Spliethoff group director of IT Peter van de Venne explained during Riviera Maritime Media’s Thales VesseLink 200: accessing Certus with a smaller antenna webinar the issues, challenges and solutions it faces looking for communications solutions for its fleet of more than 100 vessels as it deploys internet-of-things (IoT) technology and secure networks
The group’s satellite communications requirements are a mixture of VSAT and L-band back-up, while it is also interested in using mobile phone networks, 4G, long-term evolution and possibly 5G where these are available.
“We are hooking up more sensors on our ships and we are monitoring more equipment,” Mr van de Venne said. “All this big data is going ashore as we are moving to the cloud.”
Spliethoff needs faster communications with more uplink bandwidth to transfer datasets to a cloud-based storage and access facility. It then needs cloud-shore links to access the data and is also interested in which application process interfaces (APIs) will be available for data analytics.
“We are thinking about what to do with these APIs, so we are aware of vessel and fleet performance by connecting into the IoT,” said Mr van de Venne.
Another application of broadband communications across the fleet and shore offices is the use of a virtual private network (VPN) around the group. “We have representative offices all over the world and more than 30 offices are connected in a VPN,” he explained.
Communications is also used to transfer weather information and voyage optimisation services across the fleet as Spliethoff uses DTN’s SPOS9 weather routeing programs for optimising voyages and maximising safety for crew, cargo and vessels.
Fleet communications use VSAT in Ku-band and L-band from service providers including Iridium. There could be more variations in the future as Spliethoff’s use of IoT, data analytics and VPN expands.
“We are interested to see what carriers offer,” said Mr van de Venne. “We are trying to find the right mix, with VSAT, (low Earth orbit) OneWeb or [SpaceX]’s Starlink, etc. Iridium is smart in having acceptable speed and lower latency that adds value.”
Spliethoff uses Iridium’s connectivity as a companion to VSAT, acting as a backup for when VSAT is not working or the ships are outside of their coverage. “We like the true worldwide coverage, with projects in the north and south poles, so this is added value when combined with VSAT; we can switch between providers,” said Mr van de Venne.
“What is important is having a reliable and powerful back-up and primary for when VSAT is not available. So, the higher speeds are good,” he added.
Spliethoff’s ships are being transferred to Iridium’s new Certus L-band services, which are provided over Iririum’s Next satellite constellation. This uses 66 satellites, plus in-orbit spares in low Earth orbit (LEO).
There are currently two Iridium Certus services – 350 and 700 – providing bandwidth of 352 kbps and 704 kbps respectively. In Q1 2021, Iridium Certus 200 will be commercially introduced, offering 176 kbps on the uplink and downlink. In preparation for this, Thales introduced VesseLink 200 terminal with a small antenna and simple set up.
Mr van de Venne explained how Spliethoff had used Iridium Certus since December 2017 when it installed the first Thales terminal on its vessel Suomigracht. After more than a year of testing, Spliethoff installed Certus on Poolgracht in March 2019.
“After installing Certus on two vessels this month [November 2020], we now have Certus on nine vessels,” said Mr van de Venne.
Spliethoff vessels obtain speeds of 352 kbps uplink and 704 kbps on the downlink over Iridium Certus.
Its vessels also have VSAT with iDirect X7 modems. In the onboard below-deck rack there are also a router Fortinnet, switch Fortinnet, server and power unit.
Spliethoff Group manages more than 100 ships that trade worldwide, including merchant marine, with a deadweight ranging between 2,000 – 22.000 tonnes.
“As a carrier, we transport all varieties of dry cargo, ranging from forest products, paper, bulk, break-bulk, project cargo, pipes, offshore wind turbines and yachts,” said Mr van de Venne.
The group consists of Spliethoff, BigLift Shipping (for heavy lift), Wijnne Barends (shortsea), Transfennica + Bore, Sevenstar (yacht transport) and Transfennica Logistics.
Riviera’s Thales VesseLink 200: accessing Certus with a smaller antenna webinar was held in partnership with Thales on 12 November. Other panellists in this webinar included Iridium Communications vice president and general manager for maritime Wouter Deknopper and Thales vice president for satellite communications solutions Brian Aziz