As the shipping industry embraces digitalization,
it's time for a new era of fresh thinking that recognizes the
potential of satellite communications in delivering financial,
environmental and safety improvements.
If shipping awarded a 'word of the year' in 2017, digitalization
would have been a clear contender. The term has become a mainstay
of commentary in maritime media and a key topic of debate at our
industry's conferences and exhibitions.
But the reality is that digitalization is more than just a word
or catchphrase that's captured shipping's attention. The work
being done in its name is set to transform the sector.
The risks and rewards associated with digitalization are
plentiful. Shell, for example, has fitted its fleet of liquefied
natural gas (LNG) carriers and tankers with more than 500 data
points and connections to shore, creating a flow of information
between vessels, ports and terminals that is enabling an
efficiency of operations that would have been unthinkable in the
analog age. Equally, Maersk experienced first-hand the risks
associated with digitalization during a widely publicized cyber
attack on its IT systems in 2017. And despite the scars of
footing a $200-$300 million bill for the incident, Maersk remains
a staunch supporter of digitalization, calling it a 'key part of
its future' on its webpage dedicated to the topic.
As notable as the risks and rewards of digitalization is the
speed at which it's being deployed. While its true potential for
the industry remains unknown, what is clear is the exponential
growth of digitalization and the solutions that it enables, not
least in the ability for companies to manage vast flows of data.
For example, according to satellite consultancy COMSYS, the
number of active maritime VSAT installations, which send and
receive data at broadband speeds on board vessels, has quadrupled
from 2008 (6,001) to 2014 (21,922), and it is predicted to exceed
40,000 this year. Moreover, according to DNV GL, the Maritime
VSAT network has nearly doubled in the last two years from 8.7
Gbps (Gigabits per second) to 16.5 Gbps. If this trend continues
- and there's no reason to think it won't - this capacity will
reach 217 Gbps by 2025. Unprecedented growth that reveals the
industry's eagerness to exploit the opportunity that digitalized
satellite communication brings.
You don't need to understand the intricate working of VSAT to
appreciate that exponential growth in capacity requires the
support of reliable, high performing and scalable satellite
infrastructure to transmit and receive data. This is essential to
enable a plethora of connectivity solutions including supervisory
control and data acquisition (SCADA), the Internet of things
(IoT), remote sensing and capturing data from remote locations to
input into big data solutions. Indeed, today almost every form of
communications worldwide travels via satellite for part of its
While the rampant grow of data in shipping is well acknowledged,
the satellite infrastructure required to enable data flows has
lagged behind, with under-developed, fragmented and unreliable
systems leaving ship owners and operators with low expectations
-- until now. SES Networks believes this needs to change so that
ship owners and operators adopt a new mind set where service
consistency becomes the norm, not the exception.
The power and effect of data in shaping the shipping industry is
huge. With more, and more accurate, data, businesses are
discovering that it is essential to stay abreast of developments
in order to make better informed commercial decisions, and in so
doing, remain competitive in an increasingly challenging and
commoditized marketplace. Faster data can also improve vessel and
fleet performance through 'real time' data transmission between
vessel and onshore; including fuel consumption, routing and
navigation, engine, hull and propeller optimization.
Beyond the fleet, data can enable predictive analysis such as,
for example, regional economic demand variation, ship type demand
forecasts, or predicting new commodity markets that are spawned a
decade from now. Currently, the industry seldom collects
satellite data to use for this purpose.
However, SES Networks believes forging new partnerships between
satellite communications providers, ship owners and operators and
navigational, security data providers, and blockchain and AI
ventures, could unlock unlimited new possibilities for the
application of satellite data to predict performance. We also
believe a manageable and robust platform such as Maritime+ is key
in enabling the shipping industry to access these services.
In 2018 alone SES will launch six new high-throughput satellites.
SES-12 will provide spot beams of Ku-band over Asia and the
Middle East and SES-14 will deliver broadband over the Atlantic
Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, as well as four O3b satellites that
will provide low latency connectivity globally. Through
continuing innovation and subsequent launches of our fleet, we
will be able to ramp up the maritime platform services to deliver
large scale managed data solutions which are optimised for ships;
therefore injecting true value for end users.
Ship owners and operators continue to experience unprecedented
challenges, encompassing weak demand, higher costs, increased
regulation, and a lack of credit and capital liquidity in the
market. Amid these market conditions the exponential growth of
digitalization should present an opportunity, not a concern. If
data is the new oil, then reliable, available and high performing
satellites are the modern day oil pipeline; with an essential
role in facilitating the effective use of more, and more
accurate, data in shipping.
Stephen Conley is a Maritime Market Segment Lead, SES
Networks, responsible for developing and maintaining an in depth
understanding of the maritime market and ship owner and
operator's connectivity requirements.