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Hybrid Connectivity- SMN Rotterdam Roundtable Takeaways

Thank you to all the participants of the hybrid connectivity roundtable at the Smart Maritime Network Conference, Rotterdam. The discussion focused on how hybrid connectivity will impact maritime operations. We had a great mix of ship operators, shipbuilders, satellite operators, service providers and hardware manufacturers. From the ship operator’s perspective, the demand is clear – shoreside-like connectivity, with high-quality data, available 100% of the time. With enhanced IoT monitoring onboard providing insights on all aspects of ship operations, having standardized data in a readable and tangible format is key. This is one of the drivers for always-on connectivity. With increased monitoring, we can see that connectivity downtime can have a high direct impact on costs and efficiency.

Providing 100% connectivity uptime across the oceans of the world, where ships connect to a satellite anywhere from 66km to 34,000km in orbit, is a huge challenge that satellite operators face. It is well understood that there are currently geographical limits to satellite connectivity and “black spots” for any technology. As digitalization increases, downtime of any sort will have to be overcome.
4G/5G connectivity can help fill in the gaps and provide high-speed, low latency connectivity. However, there is a cost associated with this – a global flat rate fee is not available, so using this connectivity method is only viable when used in a cost-effective manner. The other challenge is using the appropriate technology for each vessel’s unique operating profile. Take dredgers operating in coastal locations for example. 4G/5G is the primary communications technology but as they move to projects further offshore, or when operating in transit, satellite becomes the only option. There are also question marks regarding the quality and reliability of a 4G/5G network, continued geographic challenges with the location of shoreside cell towers, and issues as SIM providers receive priority access when roaming.

Looking at the dredgers from the shipyard’s perspective, they need to monitor the vessels remotely from a warranty checking standpoint, so having always-on connectivity is vital to avoiding complex warranty claims. Again, not having access to data when needed could present a real tangible cost. The question of bandwidth is simple, people want more, and LEO network constellations look sure to provide it. This, coupled with lower latency, can provide vessel operators with the shoreside-like connectivity required to support their digitalization efforts at sea. There is still some way to go in proving the reliability and availability of these services, but they will be important to digitalization.

In summary there is not one solution that can provide a vessels connectivity needs 100% of the time across the globes oceans. A multi-layered approach is required to achieve always on shoreside like connectivity. Having reliable hardware that can provide multiple connectivity services in a single unit will greatly assist vessel operators in further adopting hybrid connectivity and achieving the bandwidth & uptime required to accelerate digitalization. We will also see that connectivity downtime of any sort can have a direct impact on a vessels bottom line so having a multi-layered, hybrid approach, provides resilience.

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