Tag Archives: HTS

Maritime satellite gets with the programme

Maritime communications spent a long time being of little interest to most people. Beyond safety requirements, it took the dotcom boom to generate a significant uptick in activity, as software entrepreneurs discovered this ‘untapped’ market.

That ended with the dotcoms going belly up, but the Rubicon had been crossed. There was now a clear realisation that connectivity held the key to better productivity and perhaps even a more efficient supply chain.

Once again, the market was overtaken by events – namely the best earnings many had ever seen – and suddenly no-one cared about saving fuel or improving efficiency, because rates were through the roof.

Another crash followed and suddenly we are back to the future. This time, the recession looks longer, deeper and likely to claim more scalps. The answer? Better connectivity for increased efficiency and improved crew retention.

It’s a change that has not gone un-noticed by the analysts at NSR, whose Brad Grady hosted the big data panel session at the recent DigitalShip CIO Forum in Oslo.

“There is a definite increase in activity and the adoption criteria are expanding. Prices are cheaper, applications are becoming more sophisticated and the number of vessels as good candidates is increasing,” he says. With increased demolition of older ships the newer, better-wired ones are looking for efficiencies.

NSR updated its maritime sector report in May and he says the big change from last year to this is the uptick in merchant fleet activity in terms of new installs, retrofits and upgrades.

“There’s not necessarily an improvement in the economics [of shipping] but its finally coming to an understanding that this is the reality we are living in. Like all processes, it’s about putting something in place that will bear fruit,” he says.

On a longer time horizon he sees interest in the opportunities delivered by HTS and an expected increase in bandwidth uptake. Even with a cheaper fuel environment, owners are still feeling pressure to invest in optimisation and potential efficiencies.

In part the pressure is from the providers who have already delivered a huge amount of bandwidth to the cruise sector and are targeting maritime over offshore, which is also struggling to make money.

“We’re not expecting a tremendous amount of growth in the offshore sector over the next couple of years; growing demand there will be a challenge. Once oil stabilises we might see a return to resources with higher extraction costs and a similar investment in new technologies,” he suggests.

The emerging story in energy is non-geostationary HTS capacity; lower orbiting high capacity services which have much lower latency and therefore an opportunity to support emerging concepts like increased automation with reduced manning. Grady says these could support attempts by oil companies to reduce costs by cutting personnel in favour of high interval reporting.

“The question we don’t have an answer for yet is how many Non-GEO HTS megabits per second will you have to buy from these providers? If you can buy in nominal amounts at low prices then Non-GEO HTS Capacity could be a real game changer. It could have a tremendous impact on the way the market works.”

He thinks the alternative scenario for Non-GEO HTS capacity, which operators would probably prefer, whereby they sell dedicated beam capacity would “price Non GEO-HTS out of most markets, it won’t expand the addressable market size”.

For HTS capacity in geostationary orbit from the likes of Intelsat, SES, Inmarsat, and others, a similar story holds true, will end-users pay a little more and get a whole lot more Mbps, or can they pay less and get the same (or a few more) Mbps?

The bigger challenge is persuading shipowners that greater bandwidth, especially HTS capacity, is going to make enough difference to be worth the investment. Grady agrees this is perfect time for suppliers to get in front of owners but they will have to come with new and increasingly competitive pricing models.

Either way, he thinks HTS will be a higher end market play, but it doesn’t stop him being enthusiastic about its potential. “I don’t think there are technical barriers, it’s more about end-user education. Five years down road, when all the variables are known about HTS , it will be ‘why did we doubt how awesome it was going to be?’”

That doesn’t stop NSR seeing plenty of life in L-Band MSS though. He notes that if Iridium succeeds in getting IMO approval to provide GMDSS then together with its NEXT broadband platform, it will have a package that will be very commercially appealing. “MSS has been a doom and gloom story for a couple of years now, but there’s plenty of life left in it.”

Despite the industry being widely split on whether more consolidation is likely or even desirable in satellite, NSR sees the potential for this as well as greater price competition. Panasonic’s acquisition of ITC is a good example of the former, where a provider with growing aeronautical business who looked at maritime and saw an opportunity, he says.

As Intelsat, SES, KVH and others up their game, to some extent the pressure will be on Inmarsat as the maritime incumbent, to deliver its GX service with the same success it has sold L-Band services.

Part of that success will depend to what extent it opens up GX and allows SPs to act as Virtual Network Operators – enabling them to add their own applications and value and sell to whomever they like – and how much it tries to lock the service down.

“Inmarsat has always been simple from the SP standpoint and there’s a lot to be said for terminal ubiquity, with integrated L-Band for back-up. For some segments we’re pretty bullish on Ka-Band in merchant shipping.”

Inmarsat and KVH have been playing catch up with each other on adding value to their services, with entertainment and learning content available over both, in addition to more typical business applications. As if to underscore their symbiosis, the two announced a cross-selling deal instead of a rumoured merger.

Even though he sees greater levels of activity, Grady is less sure that the addressable market is changing as much and as fast as some claim. “How do you define the size and scale of that is really the question. For example, there are a lot of fishing vessels but their requirements are small narrowband solutions. Can you really convince these users to switch over to higher throughput?”

Operators are keen to talk up the potential, but Grady thinks for SPs it’s still a difficult conversation. Even industrial fishermen run a tight ship and don’t have much time to watch television. The evolution path is reminiscent of merchant maritime.

“The trick for SPs is finding right mix and that might not be streaming video. It could be more like upgrading equipment so they can do email and integrate personal devices. In Africa telecoms skipped wires and went straight to wireless. In fishing, you have to go right to value-add and work backwards from there.”

Safety divided by competition won’t go

There have been some puzzling headlines in the past week or so following the decision by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to give recognition to the bid by satellite services provider Iridium to run the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.

The IMO sub-committee on Navigation, Communications, Search and Rescue (NSCR) gave the nod to Iridium’s pitch, which will be subject to approval by the Maritime Safety Committee, though probably not before 2016.

It’s true to say that the surprise has been pretty evenly-distributed around the industry. Certainly, there will have been something close to bewilderment at the headquarters of INMARSAT, which runs GMDSS under mandate from the IMO and which will have been lobbying hard to get the proposal squashed.

The surprise in communications circles is largely due to the apparent mis-match between the requirement the IMO places on INMARSAT for GMDSS uptime of 99.99% and the performance of the existing Iridium network.

Despite its somewhat chequered history: a big launch, a spell in Chapter 11, rescue by the US Department of Defence, and resurgence as the appetite for low cost communications broke over shipping – ship owners like Iridium. The products themselves are cheap and cheerful; Iridium was among the first to identify the potential for what was then called “commodity voice communications” – selling handsets and airtime that could keep seafarers in touch at very low per minute rates.

This was because Iridium needed something to do with its global network of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites in addition to the capacity that the US military was using. In time, data products followed and the same principle applied – they were cheap, easy to use and easy to fix when broken.

This was good for owners who didn’t want to spend a lot on their communications but just needed something on board. The data transfer rates weren’t high either but the owners weren’t necessarily worried.

Slightly more problematic was that its network of LEO satellites – rather more complex than a handset – had an equally creaky reputation in practice. Iridium’s engineers have done admirable work prolonging the working life of its constellation but even with the use of spares, outages are a regular occurrence. Since 2001, iridium has lost 10 satellites from its 66 strong constellation, nine from technical failures, one a collision.

Its fiercest critics say that in areas of greatest ship congestion, heavy demand results in the network being unable to cope and like a weak Wi-Fi signal in a conference room, the contention is such that no-one gets any service.

This must be subject to some question, since Iridium services still sell well, but no hardware manufacturer or service provider is likely to admit that any delicate shipboard technology, whether comms or navigation, is subject to operational failure. You have to talk to seafarers to get to hear that and normally they make you buy them lots of beer first.

But it is important in the light of the sub-committee’s decision because GMDSS is not a commercial service but rather a safety one, mandated by the IMO and one that all SOLAS ships are required to fit and maintain. For that to happen, the IMO demands a level of uptime that the current Iridium constellation appears unable to achieve.

No doubt Iridium is able to produce statistics that confirm it hits 99.99% availability, just as its rivals can produce data saying the opposite, but it is the spread between what its commercial service can manage and the IMO-mandated requirement that raises eyebrows.

Incumbent GMDSS operator INMARSAT has been left spluttering by the decision, which it presumably believes rather undermines the goals it has been set in providing GMDSS since 1979. INMARSAT has also formally unveiled its own evolution of GMDSS, called the Maritime Data Safety Service (MSDS) which will “upgrade” the service onto more its modern I-4 satellites.

Iridium plans a similar development and wants to launch an entirely new network, NEXT comprising 72 satellites from 2015 onwards, with service availability from 2017 onwards. Its key differentiator here is the polar coverage its current and future networks can provide and Inmarsat’s cannot. Iridium will need to get capacity utilisation on this new network too – it plans aeronautical in addition to maritime and land services for NEXT and will need to keep pace with the next generation VSAT and HTS services that will be in place by then.

It appears that the potential for ship traffic in the Polar Regions was among the swaying evidence considered at the IMO. Whether or not the growth potential of the Northern Sea Route is really enough to convince the MSC that this makes enough of a difference is questionable enough in itself. A recent survey by consultants PWC of German ship owners found that 60% saw no fresh opportunities from the NSR’s opening up.

What is far more dangerous surely is for any would-be operator to view GMDSS as a prize, an opportunity that has for too long been under the control of one of its rivals. Some of the coverage of the IMO decision (to say nothing of the comments on social media sites that specialise in pushing commercial interests over public ones) suggest just that.

No-one can credibly assert that Inmarsat has “control” of a service that it was created to deliver under the mandate of the IMO. GMDSS has nothing to do with commercial maritime services like broadband, VSAT or HTS. It is a public service dedicated to the safety of the world’s 1.5m seafarers.

Should the provision of such a service be subject to competition and to the vagaries of national interests? Or should any future decision instead be based on the facts and made in the light of day. Assuming that the IMO has not changed its baseline of 99.99% network uptime, does the proposed service meet the requirement or not?

My editor at BIMCO kindly added the following clarification to the article as published on its website.

Editor’s Note: The NCSR Sub-Committee agreed to invite the MSC to consider and decide on which independent body should produce a technical and operational assessment of the information and provide a report to the sub-committee for evaluation. Following receipt and evaluation of the assessment, the sub-committee would then make a recommendation to the MSC as to the adoption of an MSC resolution recognising the new maritime mobile satellite services provider.

It’s going to be about the data – but whose?

The future of shipping will in part, be about data. Big data. We know this because there are a lot of people telling us so. And some of them are in a position to influence outcomes. When the IMO secretary-general held a Symposium on Ship Safety ahead of the most recent Maritime Safety Committee, the role of the human factor, development of new technology and the importance of data were the big takeaways.

In order to update the SOLAS Convention, the industry is going to have to take advantage of the computing power that was not available in 1974 to design a set of rules that are fit for the 21st century.

The data requirement will be huge and that’s to say nothing of the data already being collected and crunched in the cause of operational efficiency for existing ships.

It’s an accepted part of the HTS story that more and faster bandwidth will finally unlock the potential for data gathering from across the ship. As Roger Adamson noted in his recent post here, the vessel of the future could be sentient; self-correcting and diagnostic. Many believe that it could be semi-autonomous too, if not completely remote-controlled with streams of data flowing back and forth.

For some owners that will probably be the case – the industry tends to lead the regulators of course – but the regulators are probably the ones with greater long term influence.

But what happens when, for example, the IMO, class societies and their consultants come calling for shipping’s big data in the cause of shared safety aims? Surely it can’t have escaped the notice of canny owners that the data that their ships produce is going to go up in value as more and more people seek to analyse and interpret it.

Owners might already have a clear understanding of the need to secure and licence that data if want to gain the maximum value from it themselves. The premium being paid for Ecoship design newbuildings and the Rosetta Stone of performance improvement from energy saving devices both suggest that this data, applied correctly, could make a competitive difference to a shipowner in good times or bad.

And there is a clear precedent here from consumer markets, where we are only just beginning to understand the value of our data, both that which we have already given away and that which internet companies yet want us to provide.

It’s a topic discussed in an interview with technology analyst Horace Dediu who makes the point that internet businesses, which are mostly about data, have two models, “one where everybody consumes but pays in metadata and another where everybody consumes aggregated analytics but pays in cash”.

The arbitrage that takes place as the internet business exploits that inefficiency tends not to be very sustainable as information leaks across markets.

Dediu adds that “what would blow the internet up is if consumers could become wiser about what they are giving up and advertisers would become wiser about aggregating consumer data.”

Transpose that to shipowner and IT consultant and the same applies: the former might start off giving up data because they are unaware of its value but as it starts to become apparent what innovations and opportunities flow from design and operational data, then the price to the ‘buyer’ will rise – fall and rise again. Shipping is cyclical after all.

Dediu imagines a system where individual consumers would allow bids on their consumption with bidders ‘competing for data’.

The issue for shipping is that this data has not been priced yet so arbitrage opportunities exist. The data originators might see that as their opportunity not only to make some money but to monetise the data for themselves. If the pendulum swung too far the other way and owners and yards decided that what they have is too valuable to share, Mr Sekimizu’s plans for a new data-driven Solas Convention might be impacted.

“This of course depends on users taking control and ownership of their own data,” Dediu adds. “What might help is the realisation of what mass state surveillance can do and the realisation that internet giants have more information about us than the government could ever hope to possess.”

Shipping technology providers are no Google, no Facebook or Microsoft, but those that want to trade the emerging market for shipping data will no doubt be drawing up their strategies.

Adapt or die? Four key technology trends for a sustainable shipping industry

Roger Adamson, ceo of Stark Moore McMillan continues his series on the technology threats and opportunities facing shipping, focusing on four emerging issues: the sentient ship, the cyborg crew, shipistics and business e-volution

Historically conservative and insular, like many industries before it shipping is facing a watershed period. Currently languishing in the worst downturn many can remember, regulatory compliance and survival in many sectors is the prime focus. But some are already acknowledging that a longer-term view is necessary. In order to secure its future shipping must be focussing on efficiency, competitive advantage and the type of technological innovation other industries are already preparing for and implementing.

I’ve previously outlined what we call the ‘e-nautics’ agenda; the transition to new, digital and technological-based standards of operation and monitoring within the maritime space being driven by regulation, commercial necessity and global change. The study and exploration of this technology-enabled maritime future, Futurenautics is grouped around four key trends, the sentient ship, the cyborg crew, shipistics [a point deducted here for debasement of English – Ed] and business e-volution.

These subject areas include IT-enabled trends and converging technologies both inside and outside shipping: nanotechnology, sensors and actuators, smart materials, connected communications, M2M, the Cloud, big data and the automation of knowledge work.

From nano-tech coatings for waterproofing and anti-fouling to fuel and oil additives, the sentient ship covers the impact of new technologies on the design, construction, materials and operation of commercial vessels. The potential of High Throughput Satellite (HTS) data links, innovative bridge and hull design and algorithms which allow ships to learn and sail themselves are all mirrored in R&D in other industries.

But the potential of smart ships to revolutionise the industry is only being glimpsed. The unpromisingly-named Buckypaper for example, is one tenth the weight yet potentially 500 times stronger than steel. Its lightness means a vehicle built from it needs less fuel, improving energy efficiency. It also offers improved structural integrity and allows wireless data transfer through the composite material. It is already being investigated to build the aeroplanes of the future, but what about for the ships of the future?

And what of the crew on these new smart ships? Wearable tech which transmits a seafarer’s whereabouts to the ship could transform the safety landscape, but the potential for integrating crew and vessel is far greater. From implanted chips facilitating wireless money transfer and payments, confirming identity and enhancing security to the ‘quantified self’ – ingestible sensors monitoring crew health, rest hours/sleep and delivering medication, the management and deployment of technology is poised to deliver sci-fi possibilities.

As HTS facilitates data ‘heavy-lifting’ the potential of big data to shipping will begin to be realised. As companies utilise the cloud to allow business applications to be accessed both onboard and ashore terabytes of data will be streamed to shore and collected by company-wide operations – and shipistics will emerge.

Essential to this will be analysts with the skill-sets to mine and analyse this data, plus new business processes to enable real-time monitoring and transparency and the experimentation that can inform business decisions and drive product and service innovation. Already experts are warning of a worldwide shortage of people qualified to undertake this kind of role, but very few in shipping are even alert to the technology, people, skills and mindsets needed within maritime organisations to capitalise and defend against this trend.

But the lack of preparedness goes wider and deeper than that. The maritime industry has already been described as existing, if not in the stone age, then certainly in the middle of last century by analysts, and remaining competitive in a future of business e-volution will require a wholesale reappraisal of business models and operations.

The potential of machine to machine communications and the internet of things, cloud computing, big data, knowledge automation and customer and consumer expectations will change business profoundly. Maritime leaders must be prepared to consider how the cloud offers them new, creative ways to monetise physical assets as a service, how transparency and data availability erodes established market norms and threatens disintermediation as businesses seek closer integration with their customers.

They should also be prepared to consider new multi-dimensional business models as old sources of competitive advantage give way to new ones. Crucially they must also understand the potential consequences of a failure to innovate in laying the way open to aggressive new cross-industry competitors.

LR’s Global Marine Trends 2030 report – one of the original drivers to the Futurenautics project – paints a picture of a maritime industry as a passive reactor to global drivers and circumstances. Shipping and maritime will change, from ship design, materials and operations to the organisational and commercial structure of shipping and maritime businesses and the jobs and skill-sets of their people both at sea and ashore.

The extent to which it is the master of its own destiny depends upon senior shipping and maritime leaders being equipped with information and contextual analysis of these trends and the opportunities and threats they hold.

Futurenautics aims to demonstrate the importance of transitioning IT/technology from a cost-centre to an enabler of business intelligence and innovation at the heart of the business. It will help shipping and maritime leaders to understand the new skill-sets they, their employees and stakeholders will require to remain competitive and how new consumer and customer expectations will threaten established industry structures, and the importance of innovation in the face of new cross-industry competitors.

And above all Futurenautics aims to inform, educate, engage and entertain and perhaps inspire the next  generation to help shipping shed its image of a passive reactor and become and engaged leader in application of technology.

To register for your free digital launch copy of the quarterly Futurenautics journal, please visit www.futurenautics.com.

Maritime HTS: revolution or business as usual?

To mark the publication of its most recent maritime analysis, Maritime Satellite Markets on Cusp of Bandwidth Revolution, I asked Senior NSR Analyst Brad Grady to give MaritimeInsight readers an introduction to the report. With the level of background noise down a little this year – how should owners prepare for the introduction of High Throughput Satellite services?

Recent news reports – since vehemently denied by Inmarsat – suggesting the start of its Global Xpress service has been delayed, do not change the fact that the maritime markets are poised for a bandwidth revolution.

Nearly all segments of the maritime market feel the need for greater throughput to enable critical business and crew communications, despite – or perhaps because of – facing continuing pressures to cut costs and increase productivity.

With the on-coming wave of new High Throughput Satellites (HTS) entering the market, what changes should end-users expect?  Is this new capacity business as usual, or should maritime customers really expect a revolution?

As the NSR report makes clear, between now and 2022, narrowband MSS will account for a majority of maritime satellite terminals, enabling everything from engine monitoring, to safety and distress. However, broadband continues to be a major driver of revenues and in-service units across all maritime market sectors. FSS C-band continues to grow but is vastly outpaced by FSS Ku-band and HTS solutions. Between 2012 and 2022, GEO HTS will add almost as many in-service units as FSS Ku-band.

HTS, a term coined by NSR, is any satellite or satellite payload that has at least twice the throughput of a traditional FSS satellite for the same amount of allocated frequency on orbit, can use any frequency and almost exclusively makes use of frequency reuse and multiple spot beams to increase throughput and reduce the price per bit delivered.

Upcoming satellite services such as Intelsat’s EpicNG, Telenor’s Thor-7, Inmarsat’s Global Xpress, and O3b’s constellation (amongst others) fall into this group.  Combined, they will have capacity available to maritime customers across C/Ku/Ka-bands, and will have a significant impact on maritime customers over the next 10 years.

Globally, HTS will supply upwards of 2.3 terrabits per second (tbps) by 2022; a significant increase over current satellite throughput.  For the maritime market that means greater access to applications such as video conferencing from remote vessels to shore-based centers, faster database replication between the onboard server and onshore datacenter and more bandwidth for social media to communicate with family onshore.

While all of these applications can be found now in the maritime market, HTS launches aim to enable these bandwidth-hungry services more cost-effectively than current [mostly L-band] satellite services.

But what should end-users look out for when considering these HTS-enabled services?

‘More bits for the same bucks’ is – the in simplest terms – the key take-away from industry-laden conversations typical of any reference to HTS.  While the satellite industry continues to discuss Ka-band versus Ku-band, wide versus small spot-beams and open architecture versus closed platforms, end-users are left wondering – how much of this revolution should I worry about, and should I join this HTS revolution?

Scientific evidence supports the argument that Ka-band suffers from ‘rain-fade’ more than other frequencies, but new modulation techniques and hybrid network designs help mitigate those impacts.  Spot-beam size and overall network throughputs are debates best left in the hands of service providers and satellite operators. End-users instead should focus on Service Level Agreements and Quality of Service requirements.  Perhaps the biggest issue end-users should focus on, is that of open versus closed architecture networks.

Open architecture networks, such as Intelsat’s EpicNG, allow greater compatibility with existing remote terminals and equipment.  Closed architecture networks, such as Inmarsat’s Global Xpress have a narrower set of terminal compatibility – usually requiring an upgrade at the vessel to enable the HTS service.

While one might equate the term open with better, in fact, the conversation is much more nuanced.

More so than traditional FSS networks, deployments of HTS-enabled services need to take a holistic approach – from vessel movements, and application criticality, to deck space, current VSAT equipment, and overall bandwidth needs.

Globally-trading vessels will likely favor an Inmarsat-based HTS solution whose coverage mirrors the existing Inmarsat L-band network.  Vessel owners with significant investment into current equipment might lean towards an Intelsat-based solution due to the open-network design of EpicNG. Those with extremely high bandwidth or low latency needs such as cruise ships, offshore or government vessels might further lean towards an O3b-based solution.

In short, the conversation starts with the vessel’s current or prospective maritime service provider.

The bottom line is this. HTS promises a revolution both in throughput and total cost of ownership.  Paired with a strong SLA and a close relationship with the service provider, end-users should have no trouble adopting HTS-based solutions.

However, end-users and service providers alike need to continue to match the best service for the given application – this might sometimes be HTS, sometimes FSS, sometimes MSS – and sometimes it might be all of the above.

Brad Grady is a Senior Analyst at Northern Sky Research, a leading international market research and consulting firm with a core focus on the satellite sector and related industries.  He is the author of NSR’s latest report – Maritime Markets via Satellite, 1st Edition. Further information about NSR and Maritime Markets via Satellite can be found at www.nsr.com

Futurenautics, e-nautics and the shape of maritime technology to come…

Research considering the future of shipping is flavour of the moment, but argues guest columnist Roger Adamson of Stark Moore McMillan, it fails to get to grips with technology. Luckily there’s an App for that…

Earlier this year, Lloyd’s Register together with Qinetiq and the University of Strathclyde published the Global Marine Trends 2030 report. Ambitious and fascinating, the report took two years of research to produce and maps out a variety of potential global future scenarios in trade, politics and social development. Assessing their respective impacts upon the commercial maritime industry, it goes on to provide some insights into what shipping might look like in 2030.

It’s an interesting read, but flawed in a couple of really fundamental respects. Firstly, the report simply reinforces the idea that shipping’s cyclical bi-polar economic rollercoaster is beyond its control. Published at a time when shipping is experiencing the worst downturn in memory, no doubt this is a comforting message for many.

However, this downturn has done more to expose the often antiquated business processes and practices of shipping which are increasingly recognised as bearing significant responsibility for the industry’s woes. There are vast opportunities to improve strategy, margin and operational efficiency, and almost all of them are related to technology. Which is where the GMT2030 report really falls down.

Focussing exclusively on the global drivers external to maritime – geopolitical, economic, environmental and demographic – the report recognises technology only as a constituent part of national economics. Describing technology as ‘an enabler not a driver’ for commercial maritime, the report concludes that technological innovation such as actuators and sensors, robotics, behavioural algorithms and 3-D printing are so unforeseeable, and have such massive consequences that they rank alongside global economic collapse.

GMT2030 paints a future picture of a shipping and maritime industry as passive reactor to global drivers and circumstances, demonstrating no significant change or innovation. It sets aside the impact of new technology as disruptive but unknown, its potential implications so profound that they are incapable of being modelled. This maritime future is a depressing one. Whilst the world changes around it, shipping remains, essentially, the same.

But the reality is likely to be profoundly different. Far from being unforeseeable technology trends are already changing the complexion of shipping and business with the pace of change accelerating. From new HTS satellites to M2M or ‘The Internet of All Things’, cloud computing, nanotechnology, smart materials and the e-volution of business it is already possible to spot the maritime future on the horizon.

The transition to new, digital and technological-based standards of operation and monitoring within the maritime space being driven by regulation, commercial necessity and global change can be term ‘e-nautics’. The ‘e-nautic’ agenda comprises IMO’s move towards e-navigation and ECDIS mandation, increased use of voyage optimisation and routing software to reduce fuel costs, and the rising implementation of applications designed to streamline operations and integrate better with customer requirements and systems.

To date regulation has been the prime driver of innovation within maritime and specifically in complying with Marpol, Solas, STCW and the MLC but future mandates are challenges which can increasingly only be met by the intelligent deployment of technology solutions. (Indeed, the failure of regulations like the Ballast Water Management Convention to work as expected can be directly traced to getting the technology/problem cart/horse in the wrong order. Seemp, asset optimisation and the promised re-write of Solas have a direct technology link – but both are another story – Ed).

But for an industry considered to be operating ‘in the stone age’ by business analysts, the real opportunities, and threats, of the accelerating pace of global technological change to shipping and maritime companies have yet to be properly identified and addressed.

Far from being a sci-fi scenario, Manufacturing 3.0 is already here. 3-D printing technology – which has the potential to decimate the container shipping business model – is already being deployed by motor manufacturers and giants like GE for aero engine manufacture. (See in particular the most recent Economist Technology Quarterly – http://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2013-09-07 for evidence of that – Ed)

Stark Moore McMillan calls this technology-enabled maritime future Futurenautics. Grouped around four key trends, The Sentient Ship, The Cyborg Crew, Shipistics and Business e-volution, Futurenautics includes IT-enabled trends and converging technologies both inside and outside shipping.

In order to equip senior shipping and maritime leaders and stakeholders with information and contextual analysis of these trends and the threats and opportunities they hold, a new resource by the same name is launching this autumn.

The shipping industry will change, but the extent to which it is the master of its own destiny lies in the hands of this and the coming generation of shipping and maritime leaders. In order to be successful those at the helm of maritime businesses need to be looking across their organisations at the impacts, threats and opportunities from a technology paradigm. It is crucial that they are encouraged and helped to understand how this should shape their future strategies.

I’ll take a deeper dive into the four key trends, the underlying technologies, impacts and threats in a future guest article.

To register for your free digital launch copy of the quarterly Futurenautics journal, please visit www.futurenautics.com.

Owners speak – and you might not like everything they have to say

I was commissioned out of the blue earlier this year to write an article for Via Satellite magazine. I was flattered to be asked frankly – time for writing is a rare luxury these days – hence the lack of updates here recently.

The one thing the editor was clear on was that I couldn’t speak to any airtime providers – or at least couldn’t include any of their comments in the article. The piece had to be purely on the developments in the market and how owners and managers were responding.

What I found was largely what I expected – a movement towards Ku-band VSAT among the higher end owners and a period of adjustment elsewhere as buyers transition off older and increasingly expensive L-band systems and onto lower per MB packages as a positional move ahead of HTS systems becoming available within the next few years.

There is some mixing and matching of systems going on, based on areas of operation and there is the usual trade-off between the coverage and higher bandwidth models. The more specialist the operator of course, the more focussed the usage, with ferry operator Stena Rederi using hybrid services to cover crew, passenger and business use. It also has a service agreement that effectively transfers a lot of the performance risk onto its provider, but Stena says the relationship has prospered as a result.

For the tanker owners such as Laurin Maritime, crew usage is unsurprisingly cited as the primary driver for VSAT contracts and business use remains a secondary consideration for the most part.

What they mostly think is that satcoms are still too expensive – or at least that they expect the landside model to prevail – guaranteed performance up to a point, faster services and lower prices resulting from stronger competition.

In the process of upgrading its fleet, Intership Navigation of Cyprus also sought even more flexibility, the ability to conclude short term rental agreements rather than make purchases or conclude long term leases.

That seems surprising when airtime suppliers are pricing so aggressively to win business from each other, but it might make sense if suppliers could provide a service that gives the owner a completely new level of flexibility.

There is also a sense that buyers are risk averse, sensing that the shift from L-Band to VSAT and on to HTS carries the risk of the unknown that in the current climate could be a risk too far. This might be conservatism and it might be experience.

One owner reminded me of the Connexion by Boeing debacle, when the mainstream satellite market once again eyed maritime as some kind of untapped opportunity. Its complete failure made for great copy at the time but a salutory warning.

Shipowners have long memories as well as big problems and shallow pockets. Selling to this market will take a golden touch. The idea of being first to market is less appealing than in the heady days pre-2008. Expensive mistakes are not an option.

Oh and by the way in case you are wondering, I didnt choose the headline – my suggestion was a lot more sanguine – but I hope you enjoy the article.

CrewComms_infographic

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.

A year has gone by…

…since I started MaritimeInsight and March again finds me in Stamford once again, where the Connecticut Maritime Association moves and shakes for the next three days.

Over the last year I’ve tried to unpick the main issues impacting communications and technology. I probably haven’t always got it right but my guiding principle was to provide a forum for neutral debate on where the sector is going and how that fits with the wider industry.

That commitment remains because the 12 months have shown that left to the marketing men, there is as much spin and smoke around as there is clear guiding information. And because the next couple of years will likely define who survives and who falls by the wayside.

As I have noted it in recent posts, communications is a market in the midst of an upheaval and one for which the future will look somewhat like the past but there will be fundamental changes too. The next challenge is probably less about selecting systems and more about empowering and enabling crew to ensure that the users can extract real value from them.

One need only look at the latest DigitalShip to see that VSAT has gone from a nice to have to a must-have for owners of high quality tonnage. The emergence of the HTS era will see that trend strengthen but there are big questions to be asked and answered.

Will Inmarsat continue to gain enough traction on XpressLink to cement the take up of GlobalXpress? Will Intelsat get its IPO away and EPIC in service? and will Iridium NEXT get off the ground? Will Globalstar’s second-generation play come good? I recently authored an article for Via Satellite on the step change in satellite comms and I couldn’t get O3B to tell me anything so I guess they are busy.

How far will Ku-band VSAT be able to keep up the pressure on all these? And what happens to L-band spectrum as owners begin to move away from their comfort zone?

As Maersk Maritime Technology’s Bo Cerup Simonsen put it at last week’s GreenShip Technology conference, the biggest challenge is not technology, or financing or sustainability, it is ‘survivability’ and whether shipping companies and their suppliers have the financial stability to last the course.

Maersk of course is the industry’s bellwether, a company which defines engagement with the core shipping issues, principally the need to get a handle on big data and in the process improve operational efficiency.

The Maersk fleet of 870 large containerships ships is already reporting into a single database, with data flowing almost continuously on an automated basis, helping the company develop performance benchmarks on people and ships alike.

That means that big blue can sharpen its competitive edge, assessing the impact of fuel saving technologies and comparing vessel performance, dropping poorly performing chartered tonnage and bringing in younger ships as necessary. Crew are incentivised to improve performance within safe working limits.

“It’s a case of deciding if you are going to do the minimum or the best, to work beyond what is regulated and maintain your vision,” Simonsen said. “The key aspect for us is to make sure that the data and software burden are not placed on the crew. We monitor and measure then discuss with the crew what the implications are.”

Properly resourcing crew training was fundamental to this – there was no point in investing in technology without helping crew get the most out of it. So once again we are back to the humanware. Software, technology, systems, these are just means to an end. The real challenge is to educate and change mindsets.

Satcoms buyer – heal thyself

Kevin Tester of MITE was right to warn last week that buyers tread a minefield in specifying maritime satellite communications systems. There has never been greater choice in terms of airtime, band and bandwidth, hardware and value-add solutions and never more clamouring voices trying to flog you unlimited this and unrestricted that.

I’d like to put a parallel point of view, not because I disagree with him, but because it’s one that bears repeating. Put simply, owners and managers have to do more than shop comparatively and in doing so drive down price to the lowest possible level.

At the heart of the problem lies a chronic but typically shipping industry mismatch. Owners want the moon on a stick (OK well, fuel savings) but insist on holding down the comms budget and making it hard for the entrepreneurs Kevin talks about to provide the value adds that might actually save them money.

Who is stopping that engine condition monitoring data getting ashore? Yes it’s the owner. Who is wasting money (as Giampiero Soncini regularly contends) on inventory because they cannot replicate databases or make RFQs from the ship. Right again. The list goes on and on.

Some owners go the other way. Dualog told last year’s DS Athens of the Norwegian anchor handling workboat which burned through 40-60GB a month but had no IT policy in place, resulting in congestion so bad that the bridge team couldn’t communicate when they needed to, risking put the ship off-hire.

For the most part, though it’s famine not feast that is the problem. Service providers can talk all they like about the potential of higher bandwidth, faster speeds and HTS services – owners still see cost not value. As a result, the majority of the SOLAS fleet is living in a world closer to 256kb or even lower than to megabits per second. Some send a few hundred megabits of data per month and are happy with that.

This by the way, rather undermines the argument that owners are simultaneously being starved of small volume options while at the same time demanding boundless volume at ever faster speeds. This is not a one size fits all market.

What owners want is uptime and dependability and if they have their eyes on the ball, they will be thinking about the value-added options available to them and weighing these against trading opportunities.

But no-one should imagine that vast numbers of existing bulk carriers or tankers will be re-fitting with VSAT or FleetBroadband. The fact that many owners have entered zombie territory – reliant on the goodwill of their banks but with little forward earnings momentum – means that all available costs will be cut.

Still satcoms makes up a tiny part of day to day operating expenses, marginal when compared to the cost of 50 tonnes of fuel a day burned by a Capesize bulk carrier hauling ore from Brazil to China.

Almost a year ago, Inmarsat Maritime President Frank Coles suggested the VSAT opportunity might be applicable to perhaps 20,000 of the SOLAS fleet, which by some counts is close to 70,000 vessels. That suggests that the remainder will be divided between higher spending owners and more technical ships and a large rump of users who are happy to use lower volumes at lower prices.

But in fact if owners are prepared to look even a little they will find a universe of applications already optimised for satellite, which can hold down bandwidth usage and cost. If they are serious about increasing data traffic, then there has never been a better time.

Let’s not mistake this for utopia – fair usage policies, committed information rates and the like mean that the internet experience at sea will never be like the experience ashore.

But the fact remains that owners who aren’t prepared to spend money on business communications are missing a trick. Owners who aren’t prepared to offer crew communications will see a direct correlation in the quality of the personnel available to them.

And there is another reason to look beyond the short term timeline. As managed VSAT services supplant L-Band, a new universe of services, applications and traffic management is increasingly opened up.

To continue to believe, even as that era begins to open up, that spending on communications is a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to be grasped, would be an enormous mistake.