PARIS — Maritime satellite services and equipment provider KVH, which in 2013 doubled the amount of Ku-band satellite capacity it had under lease, is now beefing up its C-band capacity to fill in its remaining Ku-band gaps and offer backup in areas already under Ku-band coverage, the company said.
Middletown, R.I.-based KVH plans the commercial debut by this spring of a multicast service that will beam entertainment and ship-operational data to maritime customers in a bid to replace the longstanding practice of sending DVDs by mail to ports in advance of ship arrivals.
In a Jan. 15 presentation to investors in New York, KVH Chief Executive Martin Kits van Heyningen said some 1,700 maritime vessels currently receive both entertainment and navigational information by mail. “It’s kind of a nightmare,” he said — and an opportunity for KVH.
The company currently leases 23 C- and Ku-band transponders on 23 satellites, mainly for its mini-VSAT broadband on-board voice and data communications system.
KVH sells both the shipboard antennas and modems used for the satellite links, as well as the bandwidth. The service portion of the company’s business has climbed to nearly 50 percent of revenue — up from 29 percent a year ago, KVH Chief Financial Officer Peter Rendall told the conference.
Following its purchase of Headland Media in 2013, KVH also sells movies and other media content that is enabled by the satellite bandwidth and shipboard terminals.
KVH’s problem has been the lack of satellite capacity over the oceans to permit streaming media of the kind that ship crews want during their leisure time. The company’s solution is to make use of idle bandwidth it has under lease to send large data files — films, electronic charts and weather data among them — to multiple ships to be stored in servers also provided by KVH.
“Roughly half our capacity is idle even when it’s really busy,” Kits van Heyningen said. “The content is delivered in the white space during the idle seconds. Customers see no impact to their bandwidth, and we don’t charge extra for the bandwidth we use for this. The customer just pays for the content he wants.”
KVH delivered 371 terabytes of data to maritime customers equipped with the company’s mini-VSAT hardware in 2013, in addition to providing 23 million minutes of voice connections. Bandwidth delivery speeds are up to 4 megabits per second to each ship.
The company has shipped more than 4,000 mini-VSAT units, with annual deliveries increasing by 60 percent per year over the last four years. KVH reported a slowdown in deliveries in the three months ending Sept. 30 that it attributed to the still-recovering economies in the United States and Europe.
The company did not disclose end-year deliveries during the investor presentation but repeated its goal of reaching annual revenue of $250 million to $300 million within four years. For the 12 months ending Sept. 30, revenue was $163 million.
Kits van Heyningen said the maritime market remains largely untapped for satellite broadband providers. The total market, he said, is 250,000 vessels worldwide — cruise ships, fishing and cargo vessels and government platforms — with 1.4 million seafarers on board.
New requirements for crew welfare in the Maritime Labor Convention, combined with rules phasing out the use of paper for ship navigational charts, are pushing the industry toward investment in satellite technology.
KVH is one of several companies racing to assemble the assets needed to appeal to the growing market, which like aeronautical broadband is forecast to grow rapidly in the coming decade.
“We’re at the early stage of the adoption curve,” Kits van Heyningen said. “Penetration in this market is still very low.”
The company hopes its ability to provide a full package — satellite links, on-board satellite antennas and modems and licensed cinema, sports and other content — will give it an advantage over the growing number of competitors.
Some of KVH’s hardware is provided by ViaSat Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif. ViaSat has its own satellite broadband service in North America and uses its own Ka-band satellites for the service.
KVH’s TracPhone V11-IP, the company’s high-end terminal, is dual mode, capable of moving between Ku- and C-band when necessary. KVH is a large customer for satellite fleet operator Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington and plans to use Intelsat’s Epic high-throughput satellites, set for launch starting in 2015.
But the company says it is ready to move to Ka-band as well. “We are frequency agnostic,” Kits van Heyningen said.