The Internet gateway hardware on board yachts today has the ability to combine or share multiple Internet sources. In most situations, sharing the demands of crew and guests between multiple Internet sources offers a great solution to meet higher demand while not introducing additional costs.
But how effective is this? There are many methods of using multiple Internet sources, but aggregation or manual gateway assignment are typical. Aggregation is achieved by combining a number of Internet sources together. For example, cellular data services and shore Internet supply — which together would be presented as one larger supply compared to the capability of the individual connections. The problem with aggregation is the 700-millisecond latency of VSAT is far greater when compared to the latency of other Internet sources of around 30 milliseconds.
As a result of the difference in latency, the router will often ignore the VSAT connectivity and completely rely on the alternatives. A common solution is to manually assign each of the single Internet sources to a user group or specific load (e.g. Owners Network assigned to Cellular 1, Guest Network assigned to Cellular 2, and Crew Network assigned to VSAT).
In certain configurations, VSAT and cellular would be assigned equal priority and due to latency, the router would only route traffic via the cellular service. The issue comes up when the vessel is out of cellular range but the VSAT is being ignored due to higher latency, resulting in “no Internet available.”
Multi WAN (Wide Area Network) is becoming the go-to solution for maritime connectivity, offering relatively low-cost and high-speed cellular connectivity while near shore then switching to VSAT while offshore. In more recent times, these two services have been used in conjunction with each other, but not without problems. There are a number of maritime connectivity companies that now offer turn-key solutions that include a VSAT antenna along with a multitude of “black boxes,” which perceivably manage connectivity. The truth is that these black boxes are defaulting to cellular service where possible, only using VSAT when out of range. This has resulted in users reporting 80mbps via VSAT when in fact the service is simply connected through cellular at that point in time.
One particular problem is a lack of visibility of the active Internet connection and no manual means to switch between them. Considering the potential instabilities of cellular services along shorelines, the lack of the ability to switch between VSAT and cellular is a problem.
A preferred solution is to use individual services and hardware that can be manually configured as required along with crew training to ensure a clear understanding of how to maximize connectivity.
This article originally ran in the February 2022 issue of Dockwalk.