Innovation and the shipping industry: How do satellite communications at sea contribute to this debate?

Innovation and the shipping industry: How do satellite communications at sea contribute to this debate?

Innovation continues to be a keenly debated topic in the shipping industry. Recurring questions include: How do we unlock new innovative ideas? Who is best placed to come up with new solutions? In what forum? And, once we have an idea, how do we make it financially viable? How can new concepts be adopted by ship owners and operators working against tight margins?


In a series of recent webinars by Fathom World, innovation has been a consistent theme. As part of the panel discussion ‘Beyond Disruption: Making a success of the new normal in shipping’, Mare Straetmans, managing director at Portxl, said the industry has no other option than to be innovative. On the same webinar, Annick Verhoeven business development manager, Maersk Digital, considered the need to work with newcomers to the industry in order to build solutions its customers need and want. This point was supported by discussions on another Fathom World webinar, ‘How to de-risk innovation and change in shipping. Operational clarity and vision in Shipping 4.0’, in which panellists agreed on the need to bring more newcomers, particularly digital natives, into the industry.

But, what can the industry do to attract innovators and implement the disruptive digital technologies shipping needs?

Shipping 2030

Last month, I was the digital native when I spoke on behalf of SES Networks at the Shipping 2030 seminar, ‘The vessel of change’.  The packed seminar was an ideal forum to discuss the satellite communications industry in shipping - an essential component in the industry's path to digital transformation. However, the emphasis of this debate was not as I had expected.

Instead of future gazing, discussions primarily centred around current issues of the day, with a particular focus on pricing and perceived over capacity in the market.

Although a little ‘off script’, these discussions were nevertheless an important reminder of the need to balance the debate around future technologies, innovations and ways of working, with solutions that address the operational realities faced by ship owners and operators in today's global industry.

Delegates at Shipping 2030 are right to look at the industry's future and their organisation's place within it. But, as they look at what's ahead, it’s important to keep a close eye on solutions that will enable them to remain profitable and compliant in 2018.

Challenging low expectations

From my perspective, a key part of addressing satellite communications’ ‘here and now’ issues in shipping lies in combating low expectations. These have plagued the shipping industry for years, with symptoms including under-developed, fragmented and unreliable systems.

Here at SES Networks, we believe exceptional speeds and bandwidth, pervasive signal strength throughout vessels, and unprecedented service consistency should be the norm, not the exception. This is aptly summed up in our belief that everyone has a right to be connected.

Today’s technology solutions

The good news is that the lion’s share of the innovative work needed to develop the technology to make this possible is already available – and it has been redefining connectivity at sea for a while.

In a maritime industry first, we offer multi-orbit (GEO and MEO) satellite-enabled connectivity solutions, which are available in multiple frequency bands (Ka-, Ku- and C-band). This unique combination of complementary high throughput (HTS) spacecraft and terrestrial infrastructure delivers a versatile global coverage that enables ship owners and operators to develop entirely scalable, versatile and hyper-efficient network topologies.

What maritime users desperately seek is solid, reliable connectivity that can support their business specific applications and enable true broadband connectivity for crew to use as they would do when at home or in a regular office environment.

Innovate now

As the world at large becomes more digitalized, I believe that innovation has never been more important to the shipping industry. To make full use of new ideas, it's important the ship owners and operators collaborate with industry newcomers. Through a combination of tech-savviness and industry know-how, the best operational solutions can be developed and implemented, as safely as possible and with minimal impact on the environment.

From a satellite communications perspective, many solutions that could have a significant impact are already available and deployed by SES Networks. Investment in these solutions will, in turn, allow the shipping industry to embrace digitalization, de-risk the future, and propel business growth through Shipping 2030 and beyond.

The article was first published on Stephen Conley ’s LinkedIn page