News Column

Super-yachts get improved Internet and telecom services

May 15, 2014

By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel



May 15--Telecommunications at sea are getting more like services on land -- for a price, of course.

The latest example: Miramar-based MTN Communications this week launched a program for super-yachts that combines satellite- and land-based networks to provide faster and more reliable Internet, cellphone, video-conferencing and other telecom services.

The monthly subscription fee: from $3,000 to $100,000, depending on what's ordered.

"It's common for many super-yachts to pay $10,000 or more per month" already for less-robust services, said Derik Wagner, managing director of MTN's yacht business unit.

MTN's new "Maestro" program also offers round-the-clock technical support and replacement of critical equipment within 24 hours, wherever your super-yacht may be, Wagner said.

Telecom services on super-yachts already tend to be much faster than what passengers receive on cruise ships. That's because fewer people share the same signal and bandwidth, said Brad Grady, a maritime market specialist at Northern Sky Research, which specializes in satellite communications.

"You get more pieces of the pie on a super-yacht," Grady said, though Internet speeds and video-conferencing images still tend to lag what you'd get at home on land.

MTN ranks as "a top player in providing high-end connectivity to high-end clients" to narrow the gap at sea, Grady said. The privately held firm also serves cruise ships, oil ships and many other types of vessels, racking up revenues likely in "tens of millions of dollars per year," said Grady.

The growing telecom-at-sea market is luring rivals, too.

Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., for example, has been expanding from military to commercial customers and recently signed contracts with Miami-based cruise lines Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

To keep its edge, veteran MTN is shifting toward a "full-service" business model, complete with software applications. It recently launched an innovation center in Seattle that employs about 40 people, many working in software, said spokeswoman Liz DeCastro.

"From 'I'm going to give you a satellite connection,' to 'I'm going to give you a service and a satellite connection just happens to be part of it,' they are pioneering that change," said analyst Grady -- just like telecom companies are doing on land.

dhemlock@sunsentinel.com, 305-810-5009, @dhemlock on Twitter

MTN Communications

Based: Miramar, active since the 1980s.

Business: Satellite communications for ships, including Internet, phone, TV, video-conferencing and other services.

Employees: 300, most in Miramar but also, in Seattle, NYC area, DC area, England and elsewhere.

Customers: Cruise lines, yachts, military ships, oil tankers, ferries and more.

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Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel (FL)