KVH V7-HTS: Twice the Speed & More Coverage

Frequent readers of this blog know we have become very dependent upon satellite communications. In fact, we have three different satellite technologies on board Dirona, as described in Communications at Sea. Here, we complete a quick survey of the satellite systems on Dirona, our experience with them, and why we upgraded to the KVH V7-HTS system four months ago.

Our primary system is a KVH V7-HTS mini-VSAT, but we also have Inmarsat BGAN and Iridium. We favor the KVH system because the service is excellent and the data rates are very good. We use Inmarsat BGAN when we are in a part of the world not covered by the KVH system or if there has been a system outage. At $6,000/GB, BGAN data transfer is 30x more expensive than KVH, so we only use BGAN when there is absolutely no other choice.

Both the KVH mini-VSAT and the BGAN systems are line-of-site geo-synchronous satellite systems. Our third satellite system, Iridium, is based upon a large constellation of low earth orbiting satellites and, as a consequence, their coverage is global. The entire planet is covered, including both polar regions not reachable from line-of-site geo-synchronous satellite systems.

Initially we used the Iridium system both as a backup to our other two satellite options and for voice calls. The Iridium voice calls are actually more expensive than using our V7 but, since you have to pre-purchase Iridium usage minutes so it’s ready to use in an emergency and since these minutes expire quickly, the phone calls are effectively free unless you spend a truly large amount of time on the phone.  Ironically, even with the Iridium calls being effectively free, we now use our KVH V7-HTS exclusively for voice calls because it’s inexpensive, the call quality is so much higher than the Iridium, and it doesn’t experience the frequent call drop-outs of the Iridium system due to failed inter-satellite call transfers.

Satellite communications are one of our most mission critical components after safety equipment on Dirona. Without satellite communications, I would not be able to be working remotely, we wouldn’t be able to do trip planning in remote locations, maintaining the boat would be much more difficult in remote locations, remote help would be more difficult to arrange, and even maintaining this blog would be considerably more constrained.

Our initial decision to rely on satellite communications was driven by work requirements but, over the years, we have become more and more dependent on satellite communications across all aspects of our lives. If I were to stop working to focus more on the trip, we wouldn’t stop using the satellite systems. Having 24×7 communications is part of what makes the trip enjoyable.

But satellite systems are far from perfect. For us, roughly in the order of importance, the primary challenges of satellite communications are: 1) data transfer costs and overage charges, 2) coverage area, and 3) speed. It was improvements across all three of these dimensions that led us to upgrade to the new KVH V7-HTS (High Throughput Satellite) system announced October 31st of 2017 at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS).

We have been KVH users since 2012 and our V7 system was operating reliably, so there was no need to upgrade. What made the upgrade difficult to resist was the new system has an additional 25 million square miles of coverage. Because we are so dependent on satellite connectivity and our backup systems are 30 times more expensive, we hate passing through coverage holes. If you look closely at the V7-HTS coverage map at the top of this post, you’ll see the holes we have worked through in the past across the Indian and southern Atlantic oceans are now fully covered and there are small coverage improvements in other areas of the globe.

Coverage alone might have pushed us towards upgrading to the KVH V7-HTS system, but twice the bandwidth at no additional cost was another big driver. The HTS can deliver 10Mbps down and 3Mbps up whereas the previous generations were half that bandwidth. This is actually faster than some of the cellular systems we have used over the years in our world travels.  And these high data rates appear to be less contended and more reliably available than many cellular systems.

There have been times when I’m trying to get something important done at work and I’ll switch from cellular to satellite because the satellite system was actually running faster or working more reliably at that point in time. If doing work dependent upon web searching, online documents, or even when doing trip planning, having high bandwidth communications can really make a big difference to overall efficiency. The V7-HTS 10Mbps down and 3Mbps up is pretty compelling.

The last advantage that pushed us to upgrade from a perfectly good V7 mini-VSAT system to the newest KVH V7-HST equipment was the unlimited channel. This is a particularly innovative offering where a very slow but no-charge channel is always available for less-urgent, low-bandwidth work without additional cost. When web searching, filling out forms, reading online documents, or moving video, the high speed channel is very fast and efficient. But, there is some traffic that isn’t urgent, does need to eventually happen, but really doesn’t need the capabilities or the cost of the high speed channel.  For example, we frequently post to this web site pictures, boat location, weather, fuel reserves, and boat status (http://mvdirona.com/maps).  If this data arrives 5 minutes later, it doesn’t slow us down nor does it cause web site readers problems. Another lower priority class of data is Windows/Android update. The world is increasingly under cyber attack so it’s wise to keep systems at the latest patch levels, but patching can consume a lot of valuable bandwidth. This is an excellent application of the unlimited channel.

Each V7-HTS data plan includes a fixed allocation of high speed data (10Mbps down/3Mbps up) as well as an unlimited but very slow channel that is suitable for low priority tasks that need to happen sometime but not urgently.

KVH V7-HTS Rate Plans

All high speed plans come with a no-charge unlimited channel (UL) with 128Kbps down and 64kbps up. This is incredibly slow and it would be completely frustrating for web surfing but it’s great for background work like patching an Android or publishing content to our web site. There are usage limits and site such as YouTube are blocked but, even with the constraints and limitations, we have found it quite useful and have become fairly dependent upon the UL channel. It allows us to make trip data available that we previously wouldn’t have posted due to the satellite connectivity costs. For those who already have the previous generation of KVH V7, the upgrade to V7-HTS is $10,000 . So it’s not cheap but, at least for us, satellite communications rank right up there surprisingly close to life critical safety equipment.

The combination of 25 million more square miles of coverage, twice the bandwidth, and the unlimited channel just about forced us to upgrade to the V7-HTS. In the four months since, we have been very happy with the system.

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19 comments on “KVH V7-HTS: Twice the Speed & More Coverage
  1. Renato says:

    Hi James. It’s my first contact and I want to congratulate the vessel, the system it uses and the help. I know you spend considerable time answering people.

    My name is Renato, I’m an AWS customer in Brazil and I’ve been following Dirona for a long time. On a trip to the US for an AWS event I saw you talk a little bit and I finally found out that you were an important member of AWS. Congratulations! It was a great coincidence.

    I have a degree in technology and data routing, and I’m crazy about any kind of technology.

    I have a 60ft Steel Trawler, 2 MWM engines with 420HP in total. I usually sail at 6 knots with 1 engine at 1200 RPM and consuming 12L/h.

    Well, I can’t go offline either and I want to go from Brazil, São Paulo, to Key West. But, I am at the stage of buying a KVH antenna, thanks to your comments.

    I will probably buy the newest, recent release V30, with unlimited channel.

    Now is the time to ask: Are the H and L channels physically separated by two Ethernet ports, and do they work simultaneously? Or should I switch KVH’s router configuration to choose H or L whenever I want?

    Another question, was your multifunction screen to view Everything programmed and developed by you or is there a commercial system? I’m looking for a way to connect my mechanical motor, without electronics, to an NMEA 2000 or something like that. Do you have any information that can help me along this path?

    James and Jennifer, thank you for sharing your lives, which is not just on board, but also helping those who want to follow a similar path.

    Sorry for the English, I’m not very fluent.

    • On your KVH V30 with unlimited channel, the default setup has two WiFi Systems and two separate hardwired ethernet ports and you just connect to the service you want. If you have a more complex WiFi system and you might on a 60′ steel boat, you can just hook up the either the unlimited or the high speed channel to this router. Any router that that supports two WAN (Wide Area Network) ports and allows you to send outbound packets to different WANS based upon rules is a more advanced approach that gives you more control.

      By far the simplest system is to just hook up to the network you want to use and that is supported out of the box. We ran a custom open source software stack on our router and sent traffic to the correct port based upon rules (e.g. a client could be placed on unlimited for O/S patching, all uploads to our blog are on the unlimited channel, and it also supported a mode where the entire boat was on unlimited and we could just place a single client on high speed when needed.

      On getting mechanical engine data to NMEA 2000, you’ll need a an adapter that allows you to wire analog gauges up, calibrate the system, and report using NMEA2000. Here are a couple of choices: https://navstore.com/engine-systems/engine-monitoring-interface/.

      • Renato says:

        Hi James,

        I was happy with your quick response. Contact KVH and unfortunately the V30 HTS and V30 NEW version do not have two LAN ports, one High and one Low. Plans consume broadband first and then stay at Low.

        I’m still looking for the ideal system, hoping for a Starlink maybe.

        Thanks for the help of talking NMEA2000 for mechanical engines, I already bought a unit and I’m going to test it.


        • MVDirona says:

          I believe the data you got from the KVH representative was inaccurate. The V30 has 4 ports just as the V7 does and I believe the default configuration is 3 ports of high speed and 1 port of unlimited. The spec sheet showing the V30 is at 4 ports is here: https://kpp-public.s3.amazonaws.com/SS_TPV30_Comm_Leisure_Maritime_Land.

          Recommend contacting another KVH representative or make sure your question gets looked at in sufficient detail. The normal way to select which channel you want to use is change which port you are using. Try contacting KVH directly: +1.401.847.3327.

          I agree that Starlink and Kuiper will be another generational change in satellite price/performance but neither is available for the mobile market yet.

          Good luck with your NMEA2000 support on your mechanical engines. We love having access to all that data and being able to alarm on it easily.

  2. Brian S says:

    Does the KVH unit employ caching?

    You must be exited for Starlink to get up and running, sounds like the prices with drop quite a bit with that?

    • The KVH system doesn’t cache. There are two Low Earth Orbit systems coming with SpaceX starting to deploy Starlink and Amazon working on Kuiper. It’ll take time but it means better pricing is coming.

  3. Hi James,

    We just had a semi-custom sailing cat built in South Africa and my wife’s sailing it back (sadly my boss at AWS doesn’t think he could do without me for 6, 7 weeks). We have a similar set-up: KVH V7HTS, and a WeBBoat 4G WiFi Repeater with SIM (and Iridium Go with external antenna backup, a Garmin Inreach backup backup, and an Inmarsat Satphone backup backup backup).

    I’m looking to put my own Wifi and router in front of the different options (especially as the LowSpeed ports on the V7HTS only want one client IP at a time) and route similarly to what you describe.

    What router do you use that has 4 WAN ports? S.V. Vingilótë is more constrained in power than M.V. Dirona, having no generator, an 880Ah 48V lithium-ion housebank to 110V inverter and 2.5+ kW of solar panels. So we’re looking to use as little power as we can get away with.

    Did you stick with 128/64 on the unlimited channel or bump that? I find the unlimited channel great for blogging text to WordPress, WhatsApp, but picture uploads time out (though transfer fine over WhatsApp). So I’m looking at cost optimizing between bumping up the bandwidth on the unlimited low speed channel and increasing the cap on the high speed channel.

    • Our configuration is all wired and wireless devices connect to a central router and it has 3 WAN ports that connect out to wifi, cell, or satellite. The router we use is a Netgear R7000 which has a single wan port but we run an open source routing firmware load called DD-WRT and it’s been extensively modified to support this configuration and automatically switches between them, reports status, etc. This configuration is probably complex to duplicate but some commercial routers like Peplinks will do most of what you want with considerably less time investment. That would be my recommendations.

      On the KVH V7hts system, when stick with the standard unlimited channel and use it only for background tasks. Anything we do ourselves is done on the metered channel. We use the unlimited channel to upload pictures and other content to the blog where we don’t care when it goes up. It might take an hour or two to complete the upload but we don’t care and just let it go in the background. To make this work easily, the router is programmed to flow all content on the least expensive of the three channels (wifi, cell, or V7hts high speed channel). Other bulk content where we aren’t waiting for it to complete flows on the unlimited channel. Automating the choice makes it transparent to us, never has us waiting on the unlimited channel, but still uses the unlimited channel for bulk transfers.

  4. Jacques Vuye says:

    Pretty interesting development. KVH is certainly not resting on its laurels and continues to improve its offering. One simple question how do you physically select between/ recognize Hi-speed and Lo-speed traffic channels? Manual switching ?

    • It’s a good question Jacques. The common approach is to use two seperate networks where one is on the V7hts High Speed (HS) channel and the other is on the V7hts Unlimited (UL) channel. Crew is put on one and owners on the other or less real time critical devices are put on UL and the rest are on HS. Another approach good for small boats is to put in a single boat network but to have a hard switch somewhere on the boat that can switch the WAN port of the router between ports on the V7hts system. The switch moves the entire network between HS and UL modes. This is an easy and flexible approach and is probably what I would recommend for small boats.

      Predictably we chose to go the software path and implemented the UL and HS channel on the physical WAN connection. The router can put traffic on the UL or HS channels according to different criteria including:
      1) Full Boat Switch: The boat has 4 WAN implemented and chooses the first available in one of two modes: 1) “restricted” where it choses the first of: a) WiFi, b) Cell, and c) V7hts UL, and 2) “full” mode where the router chooses the first of: a) WiFi, b) Cell, and c) V7hgts HS.
      2) Special Traffic: Some traffic that is not time critical like updates to our web site are always sent through the V7hts UL channel.
      3) Device Specific: Single devices can be placed in UL while the rest of the boat runs on any of the other WANs.

      We really like the system and, as you can see, have already fairly deeply integrated it into how we operate Dirona.

      • Jacques Vuye says:

        I knew the answer would be “smart”….I just wanted to know what it was! ;-) Thanks James!

      • Jamie W says:

        Prompted by point 2) above:

        Many moons ago we had a 256/128 Kb/s link at home, and with three people in the house it got pretty sluggish at times. So I slapped a box running an Ethernet bridge in between our router and the household network, and over the course of a couple of weeks worth of tinkering implemented some traffic shaping. One of the flatmates wandered into the room one day and declared that my traffic shaping was messing up his internet and would I please turn it off, so I did so. Less than 2 mins later he was back. He’d discovered that the traffic shaping was actually making the problem which lay elsewhere much less severe, and wanted me to turn it back on again.

        By the time a few cost reductions etc had us at 1.5Mb/s downstream, it wasn’t worth maintaining it any more.

        • Nice application of traffic shaping. Our approach is slightly different in that we have four very different WANs to choose from so we do more in that area and we do a bit less than you did in traffic shaping.

  5. Matt Baker says:


    Thanks for this… I wish there was a reasonable alternative for handheld voice and data beyond iridium, but there really is not… I am about to purchase an iridium phone as I use it when boating offshore and when I am hunting Elk in the mountains of Colorado. I actually see a fair number of SUVs with the flat KVH system for cars, but that just ain’t portable..

    • Yeah, I agree with you Matt. I still have an Iridium and pay for it to be usable even though I don’t ever use it. It’s there “just in case” and it’s still worth maintaining the plan for when you need hand-held connectivity or when geo-synchronous satellites our out of site (e.g. polar regions).

  6. Don says:

    James and Jennifer – as usual, a super helpful guide through the murky world of satcom. Thank you!

    • Hi Don. You are right there are a lot of options and considerable complexity in the satelite communications area but the good news is high speed communications are getting less expensive. When we left Hawaii for the trip around the world, BGAN was a booming $8,000/GB (cellular bandwidth is usually around $10/GB). BGAN is now down to $6,000/GB but still crazy expensive. It’s fast but really expensive. The newest mini-VSAT system from KVH is more than 10x faster at 10Mbps down and yet only $200/GB. Still not cheap but, if you have a need for high speed communications away from civilization, it’s pretty good value.

  7. Stewart says:

    Great post on these complex communications systems James. I am so glad you keeping sharing your experiences and technological expertise with us. This is giving us all great information that will make our own boating much safer. Wishing you calm seas and more fantastic travels.

    • Thanks Stewart. We’ll probably drag ourselves out of London and start heading north in another couple of weeks. We’re looking forward to Norway but are still loving London. It’s an amazing city.

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