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Connectivity: A Strong Operational Advantage

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The topic of connectivity has been in the spotlight this year several times, possibly most notably when the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) chose the theme of connecting ships, ports and people to highlight the challenges and changes the whole industry is facing together for World Maritime Day.

It is, therefore, no wonder that connectivity is such a widely spoken-of concept. But for many in the industry, it's still just a concept, even though the opportunities that connectivity could offer may be the key for shipping to survive in the future.

Speaking to Mr. Kevin Franciotti, Vice President of Channel Partnerships at ITC Global, a satellite communication network provider, it is evident that the importance of connectivity in shipping is continuing to grow.

"High-throughput connectivity is providing a strong operational advantage to shipping vessels. This communications capability will support more than just typical remote corporate networking. It will enable monitoring critical shipboard systems and equipment for maintenance and technical issues.”

"In the next five years, maritime operators will start to see more operational-efficiency applications deployed, similar to those being more widely utilized in other modes of transportation, like commercial aircraft. These applications will include managing and optimizing maintenance at regular intervals. Such planned tasks can help to minimize onboard equipment outages and the subsequent loss of money and time to correct issues. ITC Global foresees high-throughput satellites (HTS) spurring this transition and delivering great efficiency with large amounts of data at reasonable costs."

For ship owners and operators, however, the costs might not seem too reasonable. As the Nautilus International survey found, one of the reasons why seafarers might experience more limited data usage is because of the price tag associated with it.

"Digital connectivity for remote vessels has historically been costly for vessel operators," admits Mr. Franciotti. "But the new high-throughput satellites significantly lower the cost of connectivity per bit. In addition, innovation in user terminals is also starting to lower costs significantly."

Various experts suggest that connectivity is essential to solve many of the shipping sector's numerous problems. At our most recent Shipping2030 conference, Geir Isene of Dualog Innovation Garage pointed out that the current levels of connectivity are not enough to sustain ongoing digital developments in the industry, while several studies found that access to connectivity is vital in seafarers' job searches.

"In remote environments, crew members need a consistent connection to people and information back onshore," ITC Global’s Kevin Franciotti stated.

Nevertheless, there are concerns associated with the introduction of internet onboard – specifically that it will damage seafarers' mental health, or disrupt the sense of community formed with the crew mates and thereby affect their performance at work.

"We have learned from our growing base of customers that utilize our crew Internet service that connectivity while at sea is truly a positive," Mr. Franciotti countered.

"The connected ship enables crew members to keep up with everything they’d otherwise miss when they depart from port, including staying up to speed on daily news, receiving sports updates and keeping up with global events. According to recent Nautilus studies of crew at sea, connectivity creates stronger and more capable staff. This can be directly correlated with a crew member’s ability to maintain connections with family and friends back home. This social interaction can also significantly mitigate the sense of loneliness while away.”

“Advanced digital connectivity is now improving and will continue to enhance the lives and morale and welfare of crew at sea. Onboard staff can use reliable, high-speed networks to communicate with family and friends back home, conduct personal business transactions and stream content for education and entertainment purposes – with social media being one of the most popular uses.”

Operators’ attitudes towards unlimited internet usage, however, tend to be negative. Concerns that internet usage might distract seafarers from their work are heightened by the fear that personal internet usage might disrupt shipping operations.

“We see two reasons that operators limit internet usage,” Mr. Franciotti explains. “Owners and operators see personal internet use as a competing priority on their ship’s network – meaning that crew members are connecting to the corporate network and using critical bandwidth for personal use. In addition, high levels of crew activity on the ship’s corporate network can be expensive for the operator. ITC Global is keenly aware of both issues.”

“Our crew connectivity solution, Crew LIVE, provides a separate crew network that runs independently from the vessel’s operational platform. This eliminates the competition for network resources and also enhances the security of the operational platform because only ship-critical services run on that network.”

This innovative solution for the maritime industry by ITC Global addresses the issues with cost directly.

“By providing crew with a reliable, high-availability network, crew members are not using the ship’s phone system, which again saves the operator costs. In addition, the cost issue can be resolved as Crew LIVE enables individual accounts that allow crew members to select packages that best fit their needs and then purchase accordingly.”

"This option allows the operator to deploy the network service at zero cost to the company, relying on ITC Global to manage all aspects of the service directly with the crew.”

"As ITC Global operates as an independent subsidiary of Panasonic, our organization is working in concert with team members within Panasonic to leverage the company’s vast broadband satellite network (originally developed to service commercial aero customers). This means that adjacent verticals, including commercial shipping, will benefit from lower costs and higher availability of service. The impact of these satellite communications investments is helping more than just by reducing prices. ITC Global enables niche market service providers to tap into the global network to offer connectivity to their customers.  By using this channel partner approach, we’re giving strategic partners access to our global network coverage, including HTS services that they would not otherwise be able to offer, and in return, we’re expanding the number of customers we can reach with new, cost-effective satellite capabilities."

As the financial cost of connectivity declines, the industry is increasingly troubled by hackers and cyber attacks. With more connected devices, the risks are greater than ever.

“There are inherent risks in connecting the ship’s corporate network and crew to the same Internet link. With the growing use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and increased cloud-stored data in the maritime space, more security risks are occurring,” Mr. Franciotti said. “This provides more devices and people access to corporate networks without being subject to the Standard Operating Environment lock-down. We see this threat growing with the expanded use of the Internet of Things (IoT).”

However, there are ways to increase cyber security. Mr. Franciotti explains:

“As mentioned, we limit vulnerability by keeping these devices connected to an independent crew network, significantly lowering the risks to the corporate network. Proactively separating the two networks ensures that cyber security issues from personal internet usage are virtually eliminated.”

But is increased connectivity necessary? For businesses, surely. The development of robotic ships, autonomous vessels and other digital solutions indicates the need for faster and more reliable connections for shipping to successfully evolve to survive in the future. But will the average seafarer benefit from these expansions?

“The United Nations recently suggested making internet access a basic right, rather than a luxury. If the world body believes that such connectivity is needed and is not just a ‘nice to have’ element of daily life, why wouldn’t it also be expected that seafarers should receive reasonable access to internet connectivity as well while working their very challenging jobs that are critical to our world economies? It is the same connectivity that we take for granted in our homes and when we’re on the go with our mobile phones and other devices.”

“ recently reported on this issue from a broader perspective. An industry leader stated that in our ever-changing world, the expectation of connectivity has never been so great. By 2020, estimates say that there will be 4 billion connected people on the planet, and more than 20 billion applications, as well as embedded and intelligent systems to gather and transmit data.”

“Broad connectivity onboard provides benefits far beyond operational efficiency, taking into consideration the new generation of seafarers and their increased expectation of connectivity at sea. The average seafarer goes to sea with as many as three devices of the latest smart technology.”

"However, the majority of vessels still do not provide internet connectivity and if they do so, not many provide it for free. A recent crew connectivity survey from Futurenautics identified that nearly three out of four crew say communication access influences the decision of where they’d prefer to work. Nautilus International confirmed this same sentiment among almost two-thirds of its members, saying that they would consider moving to another shipping company if it offered better onboard connectivity."

“Based on this information and crew-related data from across the industry, connectivity at sea is a must for safety, crew welfare and continued recruitment for critical sea-based industries.”

It is hard to argue with the numbers, and if connectivity was not central in your business development plans, it should be now.

“Our digital world is everywhere and the sea is no exception.”

As Vice President of Channel Partnerships at ITC Global, Kevin Franciotti leads market strategies and activities focused on channel partner sales and new business development.

Kevin holds more than 27 years of experience in the information, communication and technology fields, directing and guiding organizations servicing the energy sector. Prior to joining ITC Global in 2011, Kevin was the Principle IT and Infrastructure Consultant at Energy Asset Services, where he provided engineering, design and project management services to the energy industry. Previously, Kevin served as the Director, Engineering and Technology at Stratos Global, and held various leadership roles in other energy companies earlier in his career.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Houston, is certified in networking technologies and information security, and is an active member of the Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI).

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