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Maritime broadband will bring ‘technological revolution'

December 4th 2017
Connected ships can act as catalysts of digital change towards smarter shipping and intelligent fleet management, believes Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce

Inmarsat chief executive Rupert Pearce believes unprecedented change is coming to the global maritime industry from a worldwide technological revolution that is driven by broadband communications. He expects this will bring digital disruption and enable owners to develop smarter ships and experience intelligent fleet management.

“The changes we are seeing are extraordinary and are being experienced across virtually every sector and every region,” he said in November, while opening a new Inmarsat service centre in Ålesund, Norway.

He highlighted three technology trends that are driving these developments: the proliferation of smart devices, an explosion of cloud-based applications that serve these devices and the next generation of communications networks.

“These forces are shifting the tectonic plates of our world,” said Mr Pearce, adding that connectivity is helping to shape a digital society in which the maritime sector is intertwined. “Just ahead of us lies a fourth industrial revolution as these three forces enable the internet of things and an increasingly automated and autonomous world,” he said.

He expects machines that are augmented by artificial intelligence and data analytics to have an increasing role to play in maritime to “deliver a further step change in productivity, safety and security, reliability and effectiveness.”

Vessel operators and managers will benefit from these changes, made possible by improvements in maritime broadband connectivity, such as Inmarsat’s Ka-band Global Xpress. This is provided by four geostationary satellites in Inmarsat’s fifth generation constellation. A sixth generation of satellites is planned for launch from 2020.

“All of this extraordinary disruption, challenge and opportunity is poised to come to the global maritime industry,” said Mr Pearce. He expects shipowners will be able to grasp its new commercial opportunities “to adopt new methods of working and even new business models.”

He therefore described global mobile satellite communications as a critical enabler of change. “It is only through satellite communications that the era of smart shipping can realised.”

Mr Pearce explained that there were numerous opportunities and applications that are enabled on a broadband-connected ship. “It offers a greater degree of visibility of vessel and cargo position and performance,” he said. This produces valuable data that could be used by shipowners and managers and shared with charterers, cargo owners and other stakeholders.

“Digital business models can create inter-fleet, intra-fleet and new maritime-related communities,” he predicted. Some of the benefits of these will come from analysing the continuous flow of data transmitted between ships and shore. For example, there is value from monitoring engines and associated systems on ships, or receiving real-time vessel performance data.

Mr Pearce expects applications on ships, such as passage planning and weather routeing to achieve optimal sailing, to contribute to more profitable voyages. “Bandwidth also plays a vital role in bridge procedures, whether for navigation and situational awareness or security of physical and cyber assets,” he said, predicting that “in the next few years, we will move from smart ships, to smart fleets, to smart shipping.”

Inmarsat has evolved from a supplier of broadband connectivity and safety communications. “We see ourselves now as enablers of digital outcomes for our end-users,” said Mr Pearce. He wants shipowners to embrace the new opportunities that come from high-throughput connectivity “to deliver enhanced reporting, compliance and crew benefits”.

If they fully embrace “all that the emerging digital society can bring them, owners will be best placed to take advantage of what the world of the connected ship brings,” he concluded.

Maersk Line saves US$20M a year

Leading players in the shipping industry are already adjusting to what they perceive as changed trading conditions and have recognised the need for a more differentiated and less commoditised approach to their operations.

Inmarsat chief executive Rupert Pearce provided Maersk Line as an example of a shipowner using broadband communications to reduce operating costs. He explained that its Triple E container ships each have 3,000 sensors hardwired to their main control systems and more than 7,000 channels are monitored continuously for situational awareness and alarms.

This generates more than 2 GB of data from the main control system that is stored every day for analysis. “Fleet-wide more than 30 TB of data is transferred to Maersk’s headquarters every month,” he said. Using this data, Maersk has reduced its fuel costs alone for this fleet by more than US$20M a year, he said.