What are the secrets behind the self-proclaimed fastest onboard internet provider?

lang: en_US The company accommodates the unique technical and security requirements of ultra-private individuals – how does it do it? In 2010, CELLweaver’s CEO Wilko Darger was on board a 90m new build Lürssen during an extended trip along the Amalfi Coast. He was there to commission a complex AV/IT/ Comms system, test it in real-life […]

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The company accommodates the unique technical and security requirements of ultra-private individuals – how does it do it?

In 2010, CELLweaver’s CEO Wilko Darger was on board a 90m new build Lürssen during an extended trip along the Amalfi Coast. He was there to commission a complex AV/IT/ Comms system, test it in real-life conditions and hand it over to the owner, who spent most of his time onboard. The yacht was connected to the internet via VSAT (2 MBit/s MIR downstream), but with only one VSAT terminal there was sporadic mast blockage. The team needed to up-and-download quite large files, for which relying on VSAT really slowed them down. The owner asked Darger to populate his onboard media server with content downloaded from the internet. Again, this was not really feasible using just the VSAT connection.

At the same time, he realised that the yacht stayed close to shore all the time whilst the owner was on board, and that the cellular coverage was really good; it was just not available inside the yacht. This led him to think that a professional, very dependable high-bandwidth solution to connect yachts to the internet would make a big difference in the industry, particularly for “boss trips” where internet requirements are particularly high and cellular coverage is good due to proximity to the shore. A gap in the market had been uncovered – what was Darger to do next?

Not just selling a box

He started developing with a small team, creating his first prototype in 2012. The first devices were supplied in early 2013, to a 73m Nobiskrug and a 40m Princess, and the reaction was overall very positive. This was largely because during the development stage the team realised that it was not enough to simply supply the kit. What the industry needed was a complete, managed service, assuring the “data backhaul” and all other relevant factors were continuously taken care of. Today, this is still what makes the company different.

The company initially grew through word of mouth recommendations. As Darger explains, the main reason for demand is always for upkeep of AV systems, but there are a lot of personal reasons why owners may require faster, well-supported internet. “Our system is able to easily complete large downloads vital for ship management such as VSAT option files, keep owners who play the stock market connected to the trade centres, and create minimum lag for those fighting a competitor in online gaming. Our typical delay is only 30-50 milliseconds.”

Marine focused

What also helps ETOs/ITOs is the fact that this complete service has been developed specifically for the marine industry. As technical faults can occur at anytime and anywhere on a superyacht, the service needs to be constant with 24/7 support. What’s more, the team need to be able to access a yacht’s systems remotely, as they are unlikely to be close by. Darger said: “Sometimes support is just about telling a client the tricks we have learnt over the years; for example, which connections work best in which locations, looking not just at connection strength but also bandwidth availability. We have gathered a lot of information on this subject, and always keep up to date to ensure that we are giving our superyacht clients the best information.”

The managed service enables CELLweaver‘s functionality, notably the bandwidth aggregation (“bonding”) of the 4x connections established via the 4x modems and 4x data SIMs that provide one seamless secure internet connection for the vessel. It includes a dedicated on-shore server hosted in a professional Data Centre, which has virtually 100% availability. The user may select where to connect to the public internet geographically (e.g. UK, US, DE), and all updates are included.

Could you switch off your VSAT for an entire season?

Stemming from Darger’s initial inspiration, CELLweaver ensures it can offer a solid alternative to VSAT. This means that when the box is combined with a flexible VSAT service, significant savings can be made. If the high-bandwidth solution is used as the primary internet source then VSAT bandwidth can be reduced to a minimum, for example only used to keep the VoIP lines up. However, Darger has heard of some of his clients turning off their VSAT completely. “I was just on a yacht where they had turned off their VSAT completely for the entire season, knowing that they would always be sailing relatively close to the coast. This had saved them over $200,000 over a season!” he said.

Cyber security through aggregation

Cyber protection is also achieved due to the solution’s aggregated nature. As we have heard, the main objective when CELLweaverstarted was to create a very resilient connectivity solution for yachts. But as it developed, a great side-effect was that high-security is unavoidable using aggregated bandwidth. This is because the system is made up of four different modems. From a user perspective these are aggregated into one unified solution, but achieving this involves breaking one big download into four sub streams. This is what makes it four times the speed.

The fact that it is broken into sub streams means that if a cyber-attacker wanted to copy the data or hack into it and was successful in breaking the encryption for one of the streams – very unlikely in itself as each data stream is highly encrypted to industry standard – they would only find some mismatched non-sensical data. What’s more, there is no way for the intruder to know where the other streams are located, or even how many other streams there are. Thus, high-end cyber security is inherent.

Future-proofed

Today, Darger always tries to look to the future to stay one step ahead. He said: “We must never get complacent. For example, despite the already high-bandwidth provided with the CELLweaver solution, the amplifier we launched at last year’s MYS more than triples the 3G/4G reception range from 6-7 nautical miles up to 25 nm from the shoreline. We are always looking to go bigger and better with our connectivity.”  With demand for high-speed internet showing no signs of slowing, this certainly seems sensible. By offering such speeds as part of a complete managed service and with a strict marine focus, it is hoped that the internet becomes less of a cause for constant concern onboard, and more of a cause for celebration.

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