As multiple class societies and vendors call for shipping to adopt interconnected systems and to make data-driven operational decisions, satellite broadband connections will play a key role in enabling the new “Big Data” option for ship management. Sensors aboard can tell an operator a lot about a ship's efficiency, but only if the operator can read the results – and that’s where ship-to-shore connectivity comes in.
Inmarsat's Fleet Xpress (FX) service appears well positioned to carry that data. The firm has launched three new Ka-band satellites over the span of the last few years, with services marketed to both shore-based and maritime customers; Inmarsat Maritime's president, Ronald Spithout, says that the company already has service commitments for 600 ships. FX service provider Navarino advertises download speeds of one to four Mbps, in the range of standard DSL internet offerings for the home or office and roughly 10 times faster than standard FleetBroadband. With all the new bandwidth, Spithout predicts that the amount of data transferred ship to shore could grow eightfold by 2020.
Not all of that data will be in video streaming, browsing, and communications for crew quality of life, Inmarsat says. The firm envisions that the service will bring new opportunities for ship management. “Maritime is the last great industry to adopt applications to become safer, greener and more efficient. Fleet Xpress is the game-changer,” an enabler for a change in business culture, says Spithout.
FX is not necessarily packaged as a traditional VSAT service. Select partners will develop applications that include bandwidth costs as part of the package, substituting charge-per-use instead of a typical monthly rate. Apps include real-time fuel consumption analysis and access to weather-routing software. Inmarsat is addressing the cybersecurity risks of higher connectivity, too: it is in the advanced stages of a project with Trustware to make a security application available via FX.