Top 5 maritime communication technology trends for 2022
As experts in our sector, it is our job to assess and monitor emerging technologies in maritime communications, in order to future proof our clients’ IT systems and ensure they receive the very best levels of connectivity whilst at sea. We’ve unpacked 5 of the industry’s main talking points, discussing the benefits and implications we anticipate these trends to have on the future of superyacht communications.
1. The acceleration of 5G
5G connectivity continues to be a hot topic within the industry, described as a high-speed, low latency evolution of 4G, the potential benefits of 5G for superyachts are far and wide. The fifth generation of cellular communication improves speed and reliability, ultimately resulting in greater ocean safety and guest and crew experience.
The catch? 5G currently has limited accessibility and availability. As 5G operates on higher frequencies to 4G, new infrastructure must be deployed to support 5G connectivity. This challenge is difficult to overcome, with a new infrastructure network expected to cost billions, exacerbated further by 5G’s shorter range, which means more cellular masts are required. The lack of infrastructure, combined with 5G’s limited range of approximately 500m (2% of 4G’s range), means it is not a data solution that can currently be used in isolation and must be complemented by a 4G network. On a more positive note, when you are close to the antenna and can enjoy the full benefits of 5G, data transfer speeds are exceptional.
Some marinas, such as Monaco, Palma and Miami have 5G masts installed, and we expect to see this increase throughout 2022. At OceanWeb, we’re providing 5G ready routers and antennas in anticipation of the widespread deployment, but when it comes to receiving a 5G connection that reaches similar levels of coverage and transmission distance to 4G, we’ve still got a long way to go.
However, what is certain is that 5G will continue to guide the way for the next era of technology, enabling wider use of IoT and the potential to replace traditional home internet. Investment in the underlying infrastructure will be a focus for the industry in 2022 before it can be widely embraced.
2. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Middle Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites
The conversation around LEO and MEO satellites can be confusing to those of us who are not technically minded, but it’s a topic that continues to frequent the news.
In simple terms, LEO’s are located 500 – 1,200Km away from earth (50 times closer than traditional GEO satellites), and unlike GEO satellites which follow a fixed orbit around the earth’s equator, LEO’s essentially whizz around the earth like electrons. Whilst LEO’s are not a new concept (Iridium have used them since 1998), there is a buzz around the satellites following significant investment from several major players, including Elon Musk backed Starlink.
Due to their proximity to the earth, LEO’s provide very low latency and high-speed connectivity; however, hundreds of satellites are required to achieve global coverage compared to the 3 GEO satellites required for near-global connectivity. Starlink are promising latency as low as 20ms whilst providing connectivity to underserviced rural areas, but their final constellation could be as large as 42,000. Such a large, complex LEO constellation raises the challenge of establishing effective inter-satellite routing, which means routing data between the satellites rather than between a ground station on earth and space.
In September 2021, Starlink took a step forward in this challenge, launching 51 laser-equipped satellites, which will enable more efficient sharing of capacity and, according to Musk, ‘can reduce long-distance latency by as much as 50%’. Despite all the noise, LEO satellite internet is still in early development, and whether it will be widely adopted is yet to be seen.
Middle Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites are much closer to being operational, which sit 5,000 to 20,000km above the earth, providing a low latency whilst also covering a much larger area. mPower is leading the race in MEO satellites, providing ‘fibre-like’ low latency, high-bandwidth connectivity using proven, deployable technology. Unlike complex LEO constellations, mPowers satellite solution requires only six satellites to provide coverage for 96% of the global population (between latitudes 50°N and 50°S), without the requirement for inter-satellite data transfer. This promising proposition has resulted in 4 top cruise companies signing up for mPowers connectivity services ahead of its launch. Typical speeds start from 450Mbps download and 150Mbps upload.
So, what does this mean for the connectivity on your yacht?
Yachts are likely to benefit from mPower MEO satellites long before LEO mega-constellations, with the satellites predicted to be fully operational by Q4 2022/Q1 2023. Yachts utilising MEO satellites will require a minimum of 2 VSAT antennas to maintain continuous connectivity, as the antennas follow various satellite beams simultaneously. As a viable and improved alternative to the current GEO satellites dominating the market, this is an area we’re keeping a close eye on.
3. Inmarsat Fleet Xpress – a complete maritime communication solution
As discussed above satellite communications are evolving due to increased demand for high-speed broadband via satellites. As a provider, Inmarsat are unique in that they own and manage the whole network from end to end, and they operate in both L-band and Ka-bands, providing vessels with a complete solution. Yachts require a minimum of 2 antennas, one for VSAT and one for L-band backup.
We are seeing an increase in yachts travelling to more remote destinations, which is prompting demand for reliable connectivity in previously underserviced areas. Inmarsat have announced plans to launch 2 new HEO (Highly Elliptical Orbit) satellites orbiting in a N-S orbit, providing high speed polar coverage (faster than direct competitor Iridium Certus) and therefore a true global Ka solution.
In December 2021 the company successfully launched the first of its hybrid L and Ka-bands satellites, the I-6 F1, the first of seven that are planned for launch by 2024. For maritime customers this will mean increased high-speed broadband capacity for those using Inmarsat Fleet Xpress.
This finally brings us to discuss ‘ORCHESTRA’, a unique, global network that Inmarsat claim will ‘redefine connectivity at scale’. As with several of its competitors, Inmarsat have shared their plans to deploy targeted LEO satellites, which will integrate with the existing GEO networks and terrestrial 5G. Although initial deployment is not expected until late 2022, on completion it may be delivering the fastest average speeds and lowest latency of any existing network.
As you can see, there is plenty going on at Inmarsat, so watch this space.
4. Increase in demand for streaming
Netflix alone requires 3GB data per hour and a minimum bandwidth of 5 Mbps, and this of course increases for each user. If you have a yacht on a charter with 10 guests, and half want to stream shows at the same time, significant data and bandwidth are required. To prepare for these circumstances we recommend choosing a flexible provider which allows you to increase your VSAT and 4G data during charter, along with utilising Kerio bandwidth management to ensure the bandwidth is allocated correctly to the various devices onboard.
TVRO’s are unlikely to become obsolete anytime soon, but as data speeds increase at sea, and airtime becomes more affordable, the demand for TVRO’s will begin to decline.
5. Cybersecurity and maritime communications
The introduction of the IMO’s cybersecurity guidelines in January 2021 has prompted the industry to assess the safety of networks on board and place a greater importance on the security of private data held and shared electronically. Since the pandemic began, cyberattacks on the maritime industry have increased by 400%. This coinciding with the increased innovation and digitalisation within the sector has left yachts more vulnerable to cyberattacks than ever before. As hackers use increasingly sophisticated methods, an attack has the potential to at best cause disturbance to your services, at worst, result in danger to life.
IT and communications systems on superyachts are often complex, so it’s key to know all the assets you have onboard to identify which are high risk. Questions owners and captains should ask themselves are, ‘do the crew have cybersecurity training?’, ‘Is our software up to date’, ‘Are our systems being maintained’. The IMO’s guidelines require all superyachts to have cybersecurity mitigation built into their safety Management System to become compliant.
To support our clients in this evolving landscape, we offer a comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessment, evaluating any network vulnerabilities and providing the information and tools necessary to mitigate the identified risks. Learn more about our cybersecurity services and how we can help you ensure you’re compliant with the IMO guidelines by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.