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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Industry outlook: A year for IoT evolution in shipping

Wed 16 Jan 2019 by Martyn Wingrove

Industry outlook: A year for IoT evolution in shipping
Ronald Spithout: "Fleet Data will enhance the efficient transfer of data to shore and help accelerate IoT adoption"

2019 will prove to be a year of transformation for the internet of things (IoT) in shipping, Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout believes.

He thinks shipowners, operators and managers will increasingly adopt IoT, new safety communications, cyber security and crew welfare services this year.

Maritime’s digital leaders are already using high-speed broadband to achieve efficiency, safety and environmental gains in ship operations and crew welfare. Mr Spithout expects key enablers will come to the maritime market in 2019 to deliver more benefits industry-wide.

“Even those sceptical of mainstream shipping’s place in the 3D printing, artificial intelligence and robotics conversations acknowledge that Amazon, Ali Baba and other disruptors see our industry as ripe for e-commerce platform convergence,” Mr Spithout said.

Shipping companies may seek to align with online retailers in the future. Nonetheless, he thinks that greater digitalisation in the present market can bring owners, “still awash with paper-based practices, straightforward gains” such as in fuel savings and operational efficiency improvements.

Shipowners are facing a new era for marine fuels after entry into force of IMO’s 0.5% sulphur content cap after 1 January 2020, which Mr Spithout expects will drive further adoption of IoT this year.

Inmarsat’s 2018 research report Industrial IoT on Land and at Sea demonstrated how the presence or absence of regulation can strongly affect shipping attitudes. Of 125 shipping companies canvassed, 46% cited environmental monitoring as among the most important drivers for IoT deployment.

However, 14% said sustainability was not even an aim for IoT deployment. When asked about fuel monitoring though, respondents had different reactions as deadlines for the EU’s fuel monitoring, reporting and verification scheme approached and with IMO fuel consumption reporting not far behind.

Some 65% of respondents already use IoT-based solutions for this purpose, with 9% to do so within a year, and commitment reaching 100% by 2023.

“This industry reality is entirely consistent with Inmarsat’s launch of Fleet Data – shipping’s first commercially-available, bandwidth-inclusive IoT platform to make use of data from both onboard sensors and voyage data recorders,” said Mr Spithout.

Fleet Data uploads preprocessed data from onboard sensors to a secure cloud-based platform, where its application process interface (API) can be exploited by third-party solutions to monitor and enhance vessel performance. “We believe Fleet Data will enhance the efficient transfer of data to shore and help accelerate IoT adoption,” said Mr Spithout.

Other industry pressure points include cyber security and safety, where Inmarsat sees 2019 as a critical year in its response to fast-changing needs. To tackle this, Inmarsat introduced Fleet Secure Unified Threat Management service on 1 January 2019. It offers Fleet Secure Endpoint to protect vessel networks by isolating attacks and a cyber awareness training app for mobile devices.

“2019 is also the year when new digitalised solutions from Inmarsat to upgrade Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) capabilities go global,” said Mr Spithout. Its new Fleet Safety service includes digital architecture for maritime safety information (SafetyNET) and search and rescue operations (RescueNET) messaging. This is supported by a new breed of maritime safety terminals. These IMO-approved systems will have chat functions for ships in distress situations and other advanced functionalities.

“Last, but certainly not least, we must not forget the importance of the seafarer in any discussion on connectivity,” said Mr Spithout. Inmarsat’s 2018 report produced in association with the Sailors’ Society and Royal Holloway University highlighted the vital role internet access has in crew retention. “I am delighted to say that we are close to releasing Crew Xpress, a new service developed to deliver wifi connectivity directly to the seafarer,” he explained that this will “allow crew to go online via a fully-managed portal that is completely independent of bandwidth for business usage.”

IMO will discuss GMDSS modernisation and other safety communications services during the next session of the sub-committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), in London on 16-25 January.


Inmarsat will play an important role in discussions concerning satellite communications and connectivity for offshore support vessels at the annual Offshore Support Journal Conference, Awards & Exhibition in London 6-7 February 2019, which will explore growth opportunities in an unpredictable market. Book your place now.

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