Satellite start-up O3b Networks revealed plans to enter the maritime satellite market with a new service aimed at the cruise-ship market.
O3bMaritime is a high-speed broadband solution that will make use of O3b's spot beams to deliver over 500 Mbps in aggregate bandwidth to a single vessel, enabling cruise ship guests and crew to enjoy broadband access.
O3b has been carving itself a niche as a wholesale backhaul player, providing fiber-equivalent internet connectivity to emerging markets where fiber hasn't yet reached via its fleet of medium-earth orbit (MEO) satellites, which offer better latency performance than geosynchronous satellites at a much higher orbit.
However, the O3bMaritime service puts it in direct competition with satellite players like Inmarsat, which already offers broadband solutions for ships via its FleetBroadband service.
O3b CEO Steve Collar says the company will narrow its focus to the high end of the market, namely cruise ships and yachts.
"If a cruise line operator needs global coverage with only a few megabits of connectivity, that's already there for them and that's fine. We're going after the vessels that need a few hundred megabits of connectivity, and we have steerable beams that can target that specific vessel," Collar told the Show Daily.
Collar says the need for bandwidth keeps growing for cruise ships as both passengers and crew expect to be able to access their apps and services onboard. "If you're serving 8,000 passengers with a shared backhaul link of 3 to 5 Mbps, that's a frustrating experience for everyone aboard. We can increase that to over 100 times, which is what's needed."
Collar adds that O3b has the added value of better latency. "On the geosats, latency is around 600 milliseconds, and that's just not sustainable for internet services like gaming and video."
The O3bMaritime service won't be commercially available until the O3b satellite fleet is up and running. Collar said the project is on schedule to launch commercial services by mid-2013.
Collar also said that about a third of O3b's capacity has already been pre-booked. "We hope to double that by the time we launch out satellites in nine months."