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VSAT and dedicated IoT connectivity keys to digitalisation

Better onboard bandwidth is becoming essential for reliability, safety, and crew care

PROMPTED in part by the Covid-19 pandemic, the maritime industry is increasingly relying on digital processes to realise operating efficiencies; this digitalisation has highlighted the need for two important drivers — high-speed VSAT connectivity and dedicated IoT connectivity.

The importance of VSAT (very small aperture terminal) connectivity has been particularly evident during recent months as data consumption increased markedly amidst the pandemic.

There were substantial increases for both operational and crew data use. For example, Covid-19 forced a pivot to remote surveys as the norm, proving workable and much cheaper than sending a person vessel by vessel. Crew welfare during the pandemic became a focal point, with major fleets providing more internet, voice, and content than previously offered to keep crew connected to home.

There has been a more urgent push to connect every device and machine; digitalisation is helping the entire maritime industry evolve. Fast, reliable VSAT connectivity from a high throughput satellite (HTS) network supports these important uses of data on board, from streaming content to conducting telehealth sessions.

With limited, expensive, or slow bandwidth, there is a missed opportunity for getting the most functionality from onboard connectivity. For these reasons, vessels large and small are continuing to migrate from legacy L-band connectivity solutions to fast Ku-band VSAT services powered by HTS networks. Whether it is a tanker, containership, or small fishing fleet, vessels and their operators increasingly rely on being connected.

How to Digitalise Shipping

Beyond crew and operational communications, satellite connectivity is also playing a major role in vessel optimisation through the emergence of IoT services. Getting information from a vessel to shore is essential for bringing the maritime ecosystem into the digital age.

Real-time data from the vessel’s equipment is the starting point for performance optimisation. However, the ship’s bandwidth is constantly contested by other users, so there are data limits that prevent an IoT service company from scaling its digital business properly. Furthermore, this limited bandwidth poses a bottleneck for any required video troubleshooting.

There needs to be high-speed internet connectivity to enable video troubleshooting while the vessel is at sea, which saves time and money in port. Network management and cybersecurity issues must also be addressed as shipowners often restrict access for external parties. Therefore, a dedicated IoT connectivity solution is critically important for reducing cyber risks by keeping OT (operational technology) data flow separate from the vessel’s IT data flow.

Satellite connectivity designed for IoT is the key to being able to provide these services while the vessel is at sea and out of range of cellular signals.

The adoption of digital processes to increase operating efficiencies has been accelerated by the pandemic, which has put a spotlight on the need for remote maintenance. Often however, an IoT company is not in control of connectivity from the vessel and must rely on slow, intermittent communications or cellular communications at port. This prevents continuous real-time IoT data transfer and the ability to take action at sea. Dedicated IoT connectivity enables shoreside monitoring of the assets onboard a ship, with the ability to do video interventions to fix problems in real time, reducing maintenance costs and delays in port.

Digitalisation is proving to be a transformative tool for the maritime industry, and with fast VSAT connectivity and a dedicated IoT connectivity solution, the pace of maritime digitalisation will continue to accelerate.

Sven Brooks, KVH Senior Director for IoT Business Development, will be a key speaker on Lloyd’s List’s 17 March webinar The Future of Shipping: How to digitalise. Register here to attend.

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