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Shipping Owners and the Satellite Conundrum

While aeronautical maybe the hottest market in terms of connected transportation, the maritime market is also offering a plethora of opportunities for satellite players as all types of shipping companies revamp their connectivity strategies.

There is an interesting new trend present in the maritime industry. Companies traditionally focused on the aero market, notably Panasonic Avionics and Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE), have made acquisitions — ITC Global and, EMC respectively — that now give them an opportunity to play in this market. Maritime remains a highly significant growth market for many players.

HTS and Satellite Needs

When looking at the benefits that Trasmediterranea, a Spanish ferry and cruise ship operator, can derive from using High Throughput Satellites (HTS), Juan Caballero, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Trasmediterranea, points to the cost savings associated with buying capacity on HTS.

“Today, HTS allow us to think about having a dedicated bandwidth pool for all of our fleet. In the case of Trasmediterranea we have a pool of 22 Mbps for eight ferries, and in general we are selling the Wi-Fi to our passengers for 2.95 euros per crossing. We are offering a very good price for Wi-Fi, which is very different from how our competitors are doing,” says Caballero. “We are focusing on the level of penetration. We are doing cheaper prices in order to have more people connected on board. The reason to sell Wi-Fi on our ships is not for generating revenue, but to invest in more bandwidth to improve our communications and the services we offer passengers.”

MSC Cruises, a company with 12 ships and a number of others under construction, recently signed a deal with Marlink for the company’s “connected cloud” service, which will give it a number of possibilities to control and optimize bandwidth across its fleet. The cruise line will now have access to several hundred Mbps available in the Marlink Sealink Cloud. Daniele Buonaiuto, CIO, MSC Cruises, told Via Satellite that new HTS will inject much larger bandwidth into its fleet and will allow customers to use their services in the same way they are used on land.

Simon Møkster Shipping (Møkster) is a supplier of modern offshore support vessels designed for operations in harsh weather conditions. Its main operational area is the North and the Barents Sea. Møkster has a fleet of 25 vessels and approximately 600 employees onshore and offshore. Terje Gjerde, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) manager at Møkster, says the company is starting to scale up its communications systems to support a higher number of applications. This has included experimenting with more satellite use.

“We have only had VSATs on our ships. We have 1.5-meter antennas. Normally our ship operates in the North Sea area and we use capacity on two satellites. We had tried to get up to 8 Mbps. That is not a problem with the equipment we are using. It is not necessary for us to use higher bandwidth solutions. We don’t normally go higher than 4 Mbps right now. But, we have used 8 Mbps on our ships. So, we haven’t looked at other antenna systems right now,” says Gjerde.

However, while the company is using satellite, Gjerde admits that the use of satellite technologies is “becoming less important”, as Møkster is looking to use 4G and other solutions which are “cheaper” than satellite.

“We are now bringing in 4G solutions both in the North Sea and onshore; so, there are other Wi-Fi solutions. We are trying to get a cheaper solution combined with a VSAT solution. We are looking to connect/combine 4G and VSAT. 4G is the highest priority right now,” says Gjerde. “Right now, we don’t see that our demands for bandwidth will see us needing HTS. We are trying to get other cheaper solutions on board the ship. Our priority is to get the costs down. Communications solutions are not inexpensive. Satellite companies will need to look into partnerships with 4G companies for example. This could be something of interest.”

Maritime Satellite Capacity Forecast

One of the main companies tracking satellite’s potential in the maritime sector is Northern Sky Research (NSR). According to Brad Grady, senior analyst at NSR, in 2015 the firm saw demand for Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) capacity in C- and Ku-bands at slightly above 120 TPEs (36 MHz Transponder Equivalents), and HTS capacity slightly less than 2 Gbps. By 2025, NSR expects those numbers to grow to more than 240 TPEs of FSS capacity, and 46 Gbps of HTS capacity. Broadband MSS in-service units will grow at close to 8 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) over that same time period, according to Grady.

Trasmediterranea, a Spanish cruise and ferry operator, is implementing a progressive Wi-Fi strategy.Photo: Trasmediterranea

“Clearly, the vast majority of maritime end-users need more throughput than they have today,” he adds. “Paying for more bandwidth is a challenge in some markets, and even with lower capacity pricing today, it will be a restraint for revenue growth in some unique sub-segments of the market. Fortunately, connectivity is quickly progressing from ‘mission-important’ to ‘mission-critical’ across the maritime industry.”

Grady points to the commercial merchant segment as a big opportunity for satellite operators. “Service providers are adjusting their offerings to meet merchant market demands in terms of price, coverage, and value-added services. That said, a lot of the ‘innovation’ occurs in higher-end markets such as passenger vessels or offshore who have higher total capacity demand and higher per-vessel provisioning. As a few examples, in-cabin entertainment systems developed for cruise ship cabins are being brought into merchant markets, and data security and management from the offshore segment are flowing into merchant segments,” he explains.

Experiences and Applications

MSC Cruises aims to deliver a whole new Internet and social media accessibility experience for its guests. Buonaiuto says that the company is focused on delivering a new mobile experience that encompasses the various phases of the cruise experience, making a reality of what was considered hard to do before with old technologies. He says MSC Cruises’ wants to personalize their customers’ on-board and on-shore experience. In addition to the enhancements to its internet satellite services and new internet packages, MSC Cruises is partnering with Samsung to deliver next-generation technology on its current fleet, and on its 11 next-generation smart ships that begin to come into service from June 2017, starting with the MSC Meraviglia. This includes everything from latest displays and mobile solutions to medical equipment, as well as products for enhanced consumer experiences.

“[We will bring] new technology that enhances our guests’ experience, (this) includes Near Field Communication (NFC) using a cruise card, bracelet or smartphone for geolocation of children, cabin access, access to in-cabin safe, onboard payment, bookings and orders (e.g. excursions, theater, restaurants) via interactive screens, embarkation and disembarkation, specific ship area access, iBeacon technology to communicate with guests' mobile devices and send push notifications about info and offers,” Buonaiuto adds.

Companies such as Simon Møkster Shipping are now using connected ships to improve overall efficiency.Photo: Simon Møkster

Trasmediterranea is facing similar challenges to MSC Cruises. Caballero says the company sees connectivity as all about providing vessels with real-time support from the company’s headquarters. This means, the head office of the company can monitor, coordinate and supervise each ship in real-time. Today, the communications at sea make the difference and are a mandatory requirement to have an efficient fleet. He says communications are not only important at the safety and security level or for marine operations, but critical to satisfy the needs of its passengers.

Caballero says there are number of benefits that can now be brought directly to passengers.

“A Wi-Fi service is a clear example, and you can use it, as well as communications, to better understand passenger needs. For example, if Points of Sale (POS) on board are connected in real-time to the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, they can identify if this passenger is a Loyalty Member and apply a 10 percent discount [to a purchase],” he says. “Also, for example, if a passenger is in a restaurant and the waiter can access to his information and identify that he/she has a specific allergy to a product, the waiter can make food recommendations. One of the key points talking about digital transformation and services on ships (ferries and cruises), is to provide a personalized experience to our passengers.”


Buonaiuto admits there are many areas of MSC Cruises’ business undergoing a “deep transformation program” on the digital side, including pre-cruise, cruise and post-cruise.

“The new apps will span from the ones dedicated to guests, as well as ones for crew to waiters and assistants. We will also be launching a new app for a personalized wellness experience powered by Technogym in April next year,” he says

The Stril Explorer Ship:Photo: Simon Møkster

Trasmediterranea also has an aggressive applications roadmap over the next year. For example, the company is looking at a new hotel management platform that can work in real time between ships and the head office, allowing it to improve the passenger experience. This will be integrated with its CRM, and will be able to manage its loyalty program, as well as support its crew to provide personalized care to passengers.

Caballero says one of the most innovative projects the company is working on is where Trasmediterranea is implementing an entertainment portal on board. The cruise line is using a wireless local network to distribute content like films, comedy programs, kids programs, newspapers, e-books, etc.

“These kinds of platforms are present on long-distance flights, but in ferries passengers don’t have an assigned seat. The concept is that every passenger can see the content on their own device. We have all this content on a local server and we are using ship’s communications to update them every day,” says Caballero.

Trasmediterranea has also set-up an Interactive Digital Signage (IDS) system in some of its ships. This system has a number of screens connected to a central server in the head office, so it can add or modify content in each screen of each ship from the office in real time. “For example, I can launch a special promotion for Wi-Fi in a specific screen on a specific ship from my desk in Madrid. In additions, these screens have cameras that provide statistics about passengers’ movements on the ship and some demographic information,” adds Caballero.

Gjerde says the company’s strategy is to run applications that it thinks it will need for the next three years. “The latest application we have put in is around Seagull certification. Seagull is an interactive training and certification program which allows a shipping company’s employees to gain an approved certificate for a variety of equipment onboard the vessel. We have put in some navigation software that can replicate updates. We are also updating our management systems; we have everything from machine information to docking information, and that replicates what goes on in the office. All ships have their own local servers (both hardware and virtual servers), databases and real time programs.”

Ericsson’s View of the Connected Ship

Last year, Ericsson, one of the world’s largest communications’ companies, teamed up with Inmarsat to forge new maritime ideas. Douglas Watson, director of Ericsson’s shipping/maritime business unit says the company’s experience with integrating complex networks will be key in maximizing the potential of a “connected” ship. “It can be a delicate balance, of course, because both new and legacy applications have to work seamlessly alongside each other and must be backed by global services teams. We look at these new applications as providing opportunities for maritime organizations to transform not only their technical infrastructure, but also their business operations,” says Watson. “For example, Digital Noon reports allow information to be sent to many different stakeholders and as the collection of data is automated the noon report could be used as a ‘continual’ reporting mechanism from the vessel.”

Watson points out that we are seeing “huge improvements” in data quality and variants of data sets. He cites recent launches of Earth Observation (EO) satellites and the increase in data processing capability, which he says clearly helps to optimize but it is when these new techniques are combined with other on-board sensors that the improvements can be more accurately developed.

“Data analytics plays a big role in this, as combining these data sets with on-board sensor information from engine or hull will bring about improvements in fuel efficiency. Ericsson already has the technology and products in place to solve a wide range of analytics challenges, combining the capabilities of our in house network, service and user analytics teams. We are evolving these capabilities continuously,” he adds.

Watson believes we are on the frontier of big advancements in areas such as M2M communications and analytics, which are delivering solutions to solve real business challenges, such as remote diagnostics and preventative maintenance on the vessel. He talks of the trend for more automation on-board with an increasing amount of data being sent to shore as a “key factor” in the demand for satellite capacity.

“With vessel owners demanding a highly flexible architecture for transferring voice, video, data and converged IP connectivity, bandwidth on demand is also an increasingly important factor as they are looking for scalable bandwidth solutions to ensure they don’t pay for more than they need. Connecting vessels provides shipping companies with more dynamic ways of conducting their business and managing their costs,” he says. VS