Every day, more than 50,000 merchant ships cross the oceans with millions of cargo containers in tow, signalling the need for fast and efficient communications aboard vessels, and between land and sea. SatellitePro ME spoke to some prominent maritime solution providers to understand key trends and challenges in the segment, and how they are being addressed.
The maritime industry is going through a major transformation on multiple levels. Overcapacity and low freight rates have led to several consolidations – particularly among dry bulk, offshore and containers – leading to a bearish outlook and compelling companies, in turn, to look at operational efficiencies and reduced costs through digitisation. In parallel, connectivity demands have skyrocketed with crew welfare, seafarers and passengers using their own devices on ships, and the insatiable appetite for operational data processing and analysis moving up the priority list for ship owners. All these factors have driven the need for always-on connectivity on the seas, thereby driving some of the biggest innovations in the sector at the moment.
“The revenue for maritime service providers is estimated to exceed $2.5bn by 2025,” says Nabil Soussia, Managing Director of IEC Telecom Middle East.
“We see the emergence of the smart ship and the autonomous ship,” he says, citing a report from Reportlinker that the autonomous ships market is expected to grow from $6.1bn in 2018 to $13.8bn by 2030, at a CAGR of 7%.
“Connectivity will be a driving factor for improved operations and efficiency, as well as to bring more attention to topics such as safety and cybersecurity,” explains Soussia.
Priya Patel, Regional Director APAC of NSSLGlobal, agrees that “smart ships are not just redefining the way maritime organisations manage their communications systems and digital infrastructure, but also revolutionising their core business models”.
“Satellite connectivity is enabling ships to become an extension of on-shore operations – effectively fully-functional mobile offices at sea. In this context, the adoption of broadband always-on connectivity for maritime applications continues its 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.”
With over 90% of worldwide trade served by the maritime market, vessels at sea rely on broadband connectivity to stay in touch with operations on land to receive revised instructions, weather forecasts and navigation map updates in time for prompt decision-making.
“Satcom enhances productivity by allowing new technologies onboard. Such technologies as remote maintenance, digital medicine and e-training fully rely on disrupted connectivity,” explains Soussia.
One technology that perhaps all solution providers agree is playing a key role in the maritime sector is VSAT technology, which has evolved over the years to cater to changing market requirements. A Verified Market Research report estimates that the global maritime VSAT market will reach $5.19bn by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 13.3%, with Asia Pacific predicted to be the fastest growing market.
NSR’s ‘Maritime Satcom Markets 7th Edition’ report, published last month, also says that VSAT-enabled maritime vessels are estimated to grow in number from over 20,000 vessels in 2018 to over 75,000 by 2028, and to generate almost $42bn in cumulative revenues in that period. The maritime satcom connectivity market has never looked more promising, thanks to the “right combination of price, end user requirements and connectivity demand”, according to Brad Grady, NSR Principal Analyst and author of the report.
In fact, each market will provide unique advantages across the maritime satcom value chain, Grady says. For satellite operators, the passenger market (ocean and river cruises, ferries) will require massive amounts of connectivity, exceeding 870Gbps by 2028. For service providers, merchant vessels are adopting VSAT connectivity at unprecedented rates, adding over 40,000 vessels between 2018 and 2028. For equipment manufacturers, the fishing and leisure markets are expected to post some of the best revenue growth rates, at almost 8% with a CAGR of over 12% between 2018 and 2028.
Soussia explains why “VSAT wins over MSS in every way” for vessel owners looking to leverage investment to maximise operational efficiency and ROI.
“The biggest reason is the financial predictability of flat monthly rates offered by VSAT, as opposed to the traditional pay per use of MSS communication. Unlike MSS, VSAT services can enable modern applications onboard, bringing maritime connectivity on a par with land solutions. Satcom technologies turn vessels into fully operational remote business units,” he points out.
“VSAT set up on its own is capable of receiving and distributing bandwidth. The rest comes with a package of value-added services connected to your VSAT terminal. The most common requirements fulfilled by value-added services are optimisation, filtration, email compression services and cybersecurity.”
Marlink has also witnessed a 50% growth in VSAT uptake in the APAC market over the last 12 months, says Tore Morten Olsen, President for Maritime at Marlink.
“Ship owners are looking to secure their systems against hackers and ransomware, as well as ensure that their data is collected and stored with the GDPR requirements,” says Tore Morten Olsen, President for Maritime at Marlink.
“More APAC companies are migrating from L-band satellite communications for their fleets to VSAT services on Ka- or Ku-band. This comes from the realisation that more throughput can enable digital applications that support more efficient fleet management, while also keeping crew connected to friends and family ashore.”
He says global demand for satellite bandwidth is always increasing and “our VSAT installations generally double in number year on year”.
Patel advocates a more cautious approach, however, saying hybrid solutions may be the answer in some scenarios.
“VSAT has become a very generic term these days, to represent broadband services. Whether it is the best solution for connectivity depends on the vessel’s requirements as well as the supplier’s offering. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ applies to VSAT, and while the headline offering can look the same between suppliers, in reality they can be very different,” she explains, adding that NSSLGlobal tries to help customers decide which solution is ideal for their requirements.
She says that with the “connected expectation” growing, “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 positioning itself at the forefront of hybrid/connection-agnostic systems through solutions such as FusionIP in Europe and the recently launched FusionIP-LITE for Asia, providing cost-effective connectivity and flexible packages.”
Patel is quick to add that NSSLGlobal also owns and operates its own global VSAT network and its own VSAT modem and hub technology. “This means that we are able to offer full end-to-end support responsibility and can tailor the development roadmap specifically to our key mobility markets and maritime customers.”
A key area that differentiates suppliers, according to Patel, 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 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.”
Soussia agrees that it is important to educate and advise customers on correct implementation.
“IoT connectivity is capable of generating huge data insights regarding operations and the work environment, as well as a slew of new data-based revenue opportunities,” says Nabil Soussia, Managing Director of IEC Telecom Middle East.
“With the crisis, companies had to be creative in cutting costs and deploying technology, without necessarily considering all the aspects of safe implementation. That’s why we serve as a technology consultant more than a technology provider.
“IEC Telecom Group is one of the leading global providers of managed network communication solutions. We offer a comprehensive suite of system integration, system products and network services, enabling a complete end-to-end solution for our customers that includes cybersecurity. We believe that our integrated approach of in-house design and engineering expertise provides us with a competitive advantage. Our solutions are deployed in selective vertical markets, including government, humanitarian, wireless, media, energy, enterprise and maritime.”
Of course, the demand for connectivity is not without its challenges, but each of these companies touts its solutions as ideal for managing the core issues around bandwidth for business, crew and vendor demands in a digitised world.
NSSLGlobal claims its proprietary CrewVision ship entertainment service, provided through Cruise Control+, its onboard communications and IT management app, is ideal because ship management can provide low-cost, high-quality, appropriately licensed content such as movies, TV dramas, documentaries and world news to crew without disrupting data speeds for operational traffic or crew internet access.
“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. 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,” says Patel.
Soussia advocates IEC Telecom’s OneGate Maritime solution as a platform designed to meet the dual requirements of onboard connectivity for both crew welfare and corporate use.
“It provides 360-degree support for corporate communication, helping businesses manage bandwidth, monitor usage consumption, control budget and retrieve 24/7 satellite support. At the same time, OneGate Maritime improves the crew well-being on board by providing access to a high-quality voice and data connection including VoIP, web browsing, VOD and emails. It allows tight control over budgets while managing crew allocations. It also includes the ability to hold remote crew training, arrange special assistance via telemedicine and more,” he explains.
Marlink’s Olsen says: “VSAT has further developed with our development of a multi-band network offering, which enables ships to operate with several available channels onboard at once. Should the ship move outside of one service’s coverage, it will be automatically switched to an alternative carrier. We believe this holistic approach to network building is the only way to deliver industry-leading quality of service (QoS) with very high service level agreements (SLA).”
One big challenge, however, is cybersecurity. With around 50,000 vessels at sea or in port at any one time and increasing connectivity, new threats continue to emerge on the horizon, costing the maritime sector hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Implementing stronger cybersecurity standards is essential to manage risk and potential loss,” points out Soussia, explaining that this solution is part of IEC Telecom’s offering.
“Satellite connectivity is enabling ships to become an extension of on-shore operations – effectively fully-functional mobile offices at sea,” says Priya Patel, Regional Director APAC of NSSLGlobal.
“Cybersecurity can be managed effectively if maritime companies approach it strategically, addressing and mitigating risks coming from the outside and within their organisation,” explains Patel, adding that the company has decades of cybersecurity experience working with governments to ensure that critical security controls are at the core of all of its products, applications and services.
“Ship owners are looking to secure their systems against hackers and ransomware, as well as ensure that their data is collected and stored with the GDPR requirements. This is required for any ship visiting European ports, so it applies to ship owners worldwide,” Olsen explains, adding that as a major maritime ICT specialist, Marlink offers an extensive portfolio of solutions, from ship-based SkyFile anti-virus and secure VPNs to remote access solutions and an arsenal of network and teleport-based technology.
Pre-empting a spike in cyber threats, Marlink is introducing a new cybersecurity strategy called Cyber Guard Solutions Portfolio, which promises a holistic approach to maritime cybersecurity that meets dynamic and evolving needs.
“Cyber Guard deploys established means such as a firewall and anti-virus (PROTECT), and complements them with advanced network-based hardware and software solutions, cyber expertise (DETECT and RESOLVE), as well as training. The goal is to prevent Marlink customers from ever being in a position of having to pay hackers a ransom, a fine to national bodies or suffering from a severe loss of reputation.”
But the range of transformation within the maritime sector does not end there. The industry has also witnessed the rapid adoption of IoT, the next big buzzword in the sector.
“IoT connectivity is capable of generating huge data insights regarding operations and the work environment, as well as a slew of new data-based revenue opportunities. It can also transform day-to-day operations at sea, at port and as part of a wider logistics network. Issues can be pinpointed, downtime can be reduced and processes can be streamlined, changing the face of the maritime industry as we know it,” explains Soussia.
Alongside that, he sees AI playing a big role in “predicting the future course and movements of a vessel and relaying this information on-shore for ship masters to improve situational awareness and decision-making and create safer outcomes”. He also says blockchain and big data analytics will play crucial roles.
5G usage, however, will be restricted to ports, according to the experts.
“Any cellular network is interesting for IoT, but the same range restriction applies; data can’t be transmitted from the ship if it is circa 50 miles offshore or more. For this, only L-band MSS and VSAT will suffice, unless of course a store-and-forward approach is used, holding on to data until your ship is within cellular coverage. This, however, is counter-intuitive to the very reason for IoT, in that a continuous stream of data can provide operational benefits,” Olsen points out.
With the launch of so many new technologies to ensure high connectivity at sea, the satcom industry is clearly driving both connectivity and digital transformation in the maritime industry. Those solution providers who continue to innovate will, no doubt, remain ahead of the game.