Vessel owners need robust communications, combining VSAT and 5G, to capture value from data telemetry, for crew welfare and client connectivity requirements
A huge leap in bandwidth demand is approaching for real-time data transmissions and crew welfare. The global coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the rising need for faster connectivity for seafarers stuck on vessels to communicate with their families and demand is rising for remote monitoring.
P&O Maritime Logistics has reacted to these trends by investing in VSAT on its offshore support vessels for operations monitoring, crew connectivity and client requirements. It is using connectivity for condition-based maintenance, monitoring lubricant oil and testing digitalisation of class services. VSAT also provides connectivity for crew applications and client bandwidth.
But P&O Maritime Logistics head of IT Kris Vedat predicts an explosion in bandwidth demand that onboard VSAT alone will not be able to meet.
He explained the rising bandwidth demand trends during Riviera Maritime Media’s ‘The future of offshore vessel connectivity is here’ webinar (on 20 June), the first in Riviera’s Maritime Communications Webinar Week.
“Technology needs to evolve and we need to keep up with demand as bandwidth increases,” Mr Vedat said. “Current technology needs to advance and maritime is too slow at embracing new technologies such as high-throughput satellites (HTS) and 5G.”
Some vessel owners have deployed VSAT for HTS communications over spot beams of Ku-band or Ka-band, with others installing equipment for using coastal and offshore long-term evolution (LTE) and 4G mobile phone networks. The next generation of these networks, 5G, is beginning to be rolled out in local areas.
“Current VSAT technology has limited bandwidth, which will not be fit for purpose in the future”
“Suppliers of VSAT services will need to innovate to keep up with demand,” said Mr Vedat. “Current VSAT technology has limited bandwidth, which will not be fit for purpose in the future. VSAT and 5G will need to work together in hybrid solutions on board to cope with the demand ahead,” said Mr Vedat.
He sees three drivers for increasing onboard bandwidth demand – crew welfare, data monitoring and client services. “Crew welfare is important as seafarers cannot be disconnected,” he said. “It is no longer acceptable for crew not to use social media and applications, such as video and entertainment. We need to ensure we have these available for when they are on their downtime.”
Crew welfare connectivity helps colleagues feel involved, helps families to stay in touch during critical times and allows colleagues to interact with each other and develop relationships with others across the globe.
“Entertainment availability for our crew is key to a positive working environment,” said Mr Vedat. “Access to any application they are used to at home must be available and accessible at sea.” Social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, or entertainment streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime should be accessible, and connectivity can also be used by vessel operators for sending targeted safety campaigns to their seafarers.
Vessel charterers also need their own bandwidth pipe on board, which can be provided through the ship’s VSAT or through a dedicated terminal.
“Clients have great expectations for transparency and for tracking vessels and cargo in real time. It is essential to be closer to our clients,” said Mr Vedat. “Client demand will increase and they will need their own bandwidth. But we do not have space for multiple domes on our vessels. So, we need one platform used by more people.”
One VSAT antenna could contain segregated bandwidth pipes for clients, crew and vessel operations, and each needs to be cyber secure. For this, communications need firewalls, advanced antivirus and vessels need end-point protection. “Cyber security is at the forefront of discussions and we can no longer treat vessels different from shore,” said Mr Vedat.
With this security comes the ability to transfer data to shore and information back to vessels without risk. “With data we can unlock value,” he explained. “We can work as a team and share data with vessels better.” Data telemetry enables fuel consumption and performance monitoring.
P&O Maritime Logistics has implemented internet of things (IoT) technology on its vessels to monitor lubricant oil, fuel consumption and equipment condition. “We can use data for fuel optimisation and use lube oil data to reduce the frequency of oil changes,” said Mr Vedat. “With condition monitoring we can predict failures and plan maintenance around this.”
Data enables vessel operators to detect anomalies and predict potential issues with components through real-time monitoring. “We unlock the value and allow analytics to better shape our decisions,” he said.
One of the barriers to vessel optimisation for a fleet manager or operator is the variety of machinery from different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on board the ships. Even on sister ships there could be variations in OEM-supplied equipment.
“The majority of [connectivity-enabled] apps are around vessel performance analytics, but OEMs are not great at having agnostic apps,” said Mr Vedat. “We need to capture data from an array of manufacturers, to collate data from different engines from multiple suppliers.” He wants more agnostic IoT apps to be developed to reduce these challenges.
Mr Vedat also recommends vessel owners plan their connectivity, IoT and digitalisation investments. “Operators should know why data is monitored, which equipment to capture data from and have robust communications,” he said. “They need analytics teams and change-management is important.”
P&O Maritime Logistics has implemented a fleetwide maritime enterprise resource planning system and executed a cloud-first strategy by moving all core systems and infrastructure to Microsoft Azure. It has deployed VSAT throughout the entire offshore fleet and IoT technology among the fleet to allow real-time data collection from the vessels.
If operators want to capture the full value from their connectivity and onboard data, they need to ensure they have robust communications through a hybrid solution with the latest VSAT technology and are using available 4G, LTE and 5G networks. Operator need to be ready for the future of communications, digitalisation and optimisation.
Snapshot CV: Kris Vedat
Kris Vedat is head of IT at P&O Maritime Logistics, which was formed in September 2019 after the acquisition of Topaz Energy and Marine by DP World. He was head of IT at Topaz with 16 years’ experience from United Arab Shipping Co, where he has led several regional teams in UAE, Europe and West Africa.
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