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Written on 12 February 2019

BRINGING BROADBAND
CONNECTIVITY TO THE SEA

Written by Taksin Upalagama, Thaicom’s Mobility Business Director

Fast and reliable internet connectivity is critical for every part of the world–on land, in the air and at sea. It’s the lifeblood of every business because, without it, maintaining competitiveness, growth, and operations is incredibly difficult. The Asian maritime industry is no exception. It is under significant pressure to transform in its journey through digital transformation. Yet, at present, many offshore and fishing businesses in the region still lack access to modern satellite communications, which is critical for connecting crews and vessels.

Raising the bar of tracking fishing vessels

The bar therefore needs to be raised among the satellite and communications industries to bring more affordable and reliable high-speed connectivity to the sea. The Asia Pacific region is home to one of the fastest growing maritime markets in the world, making it a lucrative opportunity for satellite operators and service providers. It currently boasts 20,000 ships–including merchant, passenger, offshore and fishery ships–out of the 70,000 that operate globally. New initiatives mean this figure is only set to rise. While North America and Europe focus on cargo, passenger and offshore oil and gas, Asia Pacific sees fishing as its business anchor. It is a vital sector, with the ten ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries accounting for around one fifth of global marine fish production, undoubtedly contributing to their respective local economies. Yet, illegal, unregulated and uncontrolled fishing (IUU) is all too common in the region, costing marine businesses–and the government–billions of dollars. Fisheries are regulated by IUU laws to combat this serious issue, and the development of Asia Pacific’s new e-market to sell fishing products right from the ocean to consumers will also help.  Satellite communications on-board ships would also have a significant impact on IUU. Improved connectivity would enable greater levels of surveillance and policing across the vast seas.

The challenges holding maritime operators back

What’s clear, then, is that maritime businesses need superior broadband connectivity not only to help them transform their business for the digital future but to take advantage of the rising traffic across the sea, too. And this means maximizing every opportunity and mitigating every threat including human rights abuse and IUU which could thwart growth–keeping Asia’s offshore and fishing industries above water. The problem is that, compared to other sectors, maritime is underserved and lags effective broadband technology. Businesses need to safeguard the running of their vessels and improve operational efficiency. This also means minimizing the risk of a network failure and physical or cyber security breach.

Why broadband is a viable solution

Ship operators need the best maritime service experience possible. They need high-speed, reliable and secure connectivity everywhere at sea to support efficient and competitive vessel operations and to power the personal connectivity needs. With the right broadband communications solution, it is certainly achievable. VSAT broadband technology, for example, is fast becoming the silver bullet for delivering high-speed internet across the region. Designed to aid the maritime industry’s digital transformation, broadband connectivity supports fast data transfer rates and constantly high bandwidth for operational efficiency with wide area satellite coverage. Moreover, the broadband service can incorporate an L-band backup solution so, should the worse happen and a network failure or security attack occur at sea, businesses can keep their vessels connected during a loss of service–therefore minimizing disruption and a loss in revenue. What’s also attractive about the broadband connectivity proposition is that it has become more affordable. Maritime businesses can expect to pay the same price as legacy technology but with superior results. At a price point well below the USD 1,000 mark per month per ship, for example, they can benefit from at least 30 Mbps with 10 GB with broadband connectivity, compared to just 200-600 Kbps with a 25-75 MB allowance with traditional L-band.

The future is now

In 2019 and beyond, Asia will start to see its maritime industry transform like never before. Disruptive technologies have been taking the main stage in recent years with artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing and social media. The new technologies will be able to remotely monitor a ship and assess its health in real-time, accurately forecast the weather, and much more. In fact, change is already happening. China’s first smart ship is now in operation, meanwhile Japanese shipping companies are developing self-piloting cargo ships that use artificial intelligence to plot the safest, shortest, and most economical routes. The industry will rely on very high levels of reliable high-speed broadband connectivity to facilitate smart ship applications. After all, broadband connectivity is the key enabler of smart shipping and will help boost digitalisation of the maritime sector.

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