Addressing connectivity at sea

VSAT technology enables high-capacity broadband for on-board connectivity and operations, says IEC Telecom Middle East managing director Nabil Ben Soussia.
Sea, Maritime, Transport, Connectivity, Internet, Communications, Telcos, VSAT, Satellite

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Vessels in the water off the coast of Hong Kong as seen from the MV CMA CGM Amerigo Vespucci. Photo credit: Ben Mack

On the Day of the Seafarer 2018 (June 25), Inmarsat published the results of a new crew connectivity report. The study, titled ‘Navigating Everyday Connectivities at Sea’ revealed the fundamental importance of reliable connectivity, and the impact it has on mental wellbeing, operational efficiency and safety, as well as its critical role in attracting new talent to the industry.

With the increase in global trade, we have seen a surge in the volume of marine activities and shipping routes have become more crowded. More than 50,000 merchant ships alone cross the oceans every single day with millions of cargo containers in tow. There is therefore a clear need for fast and efficient communications aboard vessels and between land and sea.

A study undertaken by the NSR Maritime SATCOM Markets in its 5th Edition states that more than 14,000 vessels are currently online through a broadband VSAT connection. This number is further expected to go up to more than 37,000 vessels by 2026. There are several driving factors for this, including crew welfare, seafarers and passengers using their own devices on ships, and the insatiable appetite for operational data processing and analysis. With over 90 percent of worldwide trade served by the maritime market, vessels at sea rely on broadband connectivity and VSAT technology to stay in touch with operations on land and to increase work productivity.

Using VSAT technology will enable high-capacity broadband which will, in turn, satisfy rising communication needs from both operational applications as well as crew communication needs.

Specifically, with regard to the Middle East, an international survey of maritime capitals conducted by Menon Business Economics Group states that Dubai is slated to become the seventh leading maritime centre in the world by 2022. Dubai is currently the leading maritime city in the Middle East. This means that it is critical for providers of marine satellite communication services to understand and cater to the nuances of the maritime market needs.

Shipping vessels have therefore adopted VSAT technology to meet these requirements. Cruise ships have equipped their ocean liners with satellite to meet the growing demand for passenger connectivity. The average passenger of today brings three connected devices on board. Oil tankers, as well as oil rig service vessels, also require connectivity to improve safety and operational intelligence. Again, VSAT technology comes into play here.

Broadband connectivity is now recognised as a crucial requirement on all commercial vessels. As such, it is important that the right solution is deployed to facilitate an all-round maritime communication service. Selecting the right VSAT service is not always easy, and it is best to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the choice of technology and vendor before taking a call. Factors to be analysed must include current and future IT needs and business objectives.

We work with many satellite capacity providers on global and regional maritime projects and are today one of the leading global providers of managed network communication solutions. Based on our experience, we would recommend keeping in mind the following key considerations when selecting a maritime solution:

1) Accurately assessing bandwidth needs

Bandwidth requirements will constantly be on the increase. Therefore, accurately determining a vessel’s data requirements now and in the future is the critical first step to cater for improved voyage planning among others.

2) Secure and integrated maritime service

Security of systems is as big a concern as bandwidth requirements. Therefore, the scope of network designs must consider this aspect as well.

3) Cost-efficient solution backed by reliable service

Service is crucial. There is no point investing in a maritime communications solution that may lack a dedicated support system. As users rely on a single service for all their maritime communications, it is critical that the solution is efficient with reliable support.

4) Easy of installation

Selecting a solution where ship operators and captains can set it up themselves will make operations simple.

As the maritime industry embraces digitisation, global coverage and an integrated service are the need of the hour. The ability to facilitate improved crew communications, online access and seamless operational performance is driving demand for VSAT connectivity, accelerating a new era for maritime connectivity.

Nabil Ben Soussia is managing  director of IEC Telecom Middle East.

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