How will innovations enhance the maritime satcom market?

Priya Patel, Regional Director APAC, NSSLGlobal.

The maritime industry is going through a major transformation on multiple levels. Priya Patel of APAC, NSSLGlobal shares her views on the main trends, challenges, and opportunities for growth within the maritime sector with SatellitePro Middle East. 

Could you tell us about some of the trends within the maritime satcoms market and what perhaps makes this vertical different from the others?

Following a global downturn in the maritime industry due to economic uncertainty 2018 saw an improvement with a 4% annual growth, the fastest in five years.   However, a number of factors will continue to affect the industry.

In the last few years due to overcapacity and low freight rates, the maritime industry has seen a number of alliances and consolidations taking place, particularly among dry bulk, offshore and containers. Oversupply still continues in this market and in order to drive operational efficiency and reduce overall capacity, consolidation is expected to continue.

Our maritime customers are also keeping a watching brief on the current rise in protectionism and nationalism with the possible threat of trade wars and barriers affecting trade. While there will always be winners and losers, it will certainly change the overall global market dynamics and co-operation to which the maritime shipping industry depends.

Cost reduction and efficiency gains continue to be the focus for the maritime industry and digitalisation are seen as a way to drive both. Robust and always on connectivity has fast become a critical factor in the extent to which maritime companies can reap the data management, safety, efficiency and crew welfare benefits.

Connectivity innovations are driving ‘smart’ ships that are redefining not just the way maritime organisations manage their communications systems and digital infrastructure, but also revolutionising their core business models. Satellite connectivity is at the heart of this evolution, enabling ships to become an extension of on-shore operations — effectively fully-functional mobile offices at sea.

Given this context, the adoption of broadband, “always on” connectivity  for maritime applications continues to show an exponential upwards climb, driven by a greater understanding of the high bandwidth benefits among shipping companies, the increasing mission-criticality of IT systems and remote monitoring systems in maritime applications and the need for remote systems to integrate with central IT networks.

As the always-connected expectation grows there is a real opportunity for satcom operators to create broader maritime connectivity platforms — which use more hybrid connectivity including VSAT, L- Band, 4G/5G and Wi-Fi in port/coastal areas.

NSSLGlobal is already positioning itself at the forefront of ‘hybrid’/’connection-agnostic’ systems, through solutions such as the award-winning FusionIP in Europe and recently launched FusionIP-LITE for Asia, providing cost-effective connectivity and flexible packages.

In reference to FusionIP-Lite: I know you recently announced a new product to address this market. You specifically mentioned that your product addresses the demands of the Asia seas. Is switching between satellite and cellular not a common challenge in all seas?

As you say it is a challenge that affects all customers and all seas globally. FusionIP-Lite is one of a series of Fusion IP packages that are or will be available in the market tailored according to specific markets. Fusion IP Lite is specifically tailored towards the Asian coastal market where customers were looking for a ‘VSAT type’ solution of broadband speeds but with a smaller antenna and at a competitive cost. NSSLGlobal’s solution – Fusion IP-Lite provides exactly this, a cost-effective high-speed solution of up to 40Mbits up to 20km offshore and speeds of up to 700kbits outside of these areas.

Will you have a presence at CommunicAsia Singapore and if yes, what will you hope to highlight in this market?

Yes, we are certainly exhibiting at CommunicAsia Singapore this year. It’s always such a superb opportunity for us to showcase our solutions and share our insights within the APAC market.

The APAC region is of great importance to NSSLGlobal as it is a key market where we are strengthening our presence. It’s also one of the most exciting in terms of innovation and progression as our recent record-breaking contract with Teekay goes to show.

We’re energised and really keen to talk to vessel operators as we have solutions and flexible packages for companies of all sizes. We want the market to understand the scope of our offering as we are an engineering powerhouse. We have our own VSAT network but it’s also our engineering expertise in developing bespoke IT and management solutions which sets us apart in the market. We’re an agile organisation and work closely with our clients to bring practical solutions. This is why 90% of our new business comes from referrals.

We’ll be encouraging delegates and customers to get hands-on with our industry-leading technology at CommunicAsia, where we’ll be showcasing FusionIP-Lite, Cruise Control+, CrewVison, and our INSIGHT portal.

What are some of the challenges within the maritime sector and how can you address them?

First is the challenge of managing the bandwidth for business, crew and vendor demands in the digitalised world. In my answer to question 1 above I outlined the role that connectivity now plays in ship-to-shore operations. Alongside this, you also have the increasing proliferation of personal crew devices on board ships and their on-demand, data-hungry applications (e.g. the likes of Skype, Spotify and Netflix).

NSSLGlobal’s proprietary CrewVision ship entertainment service is designed to tackle this problem. This service is provided through Cruise Control+ our onboard communications and IT management appliance. Ship management can provide low cost, high quality and appropriately licenced content such as movies, TV dramas, documentaries and world news to crew without disrupting data speeds for operational traffic or the crew’s internet access. In addition, the unique feature of NSSLGlobal’s VSAT IP@SEA service ensures that the vessels’ data speeds or voice quality are unaffected by the content downloads and also requires no additional hardware. Furthermore, content is continually refreshed using NSSLGlobal’s network capacity, not the vessels, so there is no impact on the vessels business operations. The result is an optimised onboard user experience and higher staff retention levels.

A second challenge is that vessel owners want streamlined ships, with less hardware and crew. Here NSSLGlobal’s next generation appliance Cruise Control +.sits at the core of our comprehensive VSAT IP@SEA solution. This new cost-effective, single server appliance seamlessly manages communications and IT services on board vessels. Installed locally on board the vessel the Cruise Control + provides a convenient platform for maritime customers to manage their vessels’ networks, crew welfare and expenditure. Within a single compact appliance, the virtualised platform offers a complete end-to-end solution, from vessel communications management, vessel level security, a management control portal, hosting of customer applications and enables a managed IT service.

NSSLGlobal is positioning itself to provide the essential core communications and IT infrastructure and allow customers to select options and add leading-edge innovative services almost at a “pick ‘n mix” level.

A third major challenge is security. With around 50,000 vessels at sea or in port at any one time, the maritime industry is heavily exposed to cyber attacks which can have severe repercussions for crew, ship-owners, supply channel partners and customers.

Cybersecurity can be managed effectively if maritime companies approach it strategically, addressing and mitigating risks coming from the outside and within their organisation. NSSLGlobal uses its decades of cybersecurity experience especially with governments to ensure that critical security controls are at the core of all of its products, applications and services. From hub-side to vessel-side control, we have a range of end-point infrastructure protections in place ensuring customers are cyber secure at sea.

Best practice also shows that any solution should have protections built into the core infrastructure, as well as at vessel level. Yet our cyber credentials don’t just start with customer products. NSSLGlobal’s’ cybersecurity starts with its infrastructure from the hubs and teleports, its own corporate IT, with regular security audits and training. Importantly, its entire staff are security cleared.

Does VSAT offer the best solutions for connectivity at sea? 

VSAT has become a very generic term these days to represent ‘broadband’ services. Whether it is the best solution for connectivity however very much depends on the vessel’s requirements as well as the suppliers offering. The old adage “you get what you pay for”, very much applies to VSAT and while the headline offering can look the same between suppliers, in reality, they can be very different.

This is where NSSLGlobal excels, as one of the few independent service providers left in the industry, our job is to help customers in the decision-making process to ensure they truly get the best solution to meet their requirements. The account management team discuss in depth the client’s aims to assess their current and future needs.  Our customers vary and can be highly informed or just starting on their VSAT journey so it is our responsibility to provide clarity, transparency and delivery of service.

Regarding VSAT technology, one of the key differentiators of NSSLGlobal’s service is not only that we own and operate our own global VSAT network but that we also own our own VSAT modem and hub technology. This means that we are uniquely able to offer a full end to end support responsibility and can tailor the development roadmap specifically to our key mobility markets and maritime customers.

At the core of the VSAT IP@SEA offering is our SatLink 2910 DVBS2-RCS2 modem. Apart from being the fastest VSAT modem currently available, with a throughput of 150mbps, our modem is specifically designed for the maritime industry, with no manual ‘option files’ that require input by the crew. It has the ability to store up to 20 forward links, enabling it to seamlessly change between beams as the vessel sails.  It also has encryption and multicast built into the technology allowing for over the air software updates, as well as the ability to broadcast TV and Video without the vessel having to have a large dedicated data pipe and without affecting the vessel’s internet traffic.

A key area that differentiate suppliers is the average speeds of the broadband service, as opposed to the headline MIR figures. Many suppliers quote high maximum data rates and also only contracts to the minimum CIR values for 90-95% of uptime. They then heavily contend the network so that in reality the customer only ever receives the minimum CIR and never the Maximum Data Rate. NSSLGlobal not only commits to the CIR 100% of uptime, but because of the diverse customer market base, as well as careful network management, the average network speed always significantly exceeds the CIR and average speeds are often nearer to the Maximum data rates.

Are you able to share any statistics within the APAC market or the maritime market to substantiate the reason for how you are catering to this market?

According to Verified Market Research, the global maritime VSAT market is projected to reach USD 5.19 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 13.3% from 2018 to 2025.  And excitingly the Asia Pacific is predicted to be the fastest growing market.

NSSLGlobal has already seen this growth with a number of our key clients looking for enhanced levels of local support for their activities in APAC and as a result, we have increased and continue to grow our presence in the region.

NSSLGlobal is uniquely positioned to provide services beyond that of satcoms. We are hitting the sweet spot where we are providing global satcoms connectivity, 50 years of in-house engineering expertise, value added services such as managed IT solutions, next generation products such as Cruise Control+, the highest levels of cyber security and most importantly the agility to respond to our customers and bring services to market rapidly such as FusionIP-LITE. NSSLGlobal is strongly committed to developing its presence and services for the APAC region, it really is an exciting period of growth.