OSV owners need the bandwidth elasticity of Fleet Xpress as their vessels emerge from layup
Offshore support vessel (OSV) owners are finding that flexibility in terms of their satellite communications contracts and broadband capabilities is becoming increasingly important as the market emerges from years of downturn.
As owners reactivate vessels from lay-up they need flexible VSAT services that can meet their connectivity requirements. VSAT needs to be adaptable for occasions where vessels are on short-term charters or if owners expect large bandwidth fluctuations during contract periods.
“It is important to be able to upscale and downscale bandwidth over the course of the contract period because every requirement is different, and customers have varied connectivity needs,” explains Inmarsat Maritime vice president for offshore and fishing Eric Griffin.
“OSVs are coming out of lay-up, some on just short-term contracts of as little as three months. There needs to be flexibility on satellite communications terms and the ability to upgrade and then scale down the bandwidth.”
Higher bandwidth on both the uplink and downlink between vessels and satellites is encountered when vessels are hired for certain types of offshore work. This could include survey work, servicing drilling rigs, offshore fixed and floating installations, supporting subsea construction and maintenance work and offshore renewables projects.
Owners tend to request greater bandwidth when energy company personnel and sub-contractors go onboard vessels during contract work. At such times, owners may need to increase the number of subscriptions, says Mr Griffin, noting: “OSV owners may want to do live video from remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and cameras onboard, while additional workers may need access to corporate networks.”
This is in addition to the onboard digital welfare services, such as media, training and regular communications with friends and family, that crew have come to expect.
Furthermore, explains Mr Griffin, “There may be additional monitoring of equipment and the vessel itself, which will need increased bandwidth. But, once the project is over, owners may need to downgrade again to basic levels.”
“Every subscription has different bandwidth requirements”
Inmarsat provides flexibility in OSV connectivity plans, allowing bandwidth increases for as little as seven days, while accommodating owners who need higher broadband for weeks or months at a time, depending on their contracts and client requirements. “Every subscription has different bandwidth requirements,” Mr Griffin says. “A typical one has a maximum information rate (MIR) of perhaps 2 Mbps downlink and 512 kbps uplink.”
Inmarsat can increase these MIRs to 10 Mbps over the downlink and 5 Mbps uplink if required, through its Fleet Xpress service and high power terminals. This combines connectivity over Ka-band frequencies of radiocommunications from the Global Xpress (fifth generation) constellation of geostationary satellites and L-band from FleetBroadband that is delivered from Inmarsat’s fourth-generation constellation.
When charterers go onboard vessels, owners can either incorporate them into the onboard broadband or offer secondary subscriptions to these clients. These are additional to the basic plans that owners have in place and provide another level of flexibility.
“This allows charterers to have their own connection through the same terminal and hardware on the vessel,” says Mr Griffin. “This can be added using existing systems to deliver a committed information rate (CIR) of 512 kbps, going up to 4 Mbps up and 2 Mbps down.” Inmarsat can also offer MIRs of up to 8 Mbps on the downlink and 4 Mbps uplink. “There is flexibility in this secondary service with minimum periods of seven days [but] they can be extended for as long as vessel operators and charterers need them.”
To use Fleet Xpress, owners need at least one Ka-band compatible 60-cm or 100-cm diameter antenna, plus below-deck equipment, including a modem and network service device (NSD). Cobham and Intellian have agreements with Inmarsat to produce 60-cm and 1-m antennas and Japan Radio Co provides 60-cm Ka-band VSAT. Mr Griffin says owners that want higher throughput and global connectivity should install 1-m antennas.
Need for Dual Antenna solution
There may be requirements for a second Fleet Xpress terminal on a vessel, in situations where one terminal is unable to connect to a satellite; an example would be if it was within the shadow of an offshore structure, such as a production platform, drilling rig or floating production system.
“As vessels spend a lot of time in the shadow of rigs, blockages are unfortunately commonplace so we have worked with our manufacturing partners to develop a dual antenna solution that overcomes this issue,” said Mr Griffin.
"Vessels need more availability on VSAT, instead of falling back to L-band"
“The initial roll-out of Fleet Xpress was for the merchant fleet, with a single Ka-band terminal and a FleetBroadband one,” Mr Griffin explains. “But, in the OSV sector, vessels need more availability on VSAT, instead of falling back to L-band.” In response to these challenges, Inmarsat offers two linked Global Xpress terminals, allowing seamless switching between them, managed currently by the NSD and in the future by Inmarsat’s new maritime edge platform, Fleet Edge.
Owners also require controls on the connectivity and access of their systems to prevent crew from mis-using broadband or wasting bandwidth. These can be provided by onboard smart devices, such as Navarino Infinity, which Inmarsat offers as part Fleet Xpress.
“Our service partners have their own smart boxes and value-added services,” says Mr Griffin. These can include file compression, connectivity access management, crew email, cyber security and measures to prevent bandwidth consumption from being wasted by mobile devices which automatically synchronise.
“Our service partners have their own smart boxes and value-added services”
Over a vessel’s wifi, smartphones will start downloading music and video, or synchronise over these connections, which means owners must have something in place to prevent this,” warns Mr Griffin. “Our Infinity device has the ability to control connectivity and there is content application filtering and other services.”
OSV owners can also install Fleet Hotspot wifi and Fleet Media crew welfare services. These applications help optimise bandwidth use for crew communications, internet services and access to the latest media content.
“With Fleet Media, we can provide video-on-demand, with the latest films, box-sets and pre-recorded news and sports, while downloading content during low levels of bandwidth usage,” Mr Griffin explains. “This is instead of, and preferable to, everyone on a vessel accessing online content, which would not be an optimum use of bandwidth.”
Inmarsat also offers a portfolio of Fleet Secure cyber solutions for enhanced onboard security and Fleet Data for those owners that want to adopt internet-of-things (IoT) applications.
With Inmarsat Fleet Xpress, OSV owners can attain the optimised and tailored connectivity they need for their fleets, as vessels are brought out of lay-up and contracting conditions improve.
Snapshot CV: Eric Griffin
Eric Griffin has more than 18 years of experience in communications, including seven years with Inmarsat. He worked for Consolidated Communications for seven years prior to becoming manager of engineering sales at Stratos Global from 2007 to 2011. He joined Inmarsat in 2012 and rose through the ranks in enterprise solutions, energy and then in the maritime division. In January 2018 he became Vice President of Offshore.