According to the Seafarers Happiness Index, the majority of seafarers face the triple threat of poor quality, expensive, or non-existent connectivity. Today, poor connectivity still remains a barrier for seafarers' well-being; As they want to be in touch with home and friends, this issue is considered one of the most important, as it is considered vital to their happiness.
As Eero Tuomikoski, General Manager, Emerging Technologies at Wärtsilä stated
The shipping industry is very fragmented. The majority of ships work independently with basic safety-driven connectivity. A few segments, such as cruise ships and ferries, are more innovative as their customers prefer to be always connected.
Mr Tuomikoski added that connectivity will boost dynamic routing, considering weather, currents and traffic and knowing which is the most efficient route. In the meantime, logistics can be enhanced concerning just-in-time arrival, decreasing the waiting time prior to docking.
Also, connectivity will also play an important role in preventing problems upfront and minimise unscheduled downtime, while also ensure seafarers' safety with properly monitored equipment.
However, Wärtsilä also highlights that connectivity comes with disadvantages, keeping in mind the increase in cyber attacks and cyber threats, as presented in SAFETY4SEA's 2018 Major cyber attacks reported in maritime industry.
Therefore, Wärtsilä cooperated to respond to potential cyber attacks with its International Maritime Cyber Centre of Excellence (IMCCE) and Maritime Cyber Emergency Response Team (MCERT).
Currently, the technologies in use depend upon the coverage needed by the ship. A near-shore ferry might use 3G or 4G, and 5G looks promising for high-density areas such as ports. Far out at sea connectivity relies directly upon satellites.
The satellite industry supports us with new technology. New Low Earth Orbit satellites are a great help, and we have high bandwidth at a good rate coming. The data transfer costs are going down annually, which benefits all users in the industry.
For instance, in late 2018 SpaceX launched VdES Transmitting sAtellite System (VESTA) that will boost the marine information flow between the ship and the shore.
For the time being, the hardware that a vessel can use to achieve connectivity costs about 16,000 Euros; Yet, this price is likely to decrease in the future.
Concluding, Mr Tuomikoski stated that another barrier is how to benefit from older vessels that can not facilitate connectivity equipment; In this case, wireless solutions are the ideal step to follow, as retrofitting an old vessel or re-cabling it, would be an expensive process.