Delivering Broadband Offshore with LTE: Five Questions with Shawn Bennett and Zack Siegel

KVH engineers developed the innovative TracPhone LTE-1 communication system for broadband at sea and on the road with extended range

Everyone is connected on shore via LTE cellular service and their smartphones and tablets. But once on board:

  • They are faced with poor access and congestion via marine Wi-Fi
  • They can’t use it where they want because smartphones and tablets only work at the dock and close to shore
  • And VSAT is beyond the financial reach of many boat owners, and those with it are cautious about data use to minimize airtime costs

Cellular has been tried by other companies but they’ve faced limitations on range and coverage, and frustrations caused by cheap, DIY solutions with hardware and airtime from different sources and not designed for nautical requirements.

This summer, KVH introduced the TracPhone LTE-1, which applied the same end-to-end approach we use with our satellite-based products to offer the best experience for our customers by providing everything they need—from hardware to airtime—to enjoy fast Internet access on the boat. We had a chance to catch up with two members of the product development team, product line manager Shawn Bennett and applications engineer Zack Siegel, to get some insights into this new communication solution and what makes it different.

KVH, TracPhone LTE-1, cellular data plans, Internet for boats, recreational boating
The KVH TracPhone LTE‑1 delivers high-performance LTE service faster than 4G for HD streaming and Internet more than 20 miles offshore in the U.S.

KVH: Tell us about the KVH TracPhone LTE-1. Why did KVH develop this product?

Shawn Bennett (SB): The LTE-1 is a mobile marine product we designed to use LTE-Advanced cellular network technology, so we could provide Internet access to boats and ships traveling in coastal waters up to 20 miles, in some cases even more, off the coast. It’s a compact and affordable system for small recreational boats—sailboats, center console boats, fishing craft, plus others—that until now didn’t have many options for accessing the internet while on the water besides a boater using their own cellphone. But, with the TracPhone LTE-1, boaters in the U.S. can stream video and music; call, text, chat, and FaceTime with Wi-Fi calling; browse the Internet; check email; use apps like Apple Messages and WhatsApp; post on social media; and participate in video conferences—all while they’re on the water.

KVH: One of the advantages of the TracPhone LTE-1 is that it is an integrated system with a dual-antenna array, modem, GPS, and router in the single ultra-compact dome. But can’t someone just go buy the components and configure something on their own and achieve similar functionality?

SB: Why would they? The LTE-1 is turn-key and it’s made of marine grade components.We also designed it so it gets signal coverage as far offshore as possible. It’s a complete solution with a simple, one-plug installation with a SIM included, and no need for manual switching. Plus, the LTE-1 comes with a flexible and affordable airtime plan that would be difficult to replicate, especially since the LTE-1 plan lets you suspend service for the months you’re not on your boat. KVH is a global, award-winning manufacturer and service provider you can rely on.

KVH: KVH claims that the LTE-1 offers unmatched coverage in U.S. waters by combining leading U.S. carriers.  Is this the same as carrier aggregation?

Zack Siegel (ZS): No. The LTE-1 is a carrier switching product designed to automatically switch between several industry leading carriers, so customers can expect to get outstanding coverage. Carrier aggregation is the use of different frequency bands in the cellular spectrum that can be used concurrently to allow for more throughput. We employ carrier aggregation when LTE-A is available.

KVH: What do you think makes the TracPhone LTE-1 unique compared to other “all-in-one” systems available on the market?

SB: In addition to the engineering and design efforts we put into this product, the TracPhone LTE-1 is part of the KVH Power of One approach where we deliver complete solutions to our customers: hardware designed to meet the needs of the boating community, a flexible subscription plan, along with the exceptional support expected from KVH.

KVH: Now that the product is available for boaters throughout the United States?, are there any additional features or updates that might be coming?

SB: There’s been a lot of interest in this product outside of the U.S., so we’ll be looking into developing plans that support extended coverage areas in other regions beyond the U.S.

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About Chris Watson 65 Articles
Chris is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for KVH Industries. A lifelong sailor and storyteller, he's a self-professed geek who finds all of this technical stuff fascinating.