Shipping Can Finally Demand and Expect Onshore Connectivity Standards

Delivering Return on Investment is the ultimate goal for any sector looking to realise its digital ambitions, but technological, regulatory and financial challenges that have prevented the widespread deployment of consistent connectivity across entire fleets has been a significant stumbling block for the shipping industry.

The sector has already invested substantially in communications products and services that have not always delivered, so it would be understandable if shipowners and operators were reluctant to invest further.

Yet, two key drivers have forced shipping to rethink its preconceived ideas of communications products and services. New demand for vast amounts of real time data has become as an operational necessity in order to stay competitive, reap the rewards of efficiencies, connect passenger and crew, and meet the challenge of decarbonisation. This confluence of demands, accelerated by COVID-19, has created a new demand for communications technology that is fit-for-purpose.

While shore-based logistics networks have successfully introduced environmental and cost efficiencies through digital technologies, the shipping industry has lagged significantly behind its shore-based cousins in digital adoption. Shipping’s fragmented and frugal nature amid more than a decade of low margins, has deterred investment within the sector, while the patchy and inconsistent quality of offshore connectivity falls far behind the standard of onshore broadband.

Positive change is afoot, however. In timely fashion, low latency, fibre-like connectivity at sea, that enables ships to function as high performing offices, is nearly here. Accelerated change will be realised through advances in low latency fibre-like connectivity solutions that remove technological barriers. Moreover, for an industry known for its opaque nature, greater openness and transparency is developing; with standardisation and integration of maritime equipment, services and data through greater market collaboration as a core driver.

Bolstering this, new players are emerging that are more agile to operate on an OPEX rather than CAPEX model, leveraging their know-how acquired in other sectors and deploying services that can support the realisation of the full potential of digitalisation for shipping. In addition, leading maritime OEMs are transitioning towards new business 'hardware as a service' business models, underpinned by smart technology that requires widespread connectivity onboard. Positive signs have emerged in the shape of new ‘low barrier to entry’ payment models, with equipment manufacturers moving to “as a Service” offerings where equipment can be borrowed for short periods of time or kept indefinitely without the need for upfront investment.

The other barrier to maritime adoption has, until this point, been terrestrial-grade connectivity at sea. Reliable connectivity is the backbone of digitalisation, and without it, the success of digital transformation will always be hampered. Maritime internet has often been delivered to operators as a single channel in very small data packages  - and in some cases up to 100 times less than what is available to consumers - which requires ships to carve up data between everything from crew social media to emissions monitoring. Currently, they do not receive any higher-priority, higher-speed connections for more important functions such as speed, fuel or emissions analysis, and the lack of high-throughput, low-latency services makes real-time monitoring and analytics impossible.

At OneWeb we are building an ecosystem of maritime partners to help us deliver globally-consistent connectivity across ship and shore. We believe this is game-changing and shows that as the need for vast amounts of real time data becomes an operational necessity, shipping no longer needs to face the old barriers in deploying consistent connectivity. The technology is here to meet these new, higher demands.

OneWeb’s new fibre-like communications service for maritime will enable specialised, prioritised connectivity ‘channels’ for maritime businesses for crew communications, automation and even Artificial Intelligence applications. Digital transformation and adoption of services such as data analytics can now be made a reality offshore as they are onshore by delivering terrestrial-quality speed and a tenfold increase in bandwidth to the shipping industry.

The IMO has put in place the “important building blocks” of a regulatory framework via energy efficiency requirements on existing ships from 2023. The emergence of the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and Carbon Intensity Index (CII) as key IMO-led drivers (from 2023), the likely potential for ETS as part of the EU Green Deal, and ancillary drivers such as the Poseidon Principles and the Sea Cargo Charter – are all part of a wider integration of ESG at the core of future business.

Accumulatively, this intensifying pressure means that doing nothing is not an option for shipowners, with Lloyd’s List reporting in early 2021 those ships and fleets that fail to meet standards may not survive.

These new and pending regulatory and non-regulatory drivers create a need for real-time collection and analysis of data in a secure and trustworthy format. Operators will need to find new ways to co-operate between ship and shore to transform fuel efficiency, which will require new technologies to ensure greater standardisation, integration and communication of maritime data.

Globally consistent connectivity and specialised analytics channels will also enable shipping equipment vendors to sell add-on aftercare services such as remote real-time analytics of fuel use to aid compliance with emissions regulations.

Beyond regulation, digital transformation enabled by reliable and flexible connectivity also promises to deliver major cost efficiencies to the maritime sector. Unlocking the capability for real-time data exchange between all equipment and ships in all locations, will empower crews to make management and optimisation decisions not only on their own vessel, but fleet-wide.

Reliable, flexible connectivity will enable maritime shipping organisations to meet new challenges, but also get ahead by implementing their own transformative changes to benefit efficiency and profitability for years to come.