this market. The technology that has been used is over 10 years old now,” he said. “L-band satphone-type technology is really no longer adequate for modern operations, but about 40,000 vessels are still using that, and those are getting speeds that are in kilobits per second, not in megabits per second. We see a lot of those customers upgrading to VSAT over the next few years.”

In addition to providing satellite services, KVH manufactures satellite terminals and other equipment, creating a level of vertical integration the company prides itself on. Kits van Heyningen said KVH is preparing new terminals simultaneously with the planned network upgrade so users can tap into geostationary HTS this year.  

“Our products are being modified [and] the hardware is HTS-ready. Those products are going into production this quarter,” he said.

Kits van Heyningen said there will be an easy upgrade path for existing customers to tap into the higher speed services, but that it will not be mandated.

“It is a little bit like 3G — if you want to stick to that network, you’re fine, but if you want the higher speeds, there is an upgrade path both for the install base as well as for new customers,” he said.

Beyond geostationary-HTS, Kits van Heyningen said the company is developing antennas to link with LEO systems — OneWeb in particular — and for cellular backhaul systems. He said maritime antennas already have traits needed to connect with LEO systems because they are designed to track with a satellite while in motion.

KVH is also developing  an Internet of Things product to optimize maritime operations. Kits van Heyningen said new regulations are starting to require carbon dioxide emissions reporting from maritime vessels, which constitutes new data vessel operators will need to track.

“This year [we are] launching an Internet of Things solution, a big data product for our maritime customers where we interface with all the sensors on the vessel. These will be uploaded, compressed on our onboard hardware, uploaded into the cloud and enable analytics. It will provide measurable benefit for our customers in terms of improved efficiency,” he said.

Other efficiencies he mentioned as business drivers include software over the air updates, and weather routing.