Hybrid connectivity will enable a digital transformation at sea as more vessels are linked to shore through VSAT combined with mobile phone networks
A panel of technical experts outlined the digitalisation connectivity challenges shipping companies face and provided solutions at Riviera’s Hybrid connectivity for digital transformation at sea webinar.
This event, supported by premium partners Telenor Maritime and Vodafone, was held on 19 May 2021 as part of Riviera’s Maritime Communications Webinar Series.
On the panel were Vodafone Roaming Services senior vice president Connie Tang and principal product manager Fikret Pekin, along with Telenor Maritime chief technology innovation officer Knut Fjellheim and sales manager for IoT and digitalisation Morten Aarvik.
They highlighted the challenges shipping companies face as they implement more digital processes and transfer higher volumes of data from vessels to shore.
This comes as 61% of webinar attendees said they already collect internet of things (IoT) data from their vessels in a poll question, while 39% were not yet doing so.
Ms Tang said data generated on board ships (on average) is expected to rise sharply from 111 GB (gigabytes) in 2019 to 387 GB in 2024.
“Data generation will increase by 249% and the Covid pandemic could speed that up, so it could come a year earlier,” said Ms Tang. “More data will need to be sent to shore for regulatory and port reporting requirements, but the cost of connectivity will be higher if traditional methods continue.”
She said shipping companies can invest in hybrid connectivity, combining VSAT with existing 4G cellular networks when close to coastlines and in ports.
“Some data sent over satellite is not time critical,” Ms Tang continued. “Some of this could be avoided with data sent through 4G when near shore to prevent companies getting a bill shock.”
Using 4G for ship connectivity is increasing as around 30% of delegates said they use 4G when close to shore to send vessel data to shore. Another 60% said they use VSAT and 10% use another method.
Mr Pekin said the benefits of using 4G for shipping companies is the higher bandwidth and lower latency. When it comes to data speeds, ships can get around 52 Mbps on average on the downlink from shore and around 25 Mbps on the uplink. Plus, the indicative latency is less than 60 milliseconds using 4G.
“Another benefit is in cost optimisation as it frees up satellite communications for crucial tasks,” said Mr Pekin. Ships would use satellite connectivity during deepsea voyages and for time-critical data, but then switch across to 4G when within coverage, when sailing in coastal waters.
“Hybrid connectivity with 4G requires a substantial footprint, which we have with our roaming partner networks,” said Mr Pekin.
For the webinar delegates, high speeds and capacity were the key benefits. When asked which was the most important benefit they expect from 4G, 60% of attendees said it was higher capacity and higher speed, while 20% said the ability to adjust connectivity for different use cases, 11% said its lower latency and 9% the consistent connectivity for more devices.
Webinar delegates agreed there were barriers to overcome when implementing a 4G solution. In a poll question, 46% said 4G not being available everywhere was the key factor preventing them from adopting 4G solutions. Another 24% said it was unreliable 4G signal on board ships, 15% said it was the need to install hybrid systems and 15% said it was bill-shock concerns.
Telenor’s Mr Aarvik said shipowners are also challenged by the number of suppliers of digitalisation, data services and connectivity there are in a non-integrated ship.
“Customers say they are juggling many suppliers and it is time consuming to handle all of the possible solutions,” Mr Aarvik said.
Demonstrating this, delegates were asked how many suppliers collect IoT data from their vessels. Of those responding, 64% said 1-3, 17% 4-5 and 19% said more than five.
This is one of the key reasons owners benefit from hybrid connectivity, with a single platform managing communications and digitalisation on a ship. Other benefits are having more secure and resilient infrastructure, a system open to different OEM equipment, ease of adding more applications and the ability to visualise data across a fleet of ships.
“We can help clients with a full set, or part of this, with 4G and VSAT,” said Mr Aarvik. “We can be a one-stop-shop for hybrid connectivity.”
Mr Fjellheim explained how Telenor provides a unified hosting solution for digitalisation applications, including safety risk assessment and environmental reporting.
“We have developed a safety risk assessment application that includes real-time communications and a digital checklist for reporting operations status,” he said. “It leads to safer operations, reductions in insurance and owners saving money.
“Our [monitoring reporting and verification] MRV application supports shipping’s green shift with real-time data going into reports used for compliance and calculating CO2 emissions per voyage,” said Mr Fjellheim.
In other poll questions, delegates were asked what type of 4G solution they use. 49% said they purchased a SIM card from a local mobile operator and used a mobile device to connect; 22% said they purchased maritime 4G sim cards from a connectivity provider and installed hardware on deck; 16% said they do not use 4G and 13% said they purchased a global SIM card and used a mobile device to connect.
Attendees were then asked what they mostly use 4G for. 45% replied they use 4G for transferring data from vessel to shore, 29% for crew connectivity, 13% for passenger connectivity and another 13% for limited people on deck to make calls and access the internet.
On Riviera Maritime Media’s Maritime communications: hybrid connectivity for digital transformation at sea webinar panel were (left to right) Vodafone Roaming Services senior vice president Connie Tang and principal product manager Fikret Pekin, along with Telenor Maritime chief technology innovation officer Knut Fjellheim and sales manager for IoT and digitalisation Morten Aarvik
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