Shipping is fast navigating digital opportunities

Maritime may be an age old industry dogged by complexity and conservatism, but it is changing fast as the logistical and cost benefits of connected shipping become more apparent.

Digital transformation is driving the shipping industry forward as companies look for smarter, more accessible ways of working. In my region, where shipping is central to several economies, I've seen how the Internet of Things (IoT), tracking, sensors and big data are being explored to enhance capabilities and boost profitability. Smart shipping containers, for example, have the potential to transform the industry by providing heightened visibility, security and control.

Orange Business is already demonstrating container tracking for a shipping company that delivers goods along the Yenisei river from Krasnoyark to Dudinka in Russia. This voyage takes eight days. The container's temperature is tracked via sensors. If there is a malfunction with any of the containers, an alert is sent so that pre-emptive maintenance can be quickly carried out to avoid losing perishable goods.

Technology undoubtedly has the potential to transform the fundamentals of shipping operations, with digital solutions and big data analytics driving new solutions, such as Rolls Royce Marine maintaining autonomous ships, which will be commonplace by 2030. In the short term, however, automated technologies and crew will, in the majority of cases, work together.

The power of satellite

Back in 2016, we rolled out Maritime VSAT, a fully-managed end-to-end satellite-based communication solution, to our customers. Just two years on and it is already deployed on 39 vessels, providing five of our customers with broadband Internet access out at sea.

Communications on the Northern Sea Route, a route connecting Russia and the Far East, had been sporadic and uncertain. The Northern Sea Route runs along the notoriously treacherous Russian Arctic coast from the Kara Sea, along Siberia to the Bering Strait. Two of our customers challenged us to solve this connectivity issue so they could stay in contact with shore in these dangerous waters: the Dobroflot Group of companies, delivering fresh fish from the Far East to Arkhangelsk; and the Northern Project, sailing from Arkhangelsk to Everett in the United States.

We immediately started testing. Six of our satellites covered the Northern Sea Route, but were not enough for continuous operation. Our engineers developed a roaming system allowing ships to switch automatically from satellite to satellite as required, ensuring continuity of communication throughout the route. Through our innovative work, our customers are now confident that they have reliable communications with their vessels, providing fast access to weather reports and oceanographic data.

Connecting at sea

As you can see, here at Orange Business we've been helping shipping companies to connect their vessels, even on the most perilous shipping routes.

Take the Arctic Shipping company, for example, where we have provided seamless network connectivity via Maritime Connect, vital to ensuring safety at sea for ships in the harsh weather conditions of the Russian Arctic.

The Arctic Shipping Company specializes in cargo transportation, including along the Northern Sea Route. Parts of the route are only free from ice for two months of the year.

Maritime Connect combines multiple networks, including satellite, to ensure connectivity for the cargo ships wherever they are located. Network is imperative to safety on the Northern Sea route. Stable and secure connectivity provides updates on ice conditions and keeps the on-board electronic mapping up-to-date. The network also simplifies communications with contractors and port authorities and provides crew with unlimited Internet access and the ability to make video calls home from smartphones via Wi-Fi connections. This is an enormous boost for mental well-being of the crew.

Time is money in the shipping business. The beauty of Maritime Connect is that it can be deployed very quickly. With installation taking around two days, it can be installed during a short stay in port.

Driving efficient operations

IoT is starting to make its mark in the maritime industry. At Orange Business, we have been helping shipping companies exploit various applications. Dobrofolot, for example, has been piloting smart fuel monitoring for its fishing fleet, designed to optimize fuel consumption on vessels and help stop fuel theft.

The system leverages highly-accurate Coriolis flow meter technology to measure mass flowing through a pipe. Sensors feed measurements directly to the IoT solution, which sends data back to shore via an on-board VSAT terminal. Dobroflot pays a monthly subscription for the service, so there is no initial major investment in technology.

Opening up new opportunities

Our experience in providing communications for the Northern Sea Route has not only given us a unique experience in operating satellite communications in northern latitudes, it has also opened up exciting new business opportunities in our region.

The volume of freight on the Northern Sea is increasing fast, and the growth is part of an important state maritime expansion program for Russia. The Northern Sea route is becoming a real alternative for shipping companies against the alternative route through the Suez Canal, which is much longer.

Our reliable satellite communications and various maritime solutions are helping customers open up new business opportunities in these Arctic waters, which were previously viewed by many with great caution.

Find out more about how we can help you manage your company’s digital transformation here.

Richard Van Wageningen

Richard van Wageningen is CEO of Orange Business in Russia and CIS and is the Head the IMEAR (Indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia) region. He has extensive leadership experience in the IT and telecommunications industries – both in services and equipment manufacturing – and holds degrees from Groningen State Polytechnics and the University of North Carolina. Richard has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and speaks fluent Russian.