The Connected Ship: How Hot is Hot in This Market?

Maritime could be the next significant growth market for the satellite industry as shipping companies, whether commercial, cargo or ferry/cruise, look to connect their fleets. We find out from key end users what their strategy is and the importance of bringing fleetwide connectivity to their operations.

Shipping companies want bandwidth. The connectivity will enable applications that can allow the company to streamline operations and become more efficient. Moreover, being connected allows crewmembers to access social media, browse the Web and reach loved ones on shore. For cruise ship and ferry operators, the majority of their customers want to be connected for the same reasons, and it is in the company’s interest to enable access to the Internet.

Stena Line

Stena Line operates with a network of 22 strategically located ferry routes in Europe in three core regions: Scandinavia, the North Sea and the Irish Sea. The ferry company has a modern fleet with a total of 35 vessels, including traditional combi-ferries, Ro-Pax ferries for freight and passengers, and pure cargo ships. Raimo Warkki, IT demand manager ship management at Stena Line believes the driving force behind a connected ship is based around having more efficient operations. Warkki says that improving efficiency is a key principal in Stena’s business strategy going forward.

“We are able to evaluate the performance of the ship as well as look at things like fuel consumption. If fuel consumption is increased significantly, then you can examine what you can do to improve it, such as looking at the propellers or the need to clean the hull, as an example. There is also much more information required by the authorities. As a ferry company, we have to report each arrival and departure to each port. So, we have to give information related to cargo, passenger numbers, etc. There is more and more information required,” says Warkki.

While the company is moving forward with its connected ship strategy, it is not predicting huge changes in the amounts of satellite bandwidth it is currently using. The most important thing for Stena is to have a stable, reliable system. It uses satellite capacity on board, for example, for credit card payments. Stena also uses Internet connectivity for ordering as well as to report information to the authorities, which is a prerequisite. Warkki admits that, for Stena, the solution’s reliability is very important.

“We always need capacity. We have two systems aboard a ship. We have one for administration, and then one for the guests on board,” says Warkki. “There is always a lack of capacity for guests because there is never enough capacity for Internet use. We have normally more than 1 Mbps for the guests on the ship. It is very little when you compare that to what you have at home.”

Warkki admits Stena is unlikely to offer free Internet services on board. The company will most likely have a paid premium service. “It is a huge challenge to have 2,000 passengers on board a ship in July for example — July is always quite heavy for us,” says Warkki. “We also want to have more remote connected systems on board the ship, to decrease the maintenance cost, for example.”

Improving the passenger experience is key for the company, but crew welfare is also still a main driver in equipping for connectivity on board the company’s ferry fleet. In Holland, Stena has a number of foreign crewmembers on board for six months who demand connectivity. “They want to have connections to their family. If you compare that with Denmark and Sweden, there are good 3G/4G connections. A trip between Denmark and Sweden is three hours. You usually do your work when you are close to the port. In Holland, it is different. But, crew welfare is a huge issue. When the ship is in port, we look at options in terms of Ethernet or wireless connections, so not using satellite. If we can offer our Filipino crew a better performance when they are at the quayside, then this is a major benefit for them. We try and get as much capacity and performance to the ship. We try to balance all these different needs as much as we can,” says Warkki.

The Scorpio Group

The Scorpio Group is a commercial shipping company. The company recognized the importance of connectivity several years ago and all of its vessels already have Ku-band VSAT with FleetBroadband as a backup. All of its newly built vessels are delivered with a standard satellite communications infrastructure, VSAT and FleetBroadband. Alasthair Saunders, vessel IT support manager for the Scorpio Group, says that passengers and crewmembers only truly realize the importance of connectivity on a ship when they don’t have it.

“A vessel with no VSAT connection for a few days due to mast blockage or no available spot beam, soon highlights how important this connectivity is. Depending on the backup satellite service: on board databases may not synchronized; chart services may not get updated; crew Internet will not be available; automated log files may not be transmitted to the shore office; and anti-virus definitions may not be updated,” he says.

The Scorpio Group’s standard IT infrastructure is continually evolving. It is increasing the number of VOIP phones on board that are connected to its corporate VOIP infrastructure. It also hopes High Throughput Satellites (HTS) can have a strong impact. “The bigger the hard drive you have, the more of it you will consume. Likewise, larger bandwidths will lead to more throughput. Crew welfare would be a big winner here. It will improve crew welfare if the browsing experience is enhanced. HTS will enable use of more online services, such as access to corporate Intranet and cloud services, and improve remote IT support functions, according to Saunders. You will also have the ability to transfer large files such as new applications, software updates and reference manuals to vessels would also be a huge benefit (when you have HTS), he adds.

Saunders says Scorpio’s vision of the connected ship is one that has permanent, reliable, secure and cost-effective connectivity to shore offices and the Internet. “There are many applications on board that require databases to be synchronized with shore systems or chart services to be updated online and these typically require large volumes of data to be transferred to and from the vessel. While we always want faster download speeds, which satellite providers are able to deliver, the requirement for reliable global coverage is probably more important,” he adds.


Another major European shipping company is Denmark-based DFDS. The company’s shipping network integrates freight and passenger services, delivering high frequency and freight services to haulage and forwarding companies. It also develops and delivers industrial logistics solutions in close cooperation with producers of heavy industrial goods. For passengers, it offers routes throughout Scandinavia. Poul Daugaard, project manager at the IT department for DFDS, admits connectivity is a service the company cannot do without, which is becoming more urgent to the business. “Everything is run via the satellite today. We had the first ship connected in 1999. From there, we can see where we have an outage out there, so we can keep things up and running. So, for the business it is an absolute must-have,” he says.

DFDS has around 40 connected vessels. Daugaard believes connectivity is becoming standard for a company such as DFDS. “It is all the applications you have for running the business more smoothly, and with fuel efficiency. Then you have email back and forth, voice services and Internet services. You have the weather forecast, crew welfare. We have the passenger business,” he says.

The company is unique in terms of how it uses satellite technology and communications, as it has its own satellite resources. It also seems like it will be a while before the company looks to use HTS. In fact, there does not seem to be a huge amount of enthusiasm to make the jump to HTS satellites.

“All the providers are saying they have something special in the market, but, when you scratch beneath the surface, things are very similar. Our provider is UltiSat Europe. They bought the Danish telecoms TDC’s business, so we started with TDC, and then it became UltiSat. We have our own pool of 24 MHz, which we manage ourselves with UltiSat. We are not even really looking at these high throughput satellite options. We try to keep updated, but it is not an option for us. We have a contract that is running with UltiSat for another two-and-a-half years. We are very satisfied with the options we have,” says Daugaard.

Daugaard admits the shipping company has not made a decision as to whether it will move to Ka-band in the near future. “When you look at pricing for Ka-band, yes you have more capacity. The prices have not been decreasing that much. The prices are lower, but then you have much more capacity and then you have to pay much more for the service. We are also looking at 4G capacity near the coast for additional bandwidth. We are always in the harbor during the day for our passengers, and we have overnight crossings,” he adds.

Satellite Operators

For satellite players, the maritime market is a huge opportunity, with companies such as Inmarsat and Telenor Satellite keen to tap into this growing market. Inmarsat teamed up with Ericsson last year to bring together its vision of the “smart ship.”

“The maritime industry has been gradually embracing connectivity in recent years and we are now moving into the smart ship environment, which is about providing connectivity to all of the systems and sub-systems on a ship; using everything from broadband connectivity to [Internet of Things] IoT, telematics, telemetry and consulting to drive a step-change in efficiency, safety and regulatory compliance, and supporting crew welfare and training too,” says Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce.

Telenor Satellite is finishing the commercialization of the maritime service on Thor 7 and hopes to increase the number of add-ons to the service once launched. “We have just started working on a customer portal so that is really the next thing that we will provide on-top of the basic service. This is a maritime customer portal. We are in the early stages of the project, and talking to sub-suppliers, so this is very much a work-in-progress. Further on, we are looking to leverage various bandwidth optimization techniques such as compression, caching, etc.,” says Jan Hetland, director of product and services and network and data services at Telenor Satellite.

Hetland believes with HTS like Thor 7 coming online, it won’t be long, before service speeds will reach new levels. “We are going to be pushing the bit rates as we go forward. I think we are going to see even higher numbers than what we have quoted today. With the use of accelerator equipment, external from the satellite modem, I think we are realistically talking about providing 100 Mbps or more to a single vessel in the near future. I think you might see this next year. I would not be surprised if next year we had the first vessel under contract taking 100 Mbps. If you want to tap into the passenger vessel market, reaching 100 Mbps and beyond is an absolute must. A ferry can take over 1,500 passengers; it is like a small cruise ship. So, even if a modest number of passengers subscribe to the service, you will need 100 Mbps to provide a good quality user experience. For that segment, this is absolutely crucial,” Hetland adds.

Tore Morten Olsen, CEO of maritime services at Airbus Defence and Space, says that, when looking at the maritime market, there has been a huge drive for operational efficiency and fuel saving activities, as well as decision-making based on real-time data. Olsen believes there has been a step-change in thinking, with operational efficiency emerging as the main driver of connectivity strategies, rather than crew welfare. “The herd mentality is very visible with crew benefits. If you provide Internet access onboard with crew, everybody wants to work with this company. Operational efficiency is now the main driver, but before it was crew welfare,” he adds.

Moreover, fuel efficiency that arises from connectivity-enabled applications can lead to significant savings. According to Olsen, “if you measure the resistance of your coding/coating in waters, you will be able to better plan preventative maintenance and help the cleaning elements, which reduce friction in water, and that results in reduced fuel consumption. Also, online adaptation of routes based on winds and currents is another area where you can optimize. We do see when clients introduce this, they save 5 percent on their bunker, which is the biggest cost of the maritime industry. Around 40 percent of the cost of a merchant vessel is based on fuel, so if you can save 5 percent of that, this is a significant saving.” VS

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