As more bandwidth becomes available, the more shipping companies can be creative in how they use this bandwidth. “What you have seen over the last couple of years, particularly with the financial crisis, is that there is a much higher interest from ship owners in services that help them improve their operational costs,” says Tore Morten Olsen, CEO of Marlink. “That is things like remote diagnostics on engines, administrative voice applications, etc. There are several applications both developed and under development which can help them drive the operational costs down.”
As well as providing better services for crew, this new bandwidth can bring about other changes. Erik Ceuppens, CEO, Vizada EMEA & Asia, says the move towards IP services is a major trend among shipping operators. “You are seeing this trend towards converging maritime broadband, but certainly, if not more important than broadband, is this trend towards always-on IP services. It is this always-on functionality that will drive IP services and applications. If you look at the levels of the IP sophistication onboard vessels, it is still pretty low today. The connectivity services have not been there, so the move towards always-on IP service will encourage more advanced applications on board vessels. Broadband usage is still relatively low today in the maritime industry. Clearly, there is much potential here for broadband, which will be adopted further thanks to lower equipment prices and low airtime costs,” he says.
Julian Crudge, head of datacomms at Telenor Satellite Broadcasting (TSB), says that with the existing restrictions of capacity, there is pent-up demand for more connectivity. “When we do get more capacity, such as Ka-band, this will be taken up. Services have been changing from old SCPC services over to shared access platforms, which gives slightly more competitive pricing to ship owners,” he says.
Nick Dukakis, vice president of maritime and offshore, SpeedCast, says the oil and gas sector also remains a strong market for VSATs. “We have seen strong growth across all maritime segments, particularly ones related to offshore oil and gas. Offshore support vessels; floating production, storage and offloading vessels; platforms and rigs are all strong users of VSAT. In addition oil, chemical and [liquefied natural gas] tankers are also a strong segment. We see the trend of very strong growth for VSAT over the next five years across all verticals, including commercial shipping and using a combination of technologies based on Ku-, C- and L-bands. There will be more bandwidth hungry applications being used on-board and more integration between vessels and land-based offices. In addition to crew welfare, we see additional drivers in the market such as administrative, operational and regulatory ones pushing the need for more bandwidth and real-time fixed fee operations,” he says.
Crew welfare has become a huge issue for shipping operators, as crew members continue to demand the same level of communications they have access to on land. Crews are also getting younger and more IT and broadband hungry. “As the global economy improves and competition intensifies, crew recruitment and retention are becoming more critical to companies’ operations and profits,” Dukakis says.
Iridium has seen some interesting trends in terms of consumer behavior, says Dan Mercer, general manager and vice president for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia for Iridium. “We did an experiment with a very large, well-known fleet to see if there was a better way in providing the service to the crew. It is about crew retention as well as the welfare of the crew on board. What we have found is that people don’t jump on the Internet and look at 25 different websites. Typically, they are only looking at three or four websites — Facebook, e-banking, sports or a news page. That was quite a trend that allowed us to help focus our partners on optimizing the user experience over 128 Kbps or 64 Kbps at a fair price. That is the type of service we are seeing being rolled out,” he says. “We are see great demand for crew e-mail, crew Internet and instant messaging. Then it is a question of how you deliver the services. The shipping companies want to retain these guys, but they don’t won’t the administrative overhead to find out who has paid for what.”