Vying for Attention

Digital Possibilities Offer New Vision to Shipowners.


By Wendy Laursen 2018-03-05 18:11:54

(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2017 edition.)

Digitalization promises to change business models and generate value-producing opportunities. For ship operators, faced with a multitude of options, it may not be a simple transition, and satcom players are vying for attention, paving the way across the potentially industry-wide “disruption.”


Shipboard equipment is likely to need upgrading to take advantage of the promise of more data faster, and Cobham SATCOM has come up with a novel approach. The company is working with Osterhout Design Group (ODG) and custom software house Kanda to build an augmented reality (AR), wearable solution for maritime service technicians. With AR already established as an efficiency-enhancing tool for business and industrial applications, the project demonstrates its potential to support professionals installing and servicing equipment on ships.

ODG’s R-7 smartglasses have been given to installation technicians tasked with in-situ conversions of Cobham’s Sailor VSAT antennas from Ku- to Ka-band. The smartglasses provide step-by-step guidance to their wearer, making paper manuals obsolete and greatly speeding up and simplifying the process.

Technicians wearing the glasses receive all the information required in their line of sight, ensuring that strict quality and technical guidelines are followed. By making sure the antennas are installed correctly during the conversion process, the satellite service provider and the end-user can be sure they will perform more reliably so that the vessel gets the best satellite connection and therefore the most reliable broadband and voice services.

Intellian has readied its v65 Ku/Ka-band convertible satellite communications system, saying it has been independently tested by satellite communications service provider Marlink and exceeded all performance expectations on its newly launched 60-centimeter global network. The results represent a significant breakthrough and redefine expectations of what constitutes “fast and reliable” onboard connectivity for data-dense applications through a compact VSAT system.

To determine maximum throughput levels, testing was carried out on the Marlink network using Intelsat 33e, the newest Intelsat EpicNG satellite providing high-throughput Ku-band coverage to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Marlink concluded that Intellian’s v65 VSAT system, combined with the global coverage of Marlink’s Sealink VSAT and the advanced capabilities of the IS-33e high-throughput satellite, allows shipowners access to high-end service packages that create opportunities to reduce cost, maximize uptime and increase profitability.

Launched in March of this year, Intellian’s v65 antenna is designed to drive the adoption of new connectivity solutions for fleet operators looking to enhance communications capabilities beyond legacy L-band systems. Featuring an updated design to reduce cabling and deliver plug-and-play installation capability, ships can install and activate the compact system in a few hours’ time, minimizing any potential for operational downtime.

NSSLGlobal has launched FusionIP, which combines VSAT and cellular connectivity within the same device. Within a single 60-centimeter SAILOR dome, FusionIP integrates LTE and satellite broadband, allowing ships to automatically switch between 4G/3G and satellite networks to achieve optimum data speeds and cost-efficiency. The new service is suited to yachts, crew transfer vessels, offshore wind installation vessels, fishing vessels and coastwise commercial vessels.

Service provider KVH has announced the launch of its next-generation maritime broadband network and introduced TracPhone V7-HTS, an advanced 60-centimeter marine satellite antenna system. The result is that KVH’s high-speed overlay to its current mini-VSAT BroadbandSM service is expected to at least triple data speeds, enabling merchant fleets to take advantage of cloud-based software programs and data analytics.

The company’s maritime broadband network will incorporate Intelsat EpicNG satellite services and IntelsatOne Flex, a global service designed to optimize bandwidth allocations and provide flexible coverage where it’s needed. KVH’s mini-VSAT broadband network will also benefit from increased Asian satellite capacity from SKY Perfect JSAT.

KVH is also adding 25 million square miles to its global maritime Ku-band, high-speed connectivity footprint. At launch, KVH says it will have the largest maritime Ku-band network offering speeds – as fast as 10 Mbps to each terminal – as each Intelsat EpicNG satellite has 25-60 Gbps of capacity.


Mark Rasmussen, Intelsat’s Vice President & General Manager for Mobility, says shipowners globally are beginning to understand the value of Big Data: “Intelsat EpicNG and other high-throughput satellite platforms have helped maritime operators think of satellite connectivity as a means of fully integrating their global fleets with onshore operations. Maritime operators now understand they can use satellites to gather valuable data for the analysis that can make operations more efficient – operations that one day will be done entirely from shore-based operations centers.”

Even the most staid parts of the shipping industry are engaging. A Marlink-commissioned survey confirmed that many Asian shipping companies are ready to embrace the increased capacity and greater data usage enabled by maritime VSAT. Tore Morten Olsen, President of Marlink Maritime, says: “While there is a still a perception among many Asian shipowners that L-band services are all that is needed, we found that a significant proportion do understand the benefits of moving to VSAT. Of course, expenditure is critical for them, but more owners are starting to see satcom as an investment rather than a cost.”

He adds that, with FleetBroadband being so prevalent on Asian fleets, it’s no surprise that many owners and operators are well aware of Inmarsat’s new Fleet Xpress service: “More surprising is that many of the ship operators we talked to told us they had looked into new-generation, high-throughput satellite services and approximately 80 percent have a favorable opinion of them. Whether high-throughput satellite services will speed the market’s transition from L-band, however, remains to be seen.”

Olsen notes that Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan were the countries most committed to crew welfare using contemporary satcom solutions: “While it may take longer for China to move towards VSAT, the long-term opportunity there is large, especially as the market starts to understand the potential for gaining increased efficiencies in business processes, which will lead the way in justifying the investment.”


Marlink’s XChangeTelemed solution has been developed in recognition of the importance owners are placing on the health of crew and passengers. While maritime telemedicine is not new, Marlink’s approach combines everything into a single, pay-monthly service with no capital outlay. “XChange Telemed is the only turnkey, fully integrated telemedicine system available with everything delivered and managed by Marlink,” says Olsen.

Gregory Martin, Vice President for Maritime at SES Networks, agrees that telemedicine is a growth area for the uptake of maritime VSAT in the Asia-Pacific market: “Among vessels in the region, the number of VSAT maritime terminals in 2026 will more than triple to 6,500 from 2,000 in 2016.” In addition to merchant shipping, Martin says the superyacht and cruise industries are boosting uptake.

“Asian passengers are heavy consumers of Internet bandwidth and real-time applications,” he notes, “which is pushing consumption much higher. Looking ahead, there is also an increasing volume of high-throughput satellite capacity as more of these satellites take to the skies, including the SES-12 geostationary satellite, the upcoming additional eight medium-earth-orbit (MEO) satellites to be launched in 2018 and 2019, and the seven next-generation O3b mPOWER MEO satellites.”


Inmarsat is supporting the global adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the maritime market using Fleet Xpress. Earlier this year, Inmarsat Maritime signed an MOU with Samsung Heavy Industries to leverage the “smart ship” connectivity offered by Fleet Xpress at the vessel-construction stage. The agreement envisages shipowners harvesting data from preinstalled hull monitors and equipment sensors on board in real-time from the moment a ship is delivered.

In a second arrangement, Inmarsat and Rolls-Royce have agreed to the delivery of vessel energy-efficiency-optimization services via Fleet Xpress 24/7 using Energy Management 2.0 software from Rolls-Royce Marine. The software reduces energy consumption, improves crew awareness of vessel performance and supports environmental compliance. With data collected from ship-control systems and equipment sensors, it also benchmarks efficiency against historical performance.

The concept of operational efficiency is being expanded with NAPA Fleet Intelligence, officially launched in June 2017. This zero-installation Web service offers quick and easy access to high-accuracy performance-monitoring for any vessel, regardless of ownership or charterer. Relying on live satellite data, its starting database of over 6.5 million voyages has been growing by more than 10,000 voyages daily.

A key factor in the development of this solution was the number of satellites orbiting the earth, which has risen substantially over the last few years. This has increased the coverage of Automatic Identification System (AIS) data to the point that the location and route of vessels around the world reached a level of quality in 2015 where it could be used for voyage-specific analysis.

ORBCOMM, a global provider of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and IoT solutions, has collaborated with Pole Star and Weatherdock to develop Hali, a small vessel (Class B), tri-mode vessel-tracking solution. Hali combines terrestrial and satellite AIS data capability with two-way satellite M2M technology to deliver reliable vessel location data to small craft, fleet operators, maritime authorities and enforcement agencies, providing the actionable intelligence required to maximize maritime safety, security and environmental compliance. The Hali device also includes SOS functionality and can send a distress message, providing accurate positional data to facilitate search-and-rescue operations.

Digital possibilities continue to offer new vision to shipowners. With the range of potentially disruptive technologies now available, shipping companies may be forced to alter the way they approach their business rather than risk losing market share or becoming irrelevant.  MarEx



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