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Inmarsat Takes On Shipping's Big Issues With "Network of Networks"

Ben Palmer

Published Nov 16, 2023 12:01 PM by Inmarsat

Nearly six months after the takeover of global mobile services provider Inmarsat was completed by US communications company Viasat, Inmarsat Maritime President Ben Palmer says the group is forging ahead with delivering shipping’s best integrated and seamlessly connected network.

The merger provides Inmarsat with much enhanced global network capability and some exciting new technology, he says. 

“Bringing the two companies together gives us over eighty years of heritage, experience and commitment to this business.  We’ve been here for a long time, and mean to build on that legacy.  We’re excited about the future.”

Shipping’s communication needs are expanding rapidly as vessels employ more digital systems to improve their efficiency, cut costs and emissions.

The greater use of data systems is reflected by a 31% surge in data usage by commercial maritime vessels in the first half 2023 registered by Inmarsat, on top of a 56% increase from 2021 to 2022.

But a growing market has attracted new entrants with high profile newcomers attracting much attention.

Palmer says there is no doubting the ambition of some of those companies nor the potential for low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to play an important role in the connectivity mix. 

“It will be important, nevertheless, for maritime customers to assess their requirements in terms of reliability, service commitment, and ensure that their operational needs can reliably be met, now and into the future,” he says.

Inmarsat remains focused on delivering integrated, seamless connectivity and now has even more scope to do so, Palmer says.

“We already have one of the world’s best GEO networks as our backbone, with plans to augment it with new Viasat-3 and GX satellites over the coming few years.  Two HEO (highly elliptical orbit) satellites are soon to come delivering high-speed broadband services in the Arctic region and in Northern latitudes. LTE service is in place, and our own, unique 5G mesh is proceeding past proof-of-concept trials.  

“And we are assessing the best path forward on a potential LEO component. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure the best possible solution for our partners and customers.”

This June Inmarsat launched Fleet Reach to offer supercharged coastal connectivity via added terrestrial mobile connectivity.

It was the latest element in building its orchestrated ‘network of networks’ which aims to use multiple satellite technologies in multiple orbits to deliver reliable connectivity wherever and whenever it is needed.

Ben Palmer stresses the vital role of communication systems in unlocking many of the big issues facing shipping today. They include:

  • Enabling increasingly sophisticated shipping business ecosystems to function effectively, efficiently and securely and meeting expanding crew welfare and training needs.
  • Harvesting and collating data to sharpen shipping companies’ competitive edge and help them to demonstrate compliance with new regulations from the IMO, EU and other statutory bodies.
  • Supporting the transition to a greener maritime future, in the short term by facilitating incremental steps towards carbon neutrality and in the longer term by providing assurance around the transition to new fuels.
  • Providing the essential ship-to-shore lifeline that affords seafarers – and their loved ones – confidence that they will be safe on the high seas.

Facilitating the technical innovation that will make sustainable remote control or autonomous vessel operations a reality is a longer-term objective.

Ben Palmer has previously talked about the absolute necessity for shipping to react to global climate change and make real progress in cutting its greenhouse gas emissions. He describes connectivity as the “oxygen that gives life to decarbonisation initiatives”.

“Voyage optimisation systems operated through data exchange are proving invaluable”, he says, citing a Scandinavian shipping company’s testimony to the effect that adopting AI-based voyage optimisation across its 120-vessel fleet on an 18-month trial had yielded a 6.9% increase in vessel efficiency. That is equivalent to a projected emissions reduction of 170,000-tonnes of CO2 when rolled out fleetwide.

“This summer, one of the world’s largest shippers – Walmart – committed to achieving science-based targets for emissions reduction, including zero emissions in its operations by 2040”, Palmer observes. Along the way it will engage its suppliers through its Project Gigaton initiative to reduce or avoid supply chain emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2030. 

Palmer says Inmarsat aims to grow with its partners and customers - listening to what they need and consolidating its leading presence at the heart of the maritime ecosystem to help achieve shipping’s competitive and climate-driven goals. 

“We’ve been at the heart of the maritime ecosystem for forty years, both as a safety and communications provider.  We are committed to staying the course. Realising and securing the gains of digital disruption is a noble pursuit, and one we are committed to driving.”

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.