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Satellite Mobility World Interview with Michael Robilio

January 2024 Edition
Marine Data Solutions Interview Questions
Michael Robilio, President

Can you give us some background on Marine Data Solutions, its services, products, and target markets?
Marine Data Solutions stands at the forefront of maritime communications, specializing in delivering robust and high-speed internet connectivity at sea. Our services cater to a diverse range of maritime vessels, including luxury yachts, commercial ships, and cargo vessels. Our flagship product, the “MDS Blender,” is designed to seamlessly integrate multiple internet sources, providing instant failover and speed bonding capabilities up to 1Gbps. This ensures uninterrupted, enterprise-grade internet connectivity, vital for modern maritime operations. Our product portfolio is versatile, including solutions for Viasat, LTE/5G, and Starlink technologies, tailored to meet the unique needs of our clients in various maritime sectors.

MDS Blender

Marine Data Solutions has installed Starlink and the “MDS Blender” on numerous large vessels and cargo vessels. Can you take us through a typical sale and installation process?

Our process begins when a vessel’s agent reaches out to us. We then embark on a detailed discovery process to thoroughly understand the specific network and internet requirements of the vessel. This includes evaluating current infrastructure, understanding data usage patterns, and future-proofing for technological advancements. After a comprehensive analysis, we create a tailored proposal, outlining our recommendations and the installation process. The installation phase varies: some vessels require our skilled technicians for a meticulous setup, while others, equipped with competent ETOs or installers, manage the installation independently. Post-installation, our role shifts to ensuring optimal performance. We remotely access the vessel’s network through the MDS Blender and Starlink systems, fine-tuning the setup for peak performance and efficiency.

I understand your MDS Blender provides SD-WAN-like management of multi-orbit satellites, graphical reporting, and unique end-user provisioning and billing features. Can you discuss its capabilities and benefits in detail?

The MDS Blender is a cutting-edge device, offering a suite of sophisticated features akin to an SD-WAN. It provides:

  • Comprehensive fleet management through detailed reporting, including real-time data on vessel position and internet usage per device.
  • Customizable bandwidth allocation, allowing for tailored internet access for different users on board.
  • Full remote access and monitoring capabilities for the entire vessel network, ensuring constant connectivity and control.
  • User-friendly mobile apps for both iOS and Android, enabling easy access and control both locally and remotely.
  • A desktop graphical user interface (GUI) for local or remote programming, simplifying network management.
  • Advanced speed bonding technology, combining up to four separate internet inputs to achieve speeds up to 1Gbps.
  • True instant failover capability, ensuring a seamless internet experience without interruptions.

How do MDS and the end user work together to manage the network? What functions can the end-user adjust vs. MDS?
Post-installation, Marine Data Solutions retains a backup of the MDS Blender’s programming. This allows us to restore the system to its optimal settings remotely, in case of any issues. The end users, typically the vessel’s IT staff, are granted full control over the system’s programming and settings. This includes adjusting bandwidth limits per user and accessing the vessel network remotely. Our clients range from those who prefer Marine Data Solutions to manage their networks remotely to those with dedicated IT teams for hands-on network management. In both scenarios, we work closely with the onboard personnel to ensure network integrity and resolve any issues efficiently.

Starlink provides only minimal support in the form of e-mails. If a ship owner buys through MDS, does it provide additional support?

Marine Data Solutions recognizes the critical importance of reliable and efficient technical support in the maritime environment. We understand that connectivity issues can have significant operational and safety implications for vessels at sea. Therefore, in contrast to Starlink’s minimal email-based support, we offer a robust 24/7 technical support system, ensuring that ship owners and onboard personnel have access to expert assistance whenever needed. Our standard 24/7 tech support is just the beginning. We are committed to going above and beyond in service delivery. Recognizing the diverse needs and operational scales of our clients, we offer a range of upgraded warranty coverage options. These options are designed to cater to varying levels of need and urgency, allowing clients to choose a support plan that best aligns with their operational requirements and risk profiles. A key component of our support system is the integration of the MDS Blender in our onboard systems. This innovative device not only enhances internet connectivity and performance but also plays a crucial role in our support mechanism. The MDS Blender enables our technical team to remotely access the vessel’s network, providing us with real-time insights into its status. This capability is crucial for effective troubleshooting, allowing us to diagnose and address issues promptly and efficiently. Our remote assistance capability is especially valuable in the maritime context, where physical access to technical support can be challenging. With the MDS Blender, we can often resolve issues without the need for physical intervention, minimizing downtime and ensuring continuous connectivity for the vessel. Furthermore, our technical support team is comprised of highly trained and experienced professionals who understand the unique challenges of maritime connectivity. We are equipped to provide not just reactive support in case of issues but also proactive guidance to optimize network performance and prevent potential problems. In summary, Marine Data Solutions offers a comprehensive, responsive, and tailored technical support service, far exceeding the basic level provided by Starlink. Our goal is to ensure that ship owners have the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have continuous, expert support available at all times, no matter where they are in the world. This commitment to excellence in customer service is a cornerstone of our value proposition to the maritime industry.

Cargo ShipCan you share any use cases and customer feedback from your Starlink superyacht customers?
Absolutely! One of our prominent use cases involves the superyacht “Kemosabe”, which operates numerous charters across the Bahamas and the Caribbean. This vessel is a beehive of activity, accommodating up to 12 guests and managed by 8 full-time crew members. The technological heartbeat of “Kemosabe” is its sophisticated onboard network, integrating our Marine Data Solutions (MDS) Blender with the Starlink High-Performance antenna, Pepwave 5G system, and a dockside WiFi Bridge.

This network is a powerhouse, simultaneously supporting over 250 devices. It’s fascinating to note that “Kemosabe” consistently utilizes about 1.5TB of internet every month, a testament to the network’s robustness and efficiency. The MDS Blender plays a pivotal role in this ecosystem, adeptly merging multiple internet sources to deliver seamless connectivity.

Captain Cole Sisler of “Kemosabe” has shared remarkable feedback about our system. According to Captain Sisler, the performance is genuinely impressive. The yacht features nine TVs, all capable of streaming content without any hiccups. This seamless streaming experience extends to online gaming as well, with guests, particularly the younger ones, noting that the speed and latency surpass what they experience at home.

The MDS Blender‘s capability shines when it flawlessly combines the Starlink, dock WiFi, and cellular connections. At the dock, the system achieves staggering speeds of over 800 Mbps, while speeds of 500-600 Mbps are common when the yacht is cruising. An interesting aspect is the system’s adaptability in the Bahamas, where weather conditions like rainstorms occasionally disrupt the Starlink connection. In such instances, the 5G cellular backup instantly kicks in, so smoothly that the switch is virtually imperceptible.

Another significant advantage of the MDS Blender is its autonomy. It eliminates the need for manual switching between cellular, dock WiFi, and other sources. This feature is particularly beneficial for a busy captain like Sisler, who appreciates one less thing to worry about. The automatic adjustment not only ensures uninterrupted internet access but also allows the crew to focus on their primary responsibilities without concerning themselves with connectivity issues.

In conclusion, Captain Sisler highly recommends the MDS Blender for its outstanding performance, reliability, and ease of use. It’s not just a tool for connectivity; it’s a comprehensive solution that enhances the overall experience aboard “Kemosabe”, catering to the diverse and demanding needs of its guests and crew alike.

In addition to reselling Starlink and licensing “MDS Blender,” Do you sell other value-added products or services?

Beyond Starlink and the MDS Blender, Marine Data Solutions offers a comprehensive range of products and services. This includes Viasat high-speed satellite internet equipment and airtime, as well as cutting-edge Pepwave 5G hardware and 5G airtime. Our portfolio is designed to cater to the diverse and evolving needs of the maritime industry, ensuring our clients have access to the best and latest in maritime internet technology.

I understand you are installing Starlink primarily in vessels already equipped with VSAT. Are you finding any cargo vessel customers without VSAT that have installed Starlink as their sole source of high-speed broadband?
We have observed a growing trend of vessels relying solely on Starlink for their internet needs. In these cases, existing VSAT systems are maintained primarily for regulatory compliance and as a backup. Vessels equipped with multiple Starlink antennas connected to our MDS Blender benefit from enhanced network redundancy. The Blender enables the vessel network to access all available Starlink antennas simultaneously, ensuring consistent connectivity even if one Starlink antenna encounters issues.

If a provider or providers back offer and SLA and demonstrate reliability comparable to Ku-band GEO VSAT, will cargo vessels move to a sole solution, or is GEO VSAT still needed near ports and other congested areas?
The maritime industry is witnessing a dynamic shift with the advancement of LEO broadband solutions. Many of our client vessels have integrated 5G systems with their Starlink setup, resulting in improved speeds and reliability, particularly in ports and congested areas. However, with Starlink’s expanding satellite network, we’ve seen a significant improvement in service quality, even in traditionally congested areas. This marks a contrast to earlier concerns about Starlink performance in such locations. Our clients are increasingly opting for multiple Starlink antennas and 5G connectivity, complementing their existing VSAT systems, which are now primarily used for compliance or as a backup. The combination of low-latency, high-speed Starlink service and the MDS Blender’s capabilities presents a compelling upgrade option for maritime internet connectivity.

OneWeb will soon offer an SLA-backed service with Flat panel antennas from Intellian and Kymeta. Telesat and Kuiper will also offer enterprise-grade LEO broadband. Will MDS remain agnostic and offer these LEO services?

As new LEO providers like OneWeb, Telesat, and Kuiper enter the market, Marine Data Solutions remains committed to being a technology-agnostic service provider. We are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to test these new systems extensively. Our confidence in the MDS Blender’s ability to easily integrate and speed bond multiple LEO providers into a unified network is unwavering. This will enable vessels to combine various high-speed internet sources, including LEO and 5G, ensuring our clients have access to the enterprise-grade connectivity they require.

Check out our MDS Blender Technology today!


Speed Bonding MDS Blender