Adjacent possibilities of smart shipping – Digital Ship

Many years ago, and in another industry not so far removed from maritime connectivity, I wrote an article offering viewpoints on “how much an airline would pay for an early release movie (early window content is the industry term). The article got me into serious trouble, writes Joshua Flood, senior research consultant at Valor Consultancy.

The basic question was how secret these negotiations were, and Hollywood studios, airlines and their content service providers didn’t want to shed any light on the subject. Or I was terribly mistaken in my views. I stick to the previous point.

Now, after many years elsewhere (much like Yoda on the swamp planet Dagobah), I’ve decided to return to one of my favorite tracks.

To push myself further I plan to write a series of articles on how each type of merchant vessel (merchant, fishing, passenger, offshore and pleasure) would pay for their connectivity solutions, typically VSAT and MSS.

Satellite subscriptions for dealers

To address the title of this piece, merchant ships come in a range of shapes, sizes and purposes.

Breaking up the trading market from a bird’s eye view; There are approximately 150,000 MSS and VSAT satellite subscriptions on the market. This may confuse some, given the commonly touted figure of 80-90,000 merchant ships (depending on your source and classification). This number is clearly lower than the number of maritime satellite subscriptions.

To stop this from happening quickly, a significant number of large merchant ships require multiple terminals for security reasons. In addition, some ships will also subscribe to a variety of solutions for specific purposes. An example might be subscribing to Ku-band VSAT services from Intelsat or Eutelsat, Fleetbroadband from Inmarsat, and Certus from Iridium.

Emergence of VSAT technology

In the past, commercial operators were only satisfied with MSS (L-band) services, but in the last decade the use of VSAT technology has become a dominant force on all commercial seagoing vessels. Around 20,000 VSAT merchant vessels are active today.

Examine the main types of merchant ships. There are a number of different variations. And when it comes to shipping, certain regions are known for their trade. For example Asia and Northern Europe for commodity and container ships.

Extra special LNGs

One of my favorite research interviews of 2021 was with a Cypriot service provider. I won’t say which or who, but it was definitely one of my most entertaining.

It was almost like talking to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. I went through a list of ship types with “the Cat” giving their average monthly call charges the company gets for connectivity packages. Bulk carrier, a quick grunt and at the bottom of the list of data usage and associated ARPU earnings. MPP and RoRo ships followed in quick succession, just ahead of bulk carriers. General cargo and container ships aroused his interest and placed in the middle of the ranking. PCC and car transporters also inspire Mr. Kater.

Eventually we got to tankers and LPG and LNG guys showed up.

With an adorable purr, “Beautiful, Joshua! We love both, although LNGs are very special. LNGs are our favorites!”

I’m still smiling at that answer.

VSAT connectivity – let’s talk numbers

Apart from this abstract representation, the commercial market is highly fragmented and different ship types have large differences in their respective airtime ARPU depending on usage type, coverage areas and congestion of these areas.

In general, VSAT connectivity ARPU for a global bulk carrier will only exceed $1,300 per month. An LNG tanker costs between $3,000 and $4,000 per month with lucrative add-ons.

Therefore, the type of customer and its fleet of ships are very important. I will also say that the more respected customers know how valuable their business is and therefore expect very good service and big discounts too. In fact, some prestige names aren’t as lucrative as some outsiders think.

In 2019, Valor Consultancy estimated the average connectivity package per merchant vessel to be around $800 (combination of MSS and VSAT services). MSS service per vessel generally costs less than $500 per month.

For Ku-band that makes about $1,500 and for Ka-band about $1,300. The latter will also have increased in 2020. For more information on the closing point and our latest maritime connectivity research, please download our latest report brochure here.

Average monthly connectivity revenue in merchant ships in 2019

MSS only



Ku band


Ka band

$1,300 (this will have increased in 2020 and 2021)

bulk carrier



$3,000 to $4,000

About Christine Geisler

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