VSAT connectivity for one of the world’s largest owners of container ships was behind a key merger in the satellite communications sector this year
At the end of August, Speedcast International signed an agreement to acquire Globecomm Systems from its owners, HPS Investment Partners and Tennenbaum Capital Partners, for US$135M. One of the key contributing factors for this purchase is Globecomm’s strong position in maritime satellite communications, where its biggest client is Maersk Line.
For this major operator, Globecomm provided VSAT using Ku-band with L-band as a fall-back for times when Ku-band was unavailable. Maersk Line uses this connectivity for operational communications, container tracking and remote monitoring and for crew welfare services.
Globecomm VSAT is built on the IP-based iDirect Evolution platform to support automatic beam switching and access to high-throughput satellites. It will enable wifi connectivity for the crew on Maersk Line ships and monitoring of reefer containers. There are also value-adding services that include firewall and content filtering, email management, a prepaid crew management portal and proactive network monitoring.
For Speedcast this huge long-term contract, and others for clients such as shipowner and management company Briese Schiffahrts, were attractions to purchasing Globecomm. Speedcast has also acquired other satellite communications companies in the past, including Harris Caprock in 2017, to become one of the top five service providers in maritime.
Speedcast executive vice president for maritime Athina Vezyri is even more forward in that opinion. “Our acquisitions mean we are now the number one in marine VSAT,” she told Maritime Digitalisation & Communications in September. “But we are still focused on organic growth in building ship numbers.”
This is why Speedcast introduced the four new plans for Ku-band VSAT for shipping lines and passenger shipping. These plans are: Quota, Burst, Guaranteed and Professional, with the top package delivering high-speed broadband and 100 GB of data shared throughout the month.
Ms Vezyri said these VSAT plans will increase bandwidth access to merchant shipping for greater levels of data transmissions and for crew welfare services on board ships. “We deliver up to 10 Mbps connectivity speeds and have bandwidth flexibility solutions,” she said.
“VSAT is good for crew welfare, but a new driver in demand is data and business communications”
“VSAT has opened the door to faster implementation of technology,” she explained. “It is good for crew welfare, but a new driver in demand is data and business communications.”
Speedcast provides VSAT through its Ku-band global network and Sigma Gateway connectivity. It can also provide VSAT over C-band. Speedcast is also a leading distribution partner of Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress Ka-band VSAT service and has multiple L-band complimenting services.
Maersk Line’s VSAT deployments were initially provided by Ericsson working in partnership with Globecomm from 2001-2002. Together they installed Cobham Satcom’s Sailor 900 VSAT antennas and below deck terminals on more than 370 ships in the Maersk Line fleet.
This also involved the installation of onboard wifi devices to enable container monitoring and crew onboard connectivity. At that time, it was the largest ever rollout of VSAT systems across one fleet. Ericsson then went on to manage the infrastructure, IT networks and VSAT and L-band connectivity.
Cobham Satcom chief executive Janus Pagh told MDC, with some satisfaction, that after seven years of operation the Sailor 900 VSAT units are “still operating with no major issues”. He said continual testing and maintenance of these VSAT units and others on different owners’ fleets, meant Cobham Satcom needed to build a service network that now covers 71 ports.
One of the biggest technical tests for the VSAT hardware occurred this year when a Maersk Line ship became the first to complete a trial passage of the Northern Sea Route.
Venta Maersk, which is one of Maersk Line’s new Baltic feeders, embarked on its voyage on 22 August 2018 in the port of Vladivostok, Russia. On 28 September, it successfully completed this voyage at the port of St Petersburg, Russia, before heading to Bremerhaven, Germany.
Maersk chief technical officer Palle Laursen said the trial enabled the shipowner to “test vessel systems, crew capabilities and the functionality of the shore-based support set up.”
During the trial, Maersk was in regular dialogue with the Northern Sea Route Administration and ice breaker companies and Venta Maersk’s crew was joined by Northern Sea Route-certified ice pilots during the entire transit.
Satellite communications was an essential aspect to this ice-prone voyage, but because of the high latitude, there was the risk that Venta Maersk could have sailed out of range of VSAT connectivity. “It is challenging to get broadband along that voyage,” said Mr Pagh. To overcome these risks, two 1-m diameter Cobham Satcom antennas were installed on the bridge wings and Iridium L-band global and polar services was the back-up.
Construction begins on world’s first autonomous container ship
Construction has started on the first autonomous and electric commercial ship for a Norwegian project. Vard Holdings won a Nkr250M (US$30M) contract to build container ship Yara Birkeland for fertiliser group Yara, using Kongberg’s onboard technology.
Yara plans to use Yara Birkeland to transport fertiliser products from its plant in Porsgrunn to the ports of Brevik and Larvik where it ships products onwards to customers around the world.
Yara Birkeland’s hull will be built at Vard Braila shipyard in Romania and transported to Brevik, Norway, for further construction and outfitting. It is expected to enter service in Q1 2020. Then the vessel will gradually move from manned operation to fully autonomous operation by 2022.
It was designed by Marin Teknikk and the project is supported by the Norwegian Government with Nkr133.6M from the state’s Enova enterprise fund.
Kongsberg is a key partner as it will provide the sensors, onboard technology and integration required for remote and autonomous operations.
Kongsberg will work with Wilhelmsen in the Massterly joint venture to manage autonomous ships, which includes using land-based control centres to monitor and operate them.
DNV GL has published class guidelines for autonomous and remotely operated vessels, which will be trialled on autonomous cargo vessel Yara Birkeland.
Its new guidance covers navigation, vessel engineering, remote control centres and communications, with particular emphasis given to cybersecurity and software testing.
PIL and IBM boost electronic bill of lading initative
Pacific International Lines (PIL) is collaborating with IBM Singapore in another blockchain trial to design and create an electronic bill of lading which will “significantly enhance” the documentation process in supply chain management, writes Rebecca Moore.
The PIL-IBM collaboration was supported by Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Singapore Shipping Association, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Singapore Customs (National Trade Platform), and Bank of China Limited Singapore Branch.
A statement explained that traditionally, a bill of lading is a physical document which banks rely on to provide trade financing. The bill of lading is usually mailed to various parties leaving it “open to fraud, loss of the original document, and document handling costs resulting in much inefficiency across the supply chain”.
To improve the process, PIL and IBM have proposed using an electronic bill of lading (e-BL) to streamline and replicate the paper trail online on a blockchain ledger created by IBM.
The e-BL will do away with the hard copy paper trail, cut unnecessary handling costs and the possibility of fraud.
PIL executive director Lisa Teo said “This is a big step forward for PIL. As an international shipping company, we believe we have a role to play in enhancing efficiencies within the intermodal transport logistics ecosystem. Working with a complex logistic network comprising ports and terminals, agencies, government entities, banks and shippers; systematic supply chain management is increasingly important to lower costs through the chain by cutting unnecessary expense, movements and handling.
“…The use of blockchain technology to allow for the direct exchange of documents and information via the decentralised network to boost transparency, eliminate disputes, forgeries and unnecessary risks will be key for this industry to progress.”
The team plans to extend the e-BL to shadow an end-to-end shipment in real-time. PIL said this would be in line with its ultimate goal of creating an intermodal transport logistics ecosystem which incorporates blockchain.