Maritime connectivity will be transformed, with billions of dollars of investment planned in low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and 5G mobile networks
Constellations of LEO satellites will deliver faster broadband and lower latency for applications such as real-time monitoring, video conferencing and vessel remote control. Super-fast connectivity for crew, real-time data and information exchange, and video streaming will also be enabled.
Combined with existing 4G, long-term evolution (LTE) networks and future 5G cellular services, this will allow a new wave of applications and connectivity to maritime.
We heard about the potential for maritime connectivity during Riviera Maritime Media’s Maritime Communications Webinar Week. During three webinars, we heard what applications vessel operators need from new services this decade, what existing satellite operators can deliver and what future 5G networks will be capable of.
Their potential for maritime is remarkable. Especially when combined with future VSAT solutions from geostationary orbit satellites and medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites.
This is paramount to delivering terrestrial levels of connectivity at sea on terminals that can fit on ship infrastructure. It will allow the internet connections passengers enjoy on cruise ships today to be used by seafarers in future years.
More than US$40Bn will be invested in LEO constellations over the next five years from Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb, which has been rescued from bankruptcy by the UK Government, plus planned investment by Viasat and Telesat. These satellites will be built to deliver Ka-band or Ku-band connectivity across the world, including its oceans and poles. This is in addition to the existing L-band connectivity on Iridium’s LEO constellation, plus Ku-band VSAT from geostationary satellites, Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band and SES’ Ka-band on MEO satellites, all of which are being expanded.
Into this mix, there is already 4G and LTE services near coasts, in ports, offshore the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea. Investment in 5G from companies such as Vodafone will provide lightning-fast connectivity in these areas once commissioned.
Having true terrestrial-like broadband at sea will be a game-changer for vessel operators. As P&O Maritime Logistics operations director Paul Jarkiewicz says in this issue, what VSAT, 5G, and today 4G and LTE bring to the table is the ability to communicate more effectively and to transmit data faster.
This is vital as ships become high-performance, remote mobile offices and extensions to shipping company internal networks. Video conferencing is increasingly important as the global coronavirus pandemic has restricted face-to-face contact. Enhanced crew welfare becomes important to operations as seafarers are working longer on ships as crew changes become challenged by travel restrictions.
Faster communications will enable timely business information exchange, new crew morale tools, real-time data transmissions and analytics. In the future it will enable remote control of ships and autonomous operations. Some of this can be delivered today through existing services. But when 5G and LEO constellations come into the mix, the potential will be phenomenal.
Get the latest information and viewpoints on maritime digitalisation during Riviera Maritime Media’s series of webinar weeks on key technical subjects in shipping