OSV owners need flexibility in communications packages to adapt to layups and increasing bandwidth demands when vessels are reactivated
by Martyn Wingrove
Offshore support vessel (OSV) owners can use flexible packages from satellite communications service providers to reduce cost during vessel layup and boost bandwidth after they have been reactivated.
There are signs that demand is picking up for OSVs, which is leading owners to bring some vessels out of layup. This means vessels need recommissioning and huge leaps in bandwidth. Inmarsat developed packages for OSV operators laying up vessels and will introduce flexible services for owners that will need significant increases in bandwidth.
According to Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout, the new packages will include two Ka-band very small aperture terminals (VSATs) and higher data rates. “We are developing new packages for the offshore energy sector as owners need more flexibility and the ability to tune bandwidth up and down,” he told OSJ.
“Sometimes they need more bandwidth for a contract or if more crew come on board, or vessels will be working offshore in a static environment where there is the risk that structures could block the satellite link. There is a major requirement for installing two Ka-band antennas on OSVs.”
Inmarsat offers its Ka-band Fleet Xpress service from the Global Xpress network of satellites and ground stations, backed up by its existing L-band constellation. Mr Spithout expects the dual Ka-band antenna service to be ready in the third quarter of this year. “We are testing this as we are pushing into the OSV sector with higher bandwidths.”
The packages currently available include provisions for postponing services on vessels as they go into layup, with bandwidth tuned down to levels that are just enough to keep vessels going, Mr Spithout explained. “We will revive packages once a vessel has work. But operators need more bandwidth than they had to cover these contract requirements,” he added, which is why Inmarsat started introducing the dual-antenna option.
Ka-band is one option for OSV operators. Another is using similar equipment to use Ku-band VSAT services from companies such as Marlink, which also has flexible packages for OSVs in layup.
Marlink president for maritime Tore Morten Olsen said there were positive trends in the market with fewer vessels in layup and more offshore activity. He said vessel reactivation times, of typically two weeks from a warm layup and up to three months from a cold stack, could be shortened by using remote checks.
Once vessels are back in service, they may need more satellite capacity and hybrid connectivity. “The smart connectivity for vessels can include 4G mobile networks integrated within the total package,” said Mr Olsen.
“This forms reliable connectivity for the vessel and takes advantage of 4G networks from the shore and offshore platforms.” OSVs operating around North Sea platforms can link to the growing nexus of wireless 4G base stations and fibre-optic communications that Tampnet is installing.
Brazilian owner Companhia Brasileira de Offshore (CBO) chose Cobham Satcom’s VSAT, satellite TV and radio equipment for six newbuildings. CBO ordered six new OSVs from the Oceana Shipyard in Itajaí, Santa Catarina in Brazil, to fulfil development contracts offshore Brazil. It turned to Cobham and its Brazilian partner Inovsat to deliver and install satellite communications terminals on these anchor handlers.
Each vessel has two Ku-band VSAT antennas, including a Sea Tel 4009 that is dedicated to client networks on board and a Sailor 900 VSAT for ship operational and crew networks. Each vessel also has a Sea Tel ST80 TV system for satellite TV in communal areas.
Equipment has been installed on the first of these six newbuildings, CBO Bossa Nova. Antennas are also due to be deployed on the second newbuilding in the shipyard in June. The other four newbuildings are due to be delivered to CBO through the second half of this year and into 2018.