Communication revolution

Staying connected in the maritime industry has never been easier

Image Credit: Supplied
Magne Remoy, Director, Marlink
GN Focus

Economic relations between Norway and the UAE continue to grow steadily and the official trade visit to the region by Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon in 2010 was a clear boost for economic ties between the two nations.

The oil and gas and shipping sectors have directly benefited from the ties, with associated services such as maritime communications providers taking advantage of increased business opportunities

Change is also under way as the global maritime sector becomes more environmentally aware and the need for eco-friendly vessels with cost-effective communications increases. From 2016, all newly built vessels powered by liquefied natural gas will have to meet strict standards for sulphur emissions. Consequently, a new era of green shipping has emerged as the 
maritime sector gradually adopts new technology.

Challenges times

The effect of the economic downturn since the end of 2008 has undoubtedly had a massive impact on the commercial maritime industry. And with many industry reports concluding that the commercial maritime sector is facing its most challenging time since the previous mid 1970s collapse, it is ironic that deliveries of new vessels hit a new record in 2010.

But that’s not all — the expansion and competition within the maritime communications sector providing satcom services are showing no signs of slowing either.

High speed connectivity

Communications providers are striving to offer high-speed broadband connectivity as vessels at sea increasingly become integrated with land-based operations. For decades, communications networks on-board vessels have been highly restrictive with pay-by-the-minute and pay-by-the-byte narrowband service sparingly shared by crew and passengers. Today this model is fast becoming obsolete as companies struggle to retain crew who are spending longer stretches at sea. The shipping sector must now find a balance between reduction in overheads, while remaining open to the adoption of more sophisticated technology and communication on-board in order to increase overall efficiency.

While the challenges facing the sector across the world are multifaceted, one major concern for the Middle East and Africa today is that of piracy, making very small aperture terminals (VSAT) a key requirement for the usage of continuous picture streaming and black box recording data to head office for monitoring.

Remote areas

Additionally for oil and gas exploration teams operating in remote and unpredictable communication environments, voice services are widely used where there are no terrestrial networks or access to GSM signals. Data services are also very important, especially for exploration and production crews, with broadband internet access often necessary during the early stages for sending images, maps and videos from potential drilling sites.

The forecast in the Comsys Maritime VSAT Report 2012 implies that the maritime VSAT market continues to hold huge opportunities at all levels and suggests that the number of vessels in service will grow to be at least two times the present level by 2016 with annual revenues exceeding $1.2 billion (about Dh4.4 billion).

— The author is the director for Marlink, Middle East and Africa. He can be reached at