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From satellite operator to digital services enabler

In the second of his blogs on digital disruption in shipping, Michiel Meijer, Senior Director Sector Development for Inmarsat Maritime, describes how we are enabling the transformation of the industry.

Ultra-connectivity is driving change in the maritime industry on an unprecedented scale. But to drive greener and more sustainable shipping, the potential of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) needs to be unlocked by seamless and continuous satellite broadband to access all kinds of applications. To give you just a handful of examples:

  • Real-time analysis of sensor-generated data for monitoring engines or fuel consumption. Fuel soaks up on average 46% of vessel running costs so you can understand why optimum efficiency is essential. (Compare this with satellite communications, which represents just 0.3 per cent).
  • E-commerce operators are now targeting the shipping sector. Take Chinese online trade giant Alibaba, which Maersk and CMA CGM have signed up to in recent weeks to try to gain better control over their supply chain networks by bypassing the freight forwarding middlemen.
  • Blockchain technology is being explored to reduce the enormous level of paperwork required for shipping and monitoring cargo throughout the entire supply chain. This requires sensors in every container and real-time exchange of the cargo status data online.
  • There are big gains for crew too. We know from surveys we have conducted that a seafarer takes an average of three devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop) onboard. Crew expect to be able to use them and access all their favourite apps wherever they go.

The common fuel for all of the above which will digitalise shipping further is data distributed over the internet. But this needs to be reliable and secure.

With Fleet Xpress, vessel operators get a fully managed service which offers seamless connectivity ship-to-shore worldwide from a single network operator. Operating in the Ka-band means data speeds are high, but there is also the reassurance of back-up from our L-band service, FleetBroadband. We call it the Internet of Everywhere.

But more bandwidth and ultra-connectivity do not by themselves deliver the business improvements and value ship owners are looking for. That’s why we are creating a new application eco system, supported by the Inmarsat Gateway, where application providers  can create solutions integrated with our network.

These applications use bandwidth on demand – allowing, for example, telemedicine solutions where an occasional video connection is required to consult with doctors on shore – and dedicated bandwidth, for constant monitoring of sensor-generated engine or systems data. Traditionally, if a ship owner needed more bandwidth for third party applications, they needed to buy it from their satellite provider. With Inmarsat Gateway, we’ve enabled the application and equipment providers to supply solutions with connectivity built-in – so it is completely separate from the vessel’s primary satellite subscription.

So you can see that Fleet Xpress is way more than just another VSAT solution which only delivers the connectivity. With this ecosystem model Inmarsat is extending its role from a satellite operator to a digital services enabler – stimulating innovation to result in safer, smarter, greener and more efficient shipping.

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