Tag Archives: Astrium Services


Crew retention is the tip of the digital iceberg

Almost 12 months ago an ambitious project began to take shape. Roger Adamson of Stark Moore Macmillan, Vizada (now Astrium Services) and two of the largest crewing agencies in the world, Philippine Transmarine Carriers and CF Sharp, joined forces to embark on the most comprehensive survey of crew and their attitudes towards and use of communications at sea ever undertaken.

The resulting report has generated considerable interest. But while Adamson says it is encouraging to see so many shipmanagers and operators recognising the operational benefits of improved communications from a crew retention perspective, in this guest blog, he lays out why he believes there is a wider opportunity which comparatively few in the industry are really grasping.

Considering the enduring importance of crew retention it may seem surprising that until last year no organisation had commissioned definitive independent research into the communications requirements and habits of seafarers.

However, when confronted with the logistics of reaching, collecting and analysing the written, paper responses of almost 1,000 officers and ratings, this lack of comprehensive research becomes rather more understandable.

Key to any research project is the quality of the data and the sample. Had we not been working with PTC and CF Sharp which between them send over 47,000 crew each year to over 1,000 vessels in the commercial cargo and passenger sectors, it is unlikely such a survey would have been possible.

It certainly wouldn’t have produced such high quality data and responses. With the total market for satellite based crew communications estimated at approximately 925,000 individuals, our sample represents in the region of 1% of the market – making the dataset both fascinating and statistically significant.

One of the headline results has been that 68% of seafarers now have access to communications whilst at sea either all or most of the time with only 2% reporting that they never have access to communications. However those headline figures mask a wide variance between different sectors. For instance the passengership sector, despite having the highest levels of communications equipment on board, provides the lowest levels of free crew communications of any sector.

In common with the passenger sector, offshore vessels have very high levels of equipment, but neither of these are principally driven by crew communications requirements. For the passenger sector, high-bandwidth communications systems are major revenue generators with the penetration of VSAT extremely high.

Similarly, the offshore sector is well penetrated with VSAT systems as charterer requirements dictate high-bandwidth be available, but in contrast to the passenger sector, offshore vessels offer far better access to free and paid-for communications, most likely a reflection of the scarcity of qualified offshore crew.

Across the sectors 46% of crew are not provided with any form of free communications at all. In the context of crew retention that figure should be raising eyebrows.

As a regular speaker at the Informa Manning & Training conference, where this year I’ve been asked to speak to delegates in Dubrovnik about crew communications, I consistently hear managers and operators wrestling with the issue of crew retention.

I’m repeatedly being told that the expense of training crew means that retaining them offers real dollar savings and competitive advantage. When one considers the noise VSAT has been making over the past several years it is curious that we are still in a situation where almost half of all seafarers have no access to free communications, when the ability to provide them with such would not only assist in their retention, but also offer broader opportunities to ship managers and operators.

I think this is where the real issues lie. Traditionally the expense of satellite communications together with the necessity for robust equipment and reliability in an environment where mission-critical literally equates to life and death, has always meant failure wasn’t an option and experimentation challenging.

As one of the most regulated industries in the world, shipping is about compliance and meeting minimum requirements. In many respects it is a unique industry, but it is not immune from the digital revolution which has swept up every other.

With the IMO advocating an over-arching e-navigation strategy combining ECDIS with new technologies converging across navigation, IT and communications, the landscape of maritime business is changing fast.

The opportunities for forward thinking ship managers and operators are highly significant, but unlocking maritime’s digital promise will require a major shift in thinking. IT, communications and digital technologies have the potential to drive cost savings, service improvements and the all-important crew retention.

In my experience shipmanagers and operators are hungry to understand how and where their businesses can implement and benefit from these changes, but as yet suppliers aren’t creating the cross-businesses value propositions to help them.

By commissioning the Crew Communications 2012 survey Astrium have signaled their intention to address this need. The wealth of information it has provided to shipmanagers and operators about the crew they depend upon is extremely valuable, but it’s only the beginning of what’s required.

Case studies have always been the primary tool in the maritime salesperson’s armoury, but what’s needed now are more independent, in-depth studies and analysis which can inform both suppliers, and ship managers and operators.

The advent of new High Throughput Satellite systems, from Intelsat EPIC to Inmarsat’s GlobalXpress, O3B to Iridium NEXT, means bandwidth and speeds will accelerate further. But without the context of operational implementation and potential cost efficiencies these systems are just adding a new level of complexity for ship managers and operators.

We are approaching an era of real technology convergence in maritime which has the potential to transform the industry for the better. Doing so will require technology suppliers to gain a far more holistic and in-depth understanding of the shipping business. And for ship managers and operators to help them.

A condensed version of the Stark Moore McMillan report, Crew Communications 2012 is available for download from here.

Epic stuff – James Collett on Intelsat, Inmarsat and what really matters in maritime

To leafy Chiswick in West London and the offices of Intelsat for a wide-ranging conversation with James Collett, late of Inmarsat and now Director of Mobility Services at Intelsat, charged with building its rival’s maritime business on promising foundations.

In a quiet period ahead of its planned IPO, we were obliged to steer clear of forward looking statements and much as in conversations with Inmarsat, there was no firm detail on costs of the system and its throughput. But that didn’t prevent us from discussing the merits of Global Xpress as well as EPICNG, Intelsat’s HTS programme that offers GX its most concerted competition.

It became clear as we talk that Intelsat’s ambitions are to move beyond the high end segments and attack the mainstream maritime market too. Also that Intelsat sees its DP and ISP relationships as key to success in the maritime market. Also clear was that Collett personally has little time for the back and forth that seems to obsess some satcom commentators.

Indeed, his understanding of Inmarsat’s business as well his plans for Intelsat speaks volumes for what will be an interesting couple of years for satellite operators with a strong, scalable offer and a firm grasp on the realities of the market.

Maritime Insight: Let’s talk about Intelsat and I guess Intelsat EpicNG is the thing that is of interest as an HTS solution. Do you see it as a competitor to Global Xpress?

James Collett “I think it’s fair to say that our customers will build solutions that are competitive to Global Xpress by leveraging Epic. However it’s not in itself a competitive response to Global Xpress – it’s an evolution of our technology, the embracing of High Throughput Satellite by Intelsat, and is really a route for us to grow with our customers in the regions we serve today. We worked closely with our customers to develop this platform.

“There are obviously a lot of similarities because we are in the same sectors as Inmarsat. We see the same drivers, we see the same opportunities, we have access to the same space technology as they do, and we are also continually in an investment phase in terms of replenishing our fleet.”

You are certainly both on the same trend in terms of putting up High Throughput Satellite (HTS) services?

“Yes, HTS is what everyone is talking about but we’ve come at it in very different ways. In L-band, and typically for Inmarsat, it’s been about looking into the future, and creating an offering that you think is going to have wide appeal. The FSS operator’s approach is more around what demand do I see from my customers today, where are my customers heading, and how can I continue to grow with them?

“The deals that we’ve announced on EPIC – MTN for cruise and Harris CapRock for oil and gas – are both based on meeting the customer’s growing future requirements with the Epic network. Outside of maritime and offshore, we have announced Panasonic Avionics as a leading aviation service provider for whom Epic technology will allow them to reach the next level with their customers.

“Having those customers leading from the front really solidified our case for going ahead with this technology.  Subsequently it’s become a question of how do we make the capability enabled by Epic more accessible in the marketplace, and how do we drive that capability to the maritime users who we think will benefit most from those new services.”

So you’re in a similar position to the old Inmarsat model if I can call it that, in that your partners act as DPs or ISPs, adding value to your signal?

“We feel we have always benefited from the richness and the diversity that the distributors of the Intelsat service provide to maritime users. Intelsat has traditionally been seen as a fixed satellite services operator where the value-add has been around teleports and our IntelsatOne terrestrial network and the value-added services that those distributors offer. Our model for Epic allows those integrators and distributors to carry on in that mode of working.

“We feel that it’s not our skill and our competence to define the specific services that a maritime end user should be buying. Similarly we won’t define the price points at which they should be sold. We’ve clearly got distributors that are far more expert in that, whether it’s Astrium Services, MTN, Harris CapRock, Globe Wireless or KVH, who are all experts in that domain, and whose business is absolutely built on differentiation.

“That’s the interesting bit for me and where the Inmarsat and the Intelsat paths are very divergent. There have been observations that with Global Xpress, the latitude and opportunity for a distributor is being squeezed since you’ve got retail prices being set by the wholesaler. You’ve also got a flattening of the distribution channel in that players who previously were second tier are now effectively direct to Inmarsat.

“On top of all that you’ve now got value-added solutions being provided by the satellite operator, so I think some people in the value chain will be asking ‘what’s left for me?’ If a distributor has a choice between selling one service which makes them a fixed margin, with another that gives them more flexibility over the contribution it makes, then there’s no surprise which one they will push.”

Intelsat has agreements in the very high end segments where there is big demand from energy and offshore cruiseships – but can you scale it down in effect, for mainstream merchant shipping?

“Those are customers and segments that we are very strong in today, and ones in which we see further growth. At the same time we’re not ignoring the market opportunity that exists in commercial shipping, because that is largely a new market for Ku-band VSAT. There’s obviously been some well publicised incursions into that, such as the Maersk, Ericsson/Globecomm deal.

“We do see more opportunity coming in that area. So I don’t think there is this natural segmentation in the market which will keep us apart, I think just as Inmarsat is keen to make it clear that they’re coming after the VSAT market, then Ku-band VSAT has been after the Inmarsat market for a long time.”