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Data is the New Oil and Satellites Are the Pipeline

Data is the New Oil and Satellites Are the Pipeline
Stephen Conley March 16, 2018

As the shipping industry embraces digitalization, it’s time for a new era of fresh thinking that recognizes the potential of satellite communications in delivering financial, environmental and safety improvements.

If shipping awarded a ‘word of the year’ in 2017, digitalization would have been a clear contender. The term has become a mainstay of commentary in maritime media and a key topic of debate at our industry’s conferences and exhibitions.

But the reality is that digitalization is more than just a word or catchphrase that’s captured shipping’s attention. The work being done in its name is set to transform the sector.

The risks and rewards associated with digitalization are plentiful. Shell, for example, has fitted its fleet of liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers and tankers with more than 500 data points and connections to shore, creating a flow of information between vessels, ports and terminals that is enabling an efficiency of operations that would have been unthinkable in the analog age. Equally, Maersk experienced first-hand the risks associated with digitalization during a widely publicized cyber attack on its IT systems in 2017. And despite the scars of footing a $200-$300 million bill for the incident, Maersk remains a staunch supporter of digitalization, calling it a ‘key part of its future’ on its webpage dedicated to the topic.

Exponential Growth
As notable as the risks and rewards of digitalization is the speed at which it’s being deployed. While its true potential for the industry remains unknown, what is clear is the exponential growth of digitalization and the solutions that it enables, not least in the ability for companies to manage vast flows of data. For example, according to satellite consultancy COMSYS, the number of active maritime VSAT installations, which send and receive data at broadband speeds on board vessels, has quadrupled from 2008 (6,001) to 2014 (21,922), and it is predicted to exceed 40,000 this year. Moreover, according to DNV GL, the Maritime VSAT network has nearly doubled in the last two years from 8.7 Gbps (Gigabits per second) to 16.5 Gbps. If this trend continues – and there’s no reason to think it won’t – this capacity will reach 217 Gbps by 2025. Unprecedented growth that reveals the industry’s eagerness to exploit the opportunity that digitalized satellite communication brings.