Digitalisation beyond the sea: An Introduction
Written by Alishia Sims – Maritime Research Analyst
Not a portion of the globe was left untouched by the Covid-19 pandemic, and in its wake society changed.
The consequences of the pandemic made technology a significant focal point, the need for faster connectivity and also the possibility of bypassing physical human input where necessary.
The impact of the pandemic on the maritime merchant shipping sector was substantial and a focus on digitalisation beyond the sea is now at the forefront.
Mindsets have shifted, as merchant maritime operators pursue a path towards ship digitalisation. The focus is still on providing connectivity for crew, but what other new possibilities are on the horizon?
The Hollywood actor, Russel Crowe, is known to say when looking out upon the world, one should “raise your vision just above the horizon”.
Taking that perspective for ship digitalisation. It is already widely recognised as the next steps forward for operations. It offers convenience for IT shore-based staff. Also, these tools can be cost-effectively, outsourcing IT infrastructure and management to expert service providers, in some ways makes it a no-brainer.
Greater digitalisation allows more accessibility and control for onshore operations. These are some of leading contenders in the maritime digitalisation solutions, we see “above the horizon”.
A good example of how digitalisation beyond the sea is becoming critical for merchant operators can be found by the endeavours of MarPoint, a Greek software company, co-founded by Anastasis Kyrkos and Dimosthenis and his two partners in 2013.
One of the many impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic was the realisation that increasing digitalisation is imperative to the maritime sector. To meet the ever-increasing demands of the market, MarPoint not only provides its services directly to its customers, a substantial portion of its customer base is through a global direct or indirect (OEM) reseller network consisting of various connectivity providers.
Based on this, MarPoint’s products and services cooperate with any connectivity provider, allowing the end user to have one universal platform for its business and crew operations as well as cost control.
This bold strategy has allowed MarPoint to deploy its solutions over 3,000 vessels worldwide as of Q3 2022.
Another main focus of MarPoint is IT infrastructure and management services. MarPoint’s Evo2 Router and UNI VM are available starting at €100 a month and are customisable to suit customer requirements.
UNI Virtualisation (server) solution, MarPoint’s high availability Active-Active Cluster, provides centralised management of the entire vessels’ IT infrastructure. This solution is cost effective its like providing three “mini” servers.
Readers should note that the firm doesn’t get involved in reselling satellite connectivity airtime solutions. Nevertheless, MarPoint does offer a complete Maritime Near Shore Connectivity solution with 4G/5G coverage in over 100 countries.
Another interesting company in this field is Navarino. Many readers will simply know this company as one of the largest resellers of Inmarsat’s FX services, and also partially owned by Inmarsat.
However, those paying close attention to the company will be aware of the subtle changes within the company as it morphs from a service provider to a technology provider. Navarino was actually recognised by Dell in July 2022, with “Transformational Partner of the Year Award”
Its Infinity box, a network bandwidth management and optimisation solution was one of the early starting points for the company whom has built out an interesting array of solutions within its digital portfolio.
Infinity is also resold by Inmarsat Solutions, Speedcast and other service providers. Valour Consultancy estimates the box has installed on more than 10,000 vessels globally.
From this customer footprint Navarino has been able to introduce Spectrum and Quazar. Spectrum is a software suite of tools which is centralised platform for remote monitoring, maintenance and management of IT and connectivity infrastructure onboard a vessel.
In regards to Quazar, the solution switches a CAPEX solution onto its axis to a monthly subscription solution. It provides a simple and cost-effective way to acquire, install and manage a vessel’s IT infrastructure. In February 2022, Vroon, the Dutch operator of deepsea and offshore support vessels announced a roll out of Navarino’s Quazar solution for 120 vessels.
Fascinatingly, Vroon highlighted Navarino’s flexibility in deploying the solution and also the firm’s Infinity solution, which allowed bandwidth management and optimisation to build a stable, standardised IT environment across its fleet. Vroon subscribes its VSAT connectivity from KVH Industries.
One of the world’s leading maritime service providers has been quick to jump onto the then emerging trend of vessel IT digitalisation, Marlink.
In 2019 Marlink launched ITLink, a new service specially designed to simplify and manage efficiently IT infrastructure, software and hardware, onboard vessels.
The service is available as a standalone managed service or can be integrated with Marlink’s SeaLink VSAT or hybrid network solution. What may surprise many readers is ITLink and its vessel operations solution, BridgeLink, are active on other vessels than Marlink’s own connectivity customers.
Marlink’s ITLink provides continuous monitoring of onboard IT environment, with customers also able to undertake remote operations/administration from shore. It enables vessel vessel operators to keep their IT systems always patched and updated, and IT services for the users on board running with the highest availability/uptime.
Early in 2020, the Marlink Group via its subsidiary, Telemar, a specialist in bridge systems and marine electronics, introduced a new service platform called BridgeLink to perform among other Smart Maintenance service. BridgeLink collects performance data from bridge equipment and other related systems sensors on board vessels. This enables the company to monitor systems health in real time, inform customers of necessary maintenance services, and/or complete repairs remotely. In addition, BridgeLink aims to standardise data structures, understand historical behaviour patterns and also analyse and visualise enriched data in real time
In Valour’s opinion, Marlink’s strategic focus will remain penetrating its digital services upon its existing 20,000 plus VSAT vessels and MSS vessels. If we were to make an educated guess on the total number of vessels with paid subscriptions, 2,500 to 3,000 vessels globally would be a reasonable figure.
Marlink has multiplied packages of its cybersecurity, ITLink and BridgeLink. A basic package could start from around $50 per month, whilst a full solution goes up to $600-700 per month per vessel.
Key point summary:
- Digitalisation will continue at a fast rate of knots. Broadband connectivity speeds are now almost a “mandatory” requirement to recruit seafarers and satisfy their needs. Companies will want to IT compatibility with its onshore network and onboard systems.
- Previously, the merchant market, bar fishing, was one of the last sectors to remain untapped from this trend. Post 2020, this is now not true and the market potential is big. There are more than 60,000 merchant vessels with VSAT or highspeed L-band solutions onboard. And even more with cellular-capable solutions.
- Who are the leading contenders? In a short space of time, Marpoint has developed a deceptively big customer base. Marlink and Navarino are also notable companies who will continue to develop their solutions and grow speedily via its connectivity solution and installed hardware base.
- One big question, will digitalisation services become more important than satellite connectivity? The answer is who you are. For companies like Marpoint which provide no connectivity solutions, bar cellular. The answer is yes. For Navarino, we wouldn’t be surprised if its profits for digitalisation services already dominated its satellite connectivity profits.For Marlink, its connectivity services will always be a major revenue driver. However, as digital solutions become more desired, and intertwined with connectivity, it would be remiss for Marlink not to offer customers combined services, such as ITLink, BridgeLink or CyberGuard.
- Fundamentally, we all need to recognise one key element. This wave of digitalisation doesn’t come without the bedrock of connectivity, satellite connectivity first and foremost whilst out at sea beyond the horizon.
- For Marlink, presently it still driven by connectivity services, but these are already integrated with its range of digital solutions, such as ITLink, BridgeLink or CyberGuard. So, a shift to digital solutions is to be expected.
For further information on recent research undertakings by Valour Consultancy in relation to smart shipping, and the future of maritime connectivity, information brochures are available for download.