A few years ago it was obvious, in the marine stabilized antenna market, who were the leaders, who were the start ups, what was quality and value, and what was questionable, but in recent years many of the wannabes have fallen into obscurity and some of the keepers have blossomed into serious contenders.It is not as easy today, for marine satellite professionals to define the best choices in VSAT and TVRO antenna hardware.For many years SeaTel have been the originators and innovators, and the backbone of the maritime stabilized antenna industry, with worldwide recognition and service base.
Like the Japanese automobile influx of the 60s, Korea came to market with antennas that closely mimicked existing production models. Like the automobiles, similarities in appearance, components and function were as obvious as four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel.Over the last few years, these fundamentals have matured from this baseline into reliable competing products, in many ways surpassing the original design in innovation, capability and quality.The Intellian range of marine stabilized antennas are now flooding the market with low prices, high quality and a three year warranty to back it up. The Intellian V100 and V80 are now fine products supported and provided by most of the leading service providers.Danish company, Thrane and Thrane came from a long history of excellence in maritime electronics with a new approach to VSAT, focused on simplicity and a one-size-fits-all model that appears to have resulted in a finely engineered product. Their Sailor 900 and new Sailor 800 VSATs are rapidly gaining acceptance as the standard in one meter and sub meter antennas.A little while ago, international aerospace giant, Cobham purchased both SeaTel and Thrane and Thrane and are expected to combine them into one product line under Cobham Satcom, with the Sailor 900 as the standard, off-the-shelf product, reserving SeaTel for bespoke installations requiring customized RF configurations.There are several other antenna manufacturers that offer good alternatives, but the above appear to be the main stream choices accepted on the leading Ku-Band networks.KVH should also be mentioned here, with their sub meter, two axis, V7 and V3 Ku antennas, and the new 1 meter hybrid V11 with Ku and C-band combined.It must be pointed out that these KVH antennas can only be used on the KVH network, so you are locked into one provider for the life of the antenna, but they are excellent products and the KVH mini-VSAT network provides seamless worldwide coverage.

To GX or not to GX…..or decide later?

With Inmarsat’s new Ka-Band Global Xpress (GX) service just around the corner, the major antenna manufacturers now produce 1 meter antennas that are easily and quickly convertable from Ku-band to Ka-band, by simply removing and swapping the feed and an RF module containing the BUC and LNBs. This allows one to purchase a new Ku-Band antenna today, that can be changed to Ka-band when Global Xpress comes online in 2014. 

The conversion kits are likely to cost just a few thousand dollars and can be easily installed, in the field, with minimal technical ability.

The current 1 meter GX antennas from SeaTel, Sailor and Intellian are all now standard GX convertable, whether you plan to go Ka band or not.

There is still some debate about whether Ka-band will be that much cheaper or better than other emerging, Ku-band, HTS technologies.

Ka-Band’s greater susceptibilty to rain fade and the Global Xpress mandatory L-band Fleet Broadband terminal backup requirement would also be deciding factors.

With the GX convertable antennas, you will have the choice, going forward, of subscribing to either Ku or Ka-Band services. I imagine that there would be nothing stopping one from switching back and forth between the two technologies, by swapping the RF module, as one chooses.

1 Meter Ku-Band Global Express GX Ku/Ka convertable VSAT antennas


Standard 1 meter Ku VSAT antennas

The standard Ku-Band VSAT terminal on ships and larger yachts is usually 1 meter or more. The larger the antenna, the further toward the edge of coverage one can operate, and the more immune to outages from rain fade during thunderstorms. The larger antennas are also more eligible to passing higher bandwidths.

If you have the space onboard, and can support the weight, and the cost of the terminal, a 1 meter or greater antenna is definitely the optimum choice.

Most satellite service providers accept standard 1 meter antennas on their networks on all their beams. The networks are generally optimized around 1 meter antenna, Some providers might not accept a few brands of antenna that are not type approved for their network.

Current 1 meter Ku-Band VSAT antennas


Is 80 centimeters now the new 1 meter?

Several antenna manufacturers claim that, due to technology improvements, their new, sub meter, 80 cm or 85 cm antennas perform as well as the legacy 1 meter antennas. I have heard of one independant test by a service provider that verified at least one of these claims, reporting that the antenna under test was actually better than a standard 1 meter antenna..

True or not, the differences would only be evident at the very edge of the satellite coverage footprints, or in a rain fade shootout between two antennas side by side in a thunderstorm.

Either way, it is now common for major satellite service providers to accept some 80 cm antenna models on their networks, as if they were 1 meter antennas. 80 cm antennas do not require spread spectrum technology like the smaller 60 cm antennas, but make sure that your provider supports your particular model, before you buy the antenna.

This means, that if you do not plan to go the GX (Ka) route, you might be better off with an 85 cm antenna that is less expensive, lighter and easier to install.

80 centimeters VSAT Antennas