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SatComms in The Cargo Ship Industry: How Can It Improve Efficiency And Connectivity?

In recent years, satellites have become a crucial ally for cargo ships, submarines, and other maritime vessels. When land communications are down, due to issues like system failure, unfavorable weather conditions, or even a natural disaster, satellites can come into play with the added potential to cover significant landmasses unreachable by traditional comms. The improved performance, reliability, and flexibility of satellite communications (SatComms) has led to the predicted global market value of USD 46.50 billion by 2028.

The proliferation of SatComms and increased connectivity of cargo ships has allowed for seamless communication with ship owners on land all over the world. Let’s examine what technological changes have enabled this and their advantages for cargo ships.

The satellite landscape

The first system to provide satellite communications at sea was Inmarsat in 1979, which is still in use today. It allows mariners to access broadband, receive instructions, get weather updates, find their location, and get hold of safety information.

Satellites operate in three different orbits: low Earth orbit (LEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO), and geostationary orbit (GEO). A signal from a GEO satellite takes approximately 0.22 seconds to travel from Earth to the satellite and back. This delay poses some problems for applications such as voice services and mobile telephony. Therefore, most mobile and voice services usually use LEO or MEO satellites to avoid the signal delays resulting from the inherent latency in GEO satellites.

Nicholas Kyriakides

How LEOs have changed the SatComms landscape

Maritime operations are generally becoming more digital, with many jobs and processes now done using the internet rather than paper. From electronic forms, navigation chart downloads, vessel monitoring, and port communication to business emails, phone calls, and transactions, LEO connectivity has already changed the way ships operate.

Cargo ships no longer have to abide by the traditional route of direct satellite communication, which is very expensive. Now, they can use ‘voice over IP’ for communications that run on the data network of the satellite. These LEOs allow workers on cargo ships to have more or less the same communication tools as those in an office, enabling them to stay in touch with colleagues and families at all times.

What options are available to sailors?

Comprehensive data and failsafe connectivity are easily attainable from these innovative communications solutions. This allows for operations ranging from remote vessel diagnostics to video conferencing and the running of information management systems and digital platforms, improving working practices and bringing about substantial cost savings.

Under international regulations, ships must carry specific equipment that can be used to alert authorities to an emergency and provide accurate position details, enabling search and rescue services to attend the scene as quickly as possible. This is where satellite-based communications can be effective under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). Crew members with high-speed internet can access TV, a voice call to loved ones, or internet access for social media, news, and much more. This, in turn, is likely to increase their job satisfaction and make it easier to retain them as employees.

The improvement of LEOs in recent years has enabled a much greater availability of satellite internet, and cargo ships can take advantage of this with onboard SatComms systems. The possibilities are enormous for cargo ship owners to manage cargo in real-time and improve the digital experience of the guests and crew.
Source: By Nicholas Kyriakides, Co-Founder and COO of netTALK MARITIME, a communications company that specializes in location services & telehealth technologies for cruise lines.

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