The year 2017 marks a revolution in maritime communication as shipping embraces a smart and connected future. In an increasingly competitive world, the shipping industry requires innovative technological advancements, to improve and optimise areas like communication, safety and security, fleet management and tracking, and overall operational efficiency.

The shipping industry has long benefited from technological interconnectivity. Mark McCallum, Country Manager, South Africa, Orange Business Services, explains that new digital technology, materials and connectivity promise to making shipping safer, environmentally friendlier, and keep passengers and crew entertained.

“Wi-fi and broadband are such a part of life now that when we’re in places where the data signal doesn’t reach we struggle to cope, but for many people working at sea, digital exclusion is considered normal.

“Maintaining an always-on data stream to and from a ship is possible and more vessels are becoming connected as advances in digital, satellite and antenna technology make it possible for ships to become connected offices afloat. The data flow allows the ship to operate like a modern land-based office with broadband access to Internet, email and the cloud. A connected vessel can exploit technologies such as machine-to-machine communications. This then allows the ship’s vital systems to be closely monitored from a remote data centre, bringing benefits including increased fuel efficiency and advanced warning of component failure, or any other safety threats,” he explains.

Further, the Internet of Things (IoT) impacts all areas of shipping, from cargo carriers to cruise liners and fishing boats and there has been a rise in connected devices and sensors being used in more innovative ways. Alongside the rise of the IoT, every aspect of shipping has been touched by the integration of automation and big data.

Cloud computing also plays an important role in the shipping industry. As companies utilise the cloud to allow business applications to be accessed both onboard and ashore, terabytes of data are streamed to shore and collected by company-wide operations. Mining and analysis of this data brings new transparency, and enables real-time experimentation and monitoring, which informs business decisions and drives product and service innovation.

VSAT solutions also contribute to the development of the maritime industry as integrated satellite solutions support applications onshore and at sea, and the satellite network plays a key role in improving crew welfare during long journeys. A recent example of this is Russian fishing fleet operator Dobroflot Corporate Group who chose a fully managed maritime satellite solution from Orange Business Services to connect its 14 vessels and onshore operations.

The solution makes it possible to access business-critical applications onboard, wherever the vessels are located. It also provides crews with a full range of ship-to-shore communications and entertainment services, allowing for more comfortable working conditions during the long periods at sea.

“Harvesting and processing fish during long periods at sea is tough work, and modern ICT technologies can help the entire crew stay connected. Another of our main goals was to introduce new communication technologies on our vessels, and we wanted an out-of-the-box communication solution with a predictable budget. Our partner Orange Business Services has offered us just that,” said Yuri Badodin, Technical Director, Dobroflot Corporate Group.

“Orange has connected hundreds of vessels all around the world with satellite services, but this is our first fully-managed maritime VSAT solution in Russia. As a leader in the fishing industry, Dobroflot Corporate Group understands just how crucial it is to have reliable connectivity. We are certain that our solution will help with the digital transformation of its business, introducing them to new opportunities for work at sea,” says McCallum.

Today’s connectivity is helping transform ships into branch offices at sea. The maritime sector faces numerous challenges, such as vessel safety, navigation, weather and crew welfare, which all impact their ability to operate efficiently. “A powerful communications infrastructure fulfills essential navigational, safety and compliance requirements. Critical vessel management tasks can be performed from shore, without the need to have specialists on board.  Additional voice and data transmission capacity also improves quality of life for all crew members,” states McCallum.

For many shipping professionals this may sound bewildering, but for those already investing in high-bandwidth IP communications infrastructure, the possibilities are becoming clearer.

“Shipping will change, but the extent to which it is the master of its own destiny depends upon the current generation of leaders fully using technology to their advantage. Failure to do so opens the door to new and aggressive cross-industry competitors who most certainly will.

“The maritime sector is undergoing its own digital transformation, as network infrastructures are expanded and upgraded. This helps shipping companies manage their fleets more efficiently, achieve fuel savings, and also outsource more tasks to the shore. Additionally, maritime broadband has positive implications for crew welfare and retention because it allows crews to connect with their families and friends ashore and gives access to online entertainment and training,” McCallum concludes.

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