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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Crew wifi portal added to VSAT service

Fri 05 Apr 2019 by Martyn Wingrove

Crew wifi portal added to VSAT service
Inmarsat's high-throughput satellite delivers VSAT operations and crew welfare benefits

Inmarsat is expanding its services on Fleet Xpress by adding more security, data transmission and crew internet access

Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout says Ka-band VSAT delivers high-speed broadband connectivity backed by dedicated solutions for onboard digitalisation, crew welfare and cyber security.

There has been strong take-up of Inmarsat’s hybrid Ka/L-band Fleet Xpress service, with more than 2,750 ships added in 2018 as ship operators, owners and managers recognise the benefits. Inmarsat has introduced new services that operate within its growing Fleet Xpress ecosystem to improve operational efficiency and crew connectivity.

The latest example of its overarching enablement strategy is the managed crew wifi portal Crew Xpress, introduced in March 2019. “A significant part of our customer base has migrated to full high-speed Fleet Xpress services, but we also recognise crew wellbeing as a separate connectivity imperative,” says Mr Spithout.

“Certain owners and operators seek fully managed wifi connectivity that crew can use on a self-service basis,” he explains to Maritime Digitalisation & Communications. “Some do not yet have the business data needs that require, for example, the sensor-driven equipment maintenance or IoT-based route planning enabled by Ka-band.

It is for these situations that Crew Xpress was introduced. “It allows ship operators to offer a managed, high-speed crew internet solution while staying on an allowance plan that could migrate at any time to full-scale Fleet Xpress,” says Mr Spithout.

In Q1 2019, Inmarsat introduced another service, Fleet Data to support application-based vessel management efficiencies. This is enabled by a vessel remote server that pre-processes ship sensor data and uploads it to a secure cloud-based platform. It comes with an onboard dashboard and an application program interface (API).

Vessel managers can access and analyse the data they need through the API to enhance vessel safety, efficiency or the fleet’s environmental footprint. Or they can make this data available to third-party applications that monitor fuel efficiency or hull performance, says Mr Spithout.

“Fleet Data enables maritime IoT through a combination of existing shipboard data infrastructure and dedicated high-speed bandwidth”

“Fleet Data enables maritime IoT through a combination of existing shipboard data infrastructure and dedicated high-speed bandwidth,” he explains.  

Fleet Data overcomes the delay between data capture at sea and data availability on land. It is available over Fleet Xpress, and Inmarsat plans to roll this out across FleetBroadband services by the end of 2019.

Fleet Secure represents a third pillar of its enablement strategy for IoT-based solutions. It protects Fleet Xpress, FleetBroadband and Fleet One services against cyber attacks by identifying external threats or malware introduced accidentally to the vessel’s local area network.

The package includes Fleet Secure Endpoint to isolate infected systems and prevent network disruption and the Fleet Secure Cyber Awareness training program to teach seafarers about the tactics cyber criminals use to infiltrate infrastructure.

“We continue to ensure that, as well as realising the benefits of digitalisation, the maritime sector also takes every precaution to stay ahead of the cyber criminals,” says Mr Spithout.

Ronald Spithout (Inmarsat): “Operators seek fully-managed wifi connectivity that crew can use on a self-service basis”

Top VSAT applications

Applications serviced over VSAT of any band come in two categories – those that enhance operations and improve crew welfare. Here are the key applications highlighted by VSAT service providers including KVH Industries, Marlink, Speedcast, NSSLGlobal, IEC and satellite operators Intelsat, SES, Inmarsat and Telenor. Eventually VSAT could result in reduced onboard crew numbers. But VSAT providers expect skill sets will change on board with the need for IT managers on ships.

Operations applications

  • Fuel monitoring – owners use VSAT to analyse fuel consumption and identify cost savings.
  • Preventative maintenance – operators transmit performance and condition data from ship machinery for analysis and preventative maintenance.
  • Ship performance monitoring – fleet managers use data streamed or batch-transmitted from vessels to monitor their efficiency during voyages.
  • Weather routeing – navigators use weather and ocean information to route ships for lower fuel consumption, passenger comfort or to reduce stress on deck cargo.
  • IoT – owners analyse data from ships to improve operational and safety performance.  
  • Electronic reporting – ships send e-documentation and provide regulations compliance reports to port state control, flag, class and charterers.
  • Port optimisation – masters communicate with port authorities and operators to manage arrival times, berth requirements and order pilot services.
  • IT monitoring –managers can monitor onboard IT networks, diagnose problems, and manage access and cyber security.
  • E-navigation – electronic navigational charts and updates are downloaded and voyage data information is transmitted between ships and ports.
  • Third-party – machinery manufacturers increasingly use VSAT for monitoring, diagnostics and decision support.
  • Managing broadband – fleet managers monitor connectivity usage, control access and manage the broadband delivered to ships according to operator, crew and client requirements.
  • Cyber security – fleet managers manage onboard firewalls, software updates and increase encryption.
  • Charterer requirements – cargo condition data, especially containers, is transmitted to charterers and cargo owners; fuel information is delivered to those paying.
  • Shore support – information is analysed ashore to support onboard decisions.

Crew welfare applications

  • Internet access – crew use VSAT for web browsing even under controlled conditions.
  • Social media – access to social media channels is increasing but restrictions will remain in place to control access.
  • VoIP – voice over IP enables crew to call home using internet protocols instead of using ship telephony.
  • Video streaming – seafarers can use video over IP for streaming media and using video-calling applications, such as Skype, or a maritime-optimised version.
  • Telemedicine – ability to speak with medical professionals in real-time when there is a medical issue on board.
  • Instant messaging – mariners communicate in real-time using messaging applications as email becomes less relevant.
  • E-finance – seafarers access bank accounts and other financial information.
  • Media content – Crew view news, sport, films and TV-based media from an optimised delivery system.
  • E-training – specialised training programs are downloaded to ships for teaching and career development.


Future technologies to revolutionise maritime VSAT

Progress in satellite and mobile communications technology has opened up new markets and services in maritime VSAT this decade. Here are trends that contributors to this Complete Guide to VSAT highlighted would be further developed in the next decade.

LEO constellations – new generations of low Earth orbit satellites will deliver low-latency VSAT to vessels worldwide, including in seas around the poles.

Flat panels – will be further developed and tested to become commercially available to vessels.

XTS – extremely high throughput satellites with hundreds of small spot beams will be commissioned to boost bandwidth for all maritime users, but especially cruise ships.

Satellite life extension – satellite operators will launch units that renew the fuel and life of existing satellites, maintaining maritime connectivity.

Software-defined – will enable satellite controllers to manipulate the form and position of spot beams to be dedicated to a ship or fleet.

New launchers – aerodynamic aircraft that can briefly enter space from the Earth’s orbit will launch LEO satellites in the future.

Super-fast modems – currently viewed as a choke-point in bandwidth, a new generation of modems will enable XTS connectivity.

Dedicated IoT – vessels will get separate channels over VSAT for IoT and onboard machinery performance and condition data streaming.

Artificial intelligence – AI will enable computers with machine learning capabilities to predict VSAT issues and onboard machinery breakdowns before they occur.

Remotely controlled vessels – advances in VSAT will enable shore-based masters to control vessels in real-time.

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