Tidewater is halfway through a potential triple-phase programme to modernise satellite communications and digitalisation across its fleet.
The offshore support vessel (OSV) owner is investing in VSAT in two different bands of radio frequency on its anchor handlers, crewing and platform supply vessels (PSVs).
Tidewater IT programme manager Cherise Brooks tells Riviera Maritime Media this is part of a transformational project to modernise communications and implement digitalisation within the global fleet.
The first phase of this project was to introduce Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress (FX) communications on vessels using Inmarsat’s legacy iFusion service.
“We needed to move vessels over to FX as Inmarsat stopped supporting iFusion at the end of 2020,” Ms Brooks says. “We installed FX during a market downturn and during the coronavirus pandemic, which was an extremely challenging accomplishment. Global logistics, quarantine requirements, and vessel availability proved to be the largest hurdles.”
FX hardware, including Cobham Satcom 1-m antennas, was installed approximately in six months on 56 support vessels in 2020. FX is the combination of Ka-band communications through the Global Xpress satellite network and L-band through FleetBroadband.
Tidewater needed faster and more reliable communications to roll out its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and those within the Unisea programmes. “ERPs streamline paper processes across the fleet, and we have developed our own applications,” says Ms Brooks.
“We deployed FX technology to provide internet for crews and customers, a capability previously not available for these vessels. Phase two of the Inmarsat FX solution has just started,” she adds.
“This includes the Fleet Compute virtualisation box, which minimises hardware on vessels and we are looking at long-term evolution connectivity and unified threat management (UTM) cyber security offerings.”
In a new phase, Tidewater has started an initiative this year to consolidate VSAT providers. “Our global fleet has VSAT from 12 providers at present,” says Ms Brooks. “Our goal is to narrow this down between 2021 and 2022, creating greater economies of scale.”
Ms Brooks says there are considerable benefits to Tidewater’s seafarers from having their own communications through Ku-band or Ka-band VSAT.
“VSAT is a crew amenity for welfare with access to the internet, video conferencing and social media,” she says. “We can provide separate channels and manage traffic better with VSAT.”
Many of the legacy Tidewater vessels’ communications were limited with L-band services. But with VSAT, each vessel can have its own virtual local area network (VLAN) for ship operations, crew welfare services and client requirements.
“We can segregate traffic and allocate bandwidth across multiple VLANs (customer, crew and vessel), ensuring the vessel and the customer have sufficient bandwidth necessary to do their job effectively and efficiently,” says Ms Brooks.
VSAT also opens new opportunities for digitalising fleet operations to reduce operating costs. There is likely to be more interest in internet-of-things (IoT) across Tidewater’s fleet depending on client requirements.
“There are many IoT opportunities and our customers are increasingly starting to inquire,” says Ms Brooks. Tidewater is beginning to discover what applications energy companies are looking for from digitalisation.
“There are vendor applications and customer applications for monitoring vessels for different information,” she says. “We need to understand what our customers need.”
Some of the internal IoT and monitoring applications are accommodated in the Unisea software for fleet management. And with VSAT this is enabled, along with vessel monitoring in near real time.
Tidewater’s fleet in northern Europe is already outfitted with VSAT, L-band backup, Sigma virtualisation and Fortigate (UTM solution) with Speedcast.
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