Of the few positive outcomes of the Pandemic, the most significant must be the acceleration effect it has applied to the adoption of new technology in shipping. Beyond the obvious growth in video conferencing and e-commerce, it has spurred interest in applications from remote maintenance to telemedicine.
This mindset shift has more than anything helped us understand the continuing importance of people, even to an increasingly automated industry. Rather than concepts of future shipping as ‘autonomous’, what we see is an increasing focus on remote access using tools to support workers wherever they are at sea or on land.
The dramatic increase in remote working last year extended not just remote class surveys; the ability to access bridge systems and other shipboard equipment has encouraged data gathering and monitoring for safety and performance.
This matters for operational efficiency reasons and for compliance. With reporting requirements set to rise, the need to demonstrate conformance has also increased with a wider range of stakeholders requiring access to more data. There was a big requirement to ensure IT systems were up to date and secure in advance of the IMO2021 regulations coming into force (other vetting systems like SIRE and TMSA 3 already have cyber requirements which are even more demanding).
Supporting this is a general trend which we saw gain speed last year; the industrialisation of communications and network technology. Put simply, this means that owners want to move away from bespoke proprietary systems and rather adapt to industry standards and be able to use applications like Microsoft Teams between ship and shore, or process data at the edge of the network.
This means that the efficiency of the network itself must be designed to reflect priority applications and support remote operations, a direction in which customers are already moving. The same optimised network approach can be used to keep onboard IT systems up to date and compliant with regulations and charterparty terms while also collecting OT data for performance analysis.
It should also be remembered that no satellite network has ever been optimised for maritime alone; it must by its nature serve multiple markets. To make digitalisation a reality, shipowners need a hybrid network that combines multiple satellites network constellations (existing and those coming) with all other available and relevant connectivity carriers, optimised around their fleet’s routes and areas of operation. Only in this way can they be said to have a network optimised for maritime that provides maximised and guaranteed uptime on the primary communications channel.
The effects can be seen clearly in the data. In 2020 alone, Marlink saw more than 35% capacity increase in our VSAT network in order to meet customer demand. More than 30% of the vessels in the Marlink installed base upgraded service levels last year, including both Committed Information Rate (ie guaranteed throughput) and volume-based consumption packages.
Achieving new levels of operational efficiency, certainty and security on the basis of “this has worked until now” will not be enough for the new technologies coming into play. Best effort connectivity services will not serve the operators who want to take advantage of the opportunity digitalisation presents.
The new shipping paradigm has created persistent demand for high throughput connectivity that connects machines and supports humans. As we have seen in the last 12 months, being able to depend on people to safely perform vital work never changes.
The willingness to use new technology to prioritise support for human functions also provides a glimpse of what the next stage of technology evolution might look like; smarter, more connected and greener, with value at the centre of the process.
To learn more please visit the Marlink website here.