A maritime connectivity wishlist

VSAT’s popularity on the high seas is growing. The quest for operational efficiencies and the perennial need to have access to constant connectivity for both crew and passengers is pushing up demand. But what is the maritime sector seeking?

At the recent Smart Maritime Network Conference in Copenhagen, we had the chance to discuss the burning questions on the future of maritime connectivity. Maritime operators have a lot to contend with as they evaluate incumbent connectivity solutions and newer alternatives.

Overall, the maritime operator community is ready to be wowed with what’s next. Here are a few of the key insights that came out of the discussions at the conference.

Satcom usage is rising

In recent years, demand for VSAT services has seen a substantial increase across the board, regardless of segment. Recent analysis by Inmarsat highlights that data usage on commercial vessels has grown more than threefold since 2019, underscoring the industry’s reliance on digital connectivity.

In a presentation delivered by Inmarsat earlier in the day, they confirmed 150-200% traffic growth in the last year.

Bandwidth is not the biggest priority

Though service providers may place heavy emphasis on the importance of bandwidth, reliability takes precedence over bandwidth when choosing a satcom service. Issues such as latency may impact certain applications but are not considered to be a major influence at present.

A lower speed link that’s always there when you need it is better than high speed available at certain times. Work processes are planned around what’s available and when. Non-critical applications such as crew connectivity have more flexibility in this regard, but, in any case, assurance that the connection will be there is paramount.

Fully managed services are desirable

Access to fully managed connectivity services that are integrated into IT networks and could reduce shipping company IT workloads were suggested as desirable. The simplicity of having one company looking after every aspect of connectivity makes life easier.

There’s no doubt that the integrator role of the service provider will be required to support more complex solutions as customers and users demand the benefits from any number of disparate services and platforms. Service providers looking to offer fully managed services will themselves require ever more sophisticated technology to effectively manage QoS (quality of service) at varying SLAs (service level agreements) dependent on customer needs.

Integrated systems will provide more choice for users

As the changing connectivity landscape will likely see users move towards the installation of multiple integrated systems, almost every major satellite operator is considering a multi-orbit strategy. VSAT providers need to accommodate multi-orbit and multi-frequency constellations which can adapt depending on different connectivity scenarios such as GEO, LEO, GSM and WiFi.

Simultaneously, there is a revolution in virtualisation and migration to the Cloud. Hardware advances are moving in this direction in terms of multi-band antennas, multi-orbit satellite networks and modems, to provide as much choice as possible to the end user.

New managed services and solutions, powered by the latest ground technology which can automatically switch between beams and multi-orbit networks, will undoubtedly reduce network management costs and optimise the quality of the end-user experience. Transparency and usability of the system are a key consideration. 

More throughput, please

Maritime operators at the conference stressed the need for increased throughput, especially on the uplink for the high-end maritime sector where every application requirement must be met and where the demand for data is increasing. Defined QoS and high availability are essential to fulfill the expectations of end users.

As the maritime market evolves, it’s not just about where we are today – it’s where we are heading in the future. Adapting and enhancing the innovations of our satcom ecosystem partners is the nature of our industry and one of the best parts of it.

In the end, the customer’s voice has been heard. It is imperative to develop the necessary services and technologies that can fully support advanced mobility maritime connectivity requirements.

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About the Author

Picture of Chris Insall
Chris Insall

Chris Insall is Head of Maritime Market Development at satellite communications infrastructure company ST Engineering iDirect. Chris has also previously worked for several major stakeholders in the maritime connectivity sector over more than two decades, including Inmarsat, Cobham SATCOM, and Intelsat. You can find him on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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