Fleet Broadband Small Vessel Plans: Curiouser and Curiouser

As Fishing and Leisure plans sunset this month, Inmarsat’s new Small Vessel Plans (SVP) represent the satellite provider’s attempt to both appease its Fleet Broadband (FBB) owners and impede the deployment of Fleet Broadband as the poor stepchild in VSAT/FBB failover marriages.  At first blush, SVPs will far more quickly squash sales of FBB as VSAT backups than will they give reason for pleasure yachts, workboats and fishing class vessels to pen ballads exalting their virtues.  There follows a description of these new postpaid and prepaid SVPs and their potential role in the constellation of Fleet Broadband airtime plans.

In their purest sense, SVP postpaid bundles pack 5 MB of Fleet Broadband airtime into $99 per month. Megabytes used during that month which are beyond the first included 5 are billed at $22 each. There is a one-month minimum on the plan.

While the $99 monthly rate is now the lowest monthly access fee available to FBB users, the imbedded and overage rates are the highest such rates offered by Inmarsat for background IP on any platform.  So yes, it’s the cheapest way to keep your terminal active. But in doing so you pay a dear price if you happen to exceed your allotted 5 MB.

Now for the kicker. Remember that go-kart you had as a kid? How no matter how hard you pressed the gas pedal it would only go so fast because Dad had messed with the throttle? Well, Inmarsat is dear old Dad. They have throttled the SVP plans to a maximum speed of 32 kbaud (See update on the ‘throttling’ issue in comments associated with this blog entry).  With any other package, your FBB 150, 250 and 500 are capable of 150, 284 and 496 kbaud speeds, respectively. But if you’ve activated under an SVP plan, Dad has you maxed out at 32 kbaud. Too bad.

For some reason, Dad also doesn’t want you running on a bigger chassis. Inmarsat requires resellers to ask you the size of the vessel on which the FBB will be installed and wishes to use the SVP. If that vessel is larger than 300 gross tons (GT) the SVP is off-limits. We can speculate Inmarsat has identified these larger vessels as the prototypical ones carrying VSAT and which may be looking for a failover service, such as FBB or OpenPort/Pilot. Of course, if failover does occur on such a vessel we’re talking tens if not hundreds of megabytes of overage. Why a plus 300 GT vessel would then be willing to risk paying the highest data rate Inmarsat can conjure up for a savings of less than $100 per month in plan costs (the Standard plan is $190 per month with an overage rate of $16/MB) is hard to visualize. More likely they would choose a Standard plan with overage costs which are 30% lower than SVP. Or they’d choose a Pilot.

Up to this point in the blog, everything we’ve discussed has focused on the postpaid version of SVP. A prepaid version of the plan is also available. With the extension of prepaid Inmarsat airtime to the entire world after the inclusion of the US market on September 1 this prepaid plan warrants closer inspection. Similarities between the post and prepaid versions of the SVP plan start and end with the 32 kbaud and less than 300 GT limits already discussed. Three prepaid SVPs are available: 60 units, 100 units and 200 units for $66, $95, and $170 respectively (Inmarsat sells prepaid airtime in bundles of  ‘units’ which are then converted to minutes for voice calls and megabytes for data according to specified conversion ratios). At the conversion rate of 10 units per 1 MB proscribed by Inmarsat, these three bundles offer 6, 10, and 20 mb of data each. Consequently, the $/MB cost of these prepaid plans is substantially lower than that of the postpaid. Megabytes from the 200 unit bundle, at $8.5/MB, cost just less than 40% of the postpaid plan’s $22/MB rate. So what’s the catch? Shouldn’t everyone be purchasing prepaid unit bundles under the SVP plan?

The answer is, ‘It depends’. If you are certain you are going to use the units, and use them quickly, most certainly consider a prepaid option. However, purchased prepaid units have a 60 day validity. That is, just as Cinderella’s glass slipper, after 60 days, all those units turn into a pumpkin. They are worthless. To exacerbate this point, Inmarsat will deduct 14 units from your pin balance each week if you have not used at least 14 units of voice or data traffic that week. Use zero units and Inmarsat will deduct 14. Use 7, Inmarsat takes another 7. Use 14, Inmarsat takes zero.

Evidently the 14 unit auto-deduction gymnastic is necessary for Inmarsat’s accounting and tax purposes. But it should also be a huge calculation in your decision to go the prepaid route or not. At 14 units per week, in 4 weeks a 60 unit card is gone (4 x 14 =  56) and a 100 unit card is more than half gone. Obviously, the fact that units are valid for 60 days on a 60 unit card is meaningless.  Moreover, wait 3 to 4 weeks to use any of the units you purchased with your 100 unit pin and that really attractive $9.5/MB rate you thought you were buying has now risen to an effective rate of $16 to $22/MB. So be careful. If buying into a prepaid SVP plan, do so knowing that you are going to be using units for your benefit from week one!

On the plus side, units can be bought in sets and combined together to increase available volume and extend the validity of the units. For example, a 100 unit and a 200 unit card could be activated together giving you 30 MB of data valid for 120 days. But the 14 unit per week ‘fee’ is still in play.  Users also may switch their SVP sim between prepaid and postpaid status as needed. However, Inmarsat charges a $50 activation fee each time you move in the prepaid direction.

So with all this said and done, for who is the SVP the right plan? The SVP customer is potentially someone who:

  • is not using their FBB but wants to keep their terminal active at the lowest possible monthly fee; or
  • is someone who is using their terminal for email and weather with accelerated email and weather services such as OCENS Mail and WeatherNet where the 32 kbaud filter is largely unnoticeable; or
  • is someone who typically uses less than 8 or 9 MB of data per month; or
  • is taking discrete, short trips or seasons during which they have clear plans for using their FBB and can put to immediate use the prepaid units they have just purchased.

Not the broadest cross-section of the broadband market is it? Which returns us to our original point. The characteristics and complexities of the SVP plans seem less geared toward promoting the use of Fleet Broadband in the small vessel market than the do to preventing its use elsewhere. Curious. Nevertheless, OCENS stands ready to help you make the airtime decision which is best for your individual needs. Don’t hesitate to contact us at 206.878.8270, sales@ocens.com or visit our website at www.ocens.com.

2 thoughts on “Fleet Broadband Small Vessel Plans: Curiouser and Curiouser

  1. Inmarsat announced today (Aug 29) that effective September 1 they are removing the 32 kbaud ‘throttle’ on the Small Vessel Plans. Good news that it has disappeared and maybe even better news that Inmarsat is listening to the marketplace. Better vetting of ideas like this with user groups pre-launch could avoid implementation issues and image problems entirely.

  2. Inmarsat’s attitude towards (and subsequent treatment of) their small users is absolutely disgusting.

    I am a very casual FBB user, and have been since the service had no monthly fee and MB were less than $10 each. In the last two years the prices have increased drastically, and despite widespread international backlash from small users such as myself, Inmarsat appears to have adopted a “I don’t care about you at all” approach.

    When the Fishing & Leisure plans came out, that was a slap in the face for us small users, and Imnarsat decided to “fix” that by introducing the considerably worse SVP. They have absolutely no idea how to keep their users happy.

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