Broadband For Every Ship – The Changing Maritime Market

The paradigm is shifting in the provision of broadband connectivity through satellite networks to the commercial maritime market.  A number of technological, economic, and social factors are currently at work, making this an extremely exciting time to be part of this industry. 

At a high level, it is easy to look at “maritime” as a homogeneous segment that is ideally suited for the delivery of always-on broadband connectivity delivered via satellite.  And in one sense it is, because we are unlikely to see ships dragging fiber optic cable around behind them to serve their connectivity needs.  But to leave your perception at that level gives an incomplete picture, because the maritime market is a nuanced and highly segmented service space. 

In traditional merchant shipping, the last generation of seafarers often signed on precisely in order to get away from it all.  Today there is a new generation of seafarers for whom connectivity at sea is as vital as air or water, and who probably have never used a fax or even know what a Telex was.  Whether it is the ability to check Facebook, make a call on Skype, send a text message to loved ones or watch highlights from the Chelsea football match, having a digital link to the rest of the world is a must for a ship’s crew as well as its passengers. 

The idea of broadband connectivity for crew welfare really got going in the mid-2000s. The global financial crisis starting around 2007 temporarily put the brakes on this growth as all but the highest end sub-segments of the industry backed away from investments in new equipment, and workers in some sectors found themselves lucky to have jobs at all. 

This is now changing, fueled by a period of slow but steady growth and a glut of previously delayed shipping capacity starting to come online.  The focus of ship owners is no longer so much on fleet growth as it is on profitability. The clever operators are starting to look at always-on connectivity not as a cost, but as a tool to drive operational efficiency and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). 

Crew welfare is important because owners recognize the cost of losing trained seamen to better-connected vessels. In addition, mission-critical business operations have made fleet owners view a ship as another remote office where important things are happening.  Having the capability for real-time inventory control, trim and route optimization, engine-room monitoring, refrigeration monitoring, automatic ECDIS chart updates, live weather updates, and even CCTV, telemedicine, and distance learning all help to drive down the overall costs of running a ship by keeping it secure, on schedule, and optimized operationally. 

Call this new operating style analytics, telemetry, or just Big Data, but it is driving huge gains in fleet efficiency that could never be done in the past without an always-on connection through a satellite link. In a subsequent article, I’ll look at how always-on connectivity has changed the cruise and leisure, and oil and gas exploration markets.

At Intelsat, we offer our evolving, complementary network of traditional Ku-Band spot beams, mission-specific mobility beams, and the upcoming Intelsat EpicNG spacecraft through our service provider partners. These solutions ensure that seafarers and passengers alike always have access to highly reliable, high-performing capacity to meet their needs today and in the future.