The global Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the advantages well-connected ships have over those still in the stone-age of communications
Ships with VSAT can act as remote offices connected to corporate networks, with IT systems accessed and supported from shore. But those without are becoming increasingly isolated.
When Covid-19 struck the maritime sector in Q1 2020, shipping companies had to swiftly find ways to work remotely, with personnel home working and needing more frequent data on vessel operations.
Shipping has been on the voyage to industry digitalisation since the middle of last decade, driven by VSAT connectivity.
Then, coronavirus became a catalyst to drive shipping into digitalisation much faster than executives anticipated, boosting demand for VSAT installations.
VSAT enables real-time data flow in both directions over satellite constellations – whether it is Ku-band, relatively new Ka-band or legacy C-band. Ship operators must not forget the contribution of reliable L-band for ship communications. But they increasingly recognise the benefits of faster communications and higher bandwidth through VSAT.
Shipping companies not prepared to invest in VSAT are already falling behind those with this technology on board. For ships with VSAT can access more applications for voyage optimisation, e-learning, onshore decision support and remote IT and engineering support.
VSAT enables vessel operators to incorporate internet of things (IoT) technology for real-time remote monitoring. Other IoT applications include fuel optimisation, vessel performance monitoring and predictive maintenance, while these conduits enable shipowners to send data to charterers and cargo owners.
Crew welfare is also enhanced through VSAT, to provide seafarers with communications through social media, voice, and email to message family and friends. This becomes more important as mariners are further isolated from society when ships are quarantined in ports and at sea.
There is growing evidence that seafarers select who to work for based on communications access and welfare services, including media content on ships. VSAT then becomes essential for crew retention and training.
It is estimated 37% of the world fleet has VSAT on board and this could rise to 52% by 2028, when around 128,000 vessels will have broadband communications.
It is a huge potential market to capture, but in the short term, VSAT revenues will be impacted by the shutdown of cruise and offshore vessel sectors due to coronavirus.
This makes merchant shipping an even more important sector for connectivity growth, while owners who do not invest in VSAT will be left behind by their competitors and left without seafarers to crew their fleets.
The importance of VSAT connectivity will be discussed in series of webinars hosted by Riviera Maritime Media from 5 May. These include a week of vessel optimisation webinars from 12 May and a week covering maritime communications.