Can Bandwidth Supply Keep up with Maritime Demand?

By Chris Insall, Senior Principal Product Manager, Maritime Services

In the next few years, demand for bandwidth at sea will grow rapidly, in no small part due to technology that makes operations more efficient and keeping crews and passengers healthy and happy.

Just a few years ago, a cruise-going family might have brought a single laptop computer and maybe a cell phone aboard. Today, cruise companies find that the average family shows up with 10 connected devices. Perhaps even more important to the commercial shipping sector: crew members, away at sea for months, are hungry for a robust connectivity experience to stay in touch with family and friends.

As our survey of maritime operators with the research firm Futurenautics found, in the next two to three years, there will be a 60% increase in ship-to-shore traffic. This demand for satellite bandwidth is being driven by a number of factors:

  • The development of VSAT antennas for ships has led to a shift away from traditional L-band connections and to higher-throughput Ku- and Ka-band satellites. The same Futurenautics survey found that 57% of shipping companies have VSAT solutions fitted on their vessels.
  • When there is a VSAT solution on board, it always becomes the primary means of communications, with the slower L-band used as a backup.
  • Crews are demanding high-speed Internet connections; 72% of crew members said the level of connectivity provided on board is a factor in choosing to work for a ship operator.Crews also want high-speed connections; 73% said that the minimum acceptable connection speed for a crew internet service is 512 Kbps, a speed simply impossible with existing L-band satellites.
  • Shipping companies are increasingly investing in big data analytics to optimize operational efficiencies and cut costs.
  • In the future, a network of sensors built into new vessels will enable ship owners to capture a range of information as well as communicate with on-board equipment and cargo status data – requiring even more bandwidth. The ability to use this data can have a real impact on the bottom line. For example, it is estimated that IoT will enable operators to raise average ship speeds by 11–13%, resulting in an economic impact of $4.5 billion to $9.3 billion in 2025, according to NSR.

Some have suggested that competition from 4G cellular, microwave connections, “Internet balloons” and other technologies that support near-shore activities will eat into the maritime business of satellite operators. At Intelsat, we have experienced the opposite. The more these other technologies are deployed, the more end users exploit the growing range of IP technology. Then, when a vessel or rig moves out of range of these on-shore antennas, the operator has to support up to 10 times the IP activity they had to before – and satellite satiates the need.

When it comes to maritime communications, at Intelsat, our primary goal is to provide our customers and their end users at sea with seamless bandwidth throughout their passage, wherever they may be. To that end, our Globalized Network is fully compatible with existing Ku-band hardware, networks and terrestrial technology, and capable of handling increases and spikes in bandwidth demand as a matter of course.

So can bandwidth supply keep up with all this maritime demand? Absolutely!  But not all bandwidth is created equally. Leading with Intelsat EpicNG, we are driving improvements in technology along the ecosystem to simplify access to our satellites and make it easier for the maritime sector to satisfy this flourishing range of broadband requirements.

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