Secure satellite communications are a vital link for e-navigation applications, weather routeing and monitoring vessel performance
Connectivity is an essential facilitator of smart navigation, voyage planning and execution. Satellite communications, whether VSAT or L-band, provide the conduit for information that assists masters to navigate ships safely.
It is the pipeline for electronic navigational chart (ENC) downloads and updates, notices to mariners, weather and ocean information. It also enables shore managers to use advanced navigation software and advise captains on optimised and safe routes.
Both VSAT and L-band services enable ships to connect to cloud-based services, such as internet-of-things (IoT) platforms or online voyage assistance services. VSAT generally offers a faster connection than most current L-band services and more bandwidth for data transmissions. This enables shore managers to monitor onboard operations more effectively and bridge teams to access information faster.
Russian shipowner Sovcomflot invested in VSAT in Q2 2019 for five tankers and three offshore supply vessels operating in the Arctic.
It selected Orange Business Services’ VSAT to improve safety and optimise routeing based on weather or sea ice movements. Sovcomflot will remotely monitor vessel voyages in real-time and provide routeing advice to masters over VSAT.
Shipowners can select VSAT connectivity with C, Ku and Ka bands of radio frequencies with L-band for a backup. Closer to shore, 4G connectivity will be available for e-navigation.
In future applications VSAT and 4G will be required for artificial intelligence (AI)-based navigation services, vessel remote control outside coastal waters and autonomous ship monitoring.
Inmarsat’s global Ka-band and L-band coverage is increasingly used for transferring ENCs and weather information to ships. It is one of the main applications shipping companies use to improve navigational safety and optimise voyages to reduce fuel consumption and bunker costs.
In February 2019, Inmarsat signed the first of what it expects to be many agreements to host third-party applications.
Inmarsat will provide dedicated bandwidth on an Access Point Name (APN) host on FleetBroadband for SRH Marine SAIT’s Delta platform that offers ENC updates, e-publications and safety notices to mariners.
Related to this, Speedcast International introduced Delta Fleet over FleetBroadband in June. This is based on SRH Marine’s chart distribution platform, which includes the SRH Pilot and SRH Plug.
All ENC updates, digital publications and notices to mariners are distributed automatically to ECDIS stations for a flat fee. Ships receive automatic and secure encrypted updates directly to ECDIS over a secure virtual private network (VPN). Delta Fleet runs on a dedicated channel over FleetBroadband and is independent from primary crew and operations traffic. The SRH Pilot platform is hosted on an onboard computer of Speedcast’s Sigma Gateway.
Inmarsat has created an IoT platform that can host smart navigation applications such as weather routeing, vessel performance optimisation and ENC updates. Fleet Data hosts third party applications for data analytics and solutions, which shipping companies can access through an application process interface and dashboards.
Open online platforms
Inmarsat Maritime vice president for business development Stefano Poli says partnerships with service providers “will help overcome key difficulties faced by those frustrated with the challenge of aggregating vessel data on board and getting it efficiently on shore to improve fuel optimisation.”
Services on open platforms “will allow ship operators and managers to access, control and analyse their own data through the applications on Fleet Data”.
Data on open platforms does not need to be complicated or advanced for the analytics to generate owner benefits. Users receive information from masters’ noon reports or data from voyage data recorders and the vessel’s automatic identification system.
Fleet Data’s first application provider was Napa with its data analytics, voyage optimisation and hydrodynamics which is also available on ClassNK’s Ship Data Center (ShipDC)’s IoS-OP internet-of-ships open platform.
ShipDC president Yasuhiro Ikeda says services on IoS-OP will be suitable for performance analysis and voyage optimisation. “It will be possible to visualise the benefits of utilising big data. This will lead more players to join the initiative and form a strong platform,” he explains.
Ku-band VSAT is another pipe for e-navigation information and IoT platforms. KVH Industries launched its Watch IoT connectivity-as-a-service at the Nor-Shipping exhibition in Oslo, Norway, in June. This is a dedicated IoT platform open to service providers to host applications. Kongsberg Digital’s Vessel Insight solution was the first application introduced on KVH Watch.
This is linked to Kongsberg’s Kognifai digital ecosystem and is available for 24/7, machine-to-machine data delivery and equipment intervention. KVH can provide a high-speed burst of bandwidth for video support and remote equipment access. This could be used for video conversations between navigators and shore managers or for access to voyage information from shore.
KVH Watch uses VSAT from widebeam Ku-band, C-band coverage and high-throughput satellites. Shipping companies can access this service through a VSAT terminal dedicated to IoT.
KVH designed the IoT connectivity solution with cyber security as an essential feature. KVH Watch is completely isolated from the vessel’s communications system and will include a dedicated local area network, support for manufacturer virtual private networks and multi-factor authentication for remote-controlled access.
Cyber security is a vital requirement for ship connectivity and ECDIS, which are both potential entry points for malware or hackers. Owners can mitigate ECDIS’ vulnerability by preventing crew from installing memory sticks or other electronics into ECDIS.
But there needs to be a method of transferring ENC updates to ECDIS, which is why a direct and secure link through the satellite communications is preferable. However, this is still vulnerable without the correct security.
For this reason, in Q2 2019, Israeli maritime cyber security firm Naval Dome licenced its software to ECDIS supplier Totem Plus. The Naval Dome cyber defence system can block attacks internally by preventing unauthorised devices being connected and providing real-time anomaly detection and alerts.
It can also detect and block external malicious files, protecting data delivered to vessels and providing remote repair and alert facilities. It requires no changes to original software installations and does not alter manufacturers’ software or systems operation.
Bridge system manufacturers will increasingly need secure connection to their ECDIS and other products for remote monitoring, diagnostics and software updates. Furuno Electric has introduced remote monitoring and diagnostics through the HermAce gateway for its range of ship integrated bridge systems.
This troubleshooting platform is connected to a series of bridge electronics including radar, ECDIS, speedlog, sonar, voyage data recorders and alarms through an Ethernet network link to a hosting device connected to the satellite communications.
HermAce is used to monitor critical navigation systems in real-time with data sent to a secure onshore centre. If an issue is identified, then a ship’s manager is alerted and the problem reviewed through a portal. Furuno technical managers can also interrogate problems and provide advice to owners.