Data consumed per ship during the pandemic has nearly tripled

Total data consumed per ship on average during the pandemic has nearly tripled, dramatically changing the connectivity at sea picture within a short timeframe.

Taking statistics looking at the average daily download and upload volume rate on 11,000 vessels using Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress from January last year to March 21 this year, total data consumed per ship has leapt from 3.4 gigabytes a day to 9.8 gigabytes a day. By way of comparison, global internet usage has just about doubled around the world during the same pandemic period.

This is an irreversible trend

Reasons for the growth at sea include higher crew usage as well as remote access for business and video calls.

Previously, pre-Covid-19 Inmarsat recorded data doubling per ship typically every 10 to 12 months.

“This is firm proof that digitalisation driven by both crew and operational usage is rapidly accelerating and this is an irreversible trend,” Ronald Spithout, president of Inmarsat Maritime, told Splash today.

Splash columnist Kris Kosmala commented: “If the increase is proportional between the crew consumption and ship consumption, then this would correlate with commissioning of modern ships which can report significantly more data from onboard systems and equipment than the older vessels, and interactively exchange data with their on-shore operations centers. That would be a welcome trend and this would also mean that the usage will not abate, but rather continuously grow.”

Mobile tech specialist KVH Industries, the world’s top maritime VSAT seller, announced earlier this month that it had shipped more than 500 VSAT satellite communications systems during the first three months of 2021, marking the second consecutive record quarter for VSAT shipments, in another sign of growing demand for more connectivity at sea.

The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report for the first quarter of 2021 picked up on the increased access to internet at sea.

“Encouragingly, progress is being made with more seafarers able to get online and connect with loved ones back home. More shipping companies are working to provide crews with access to Wi-Fi. It seems clear that this investment in connectivity makes a big difference in alleviating the hardships being faced by seafarers and improving morale onboard,” the report noted.

A recent report from Paris-headquartered satellite specialists Euroconsult noted how the living conditions onboard ships, especially during stopovers in ports, have changed markedly compared to the situation before the pandemic.

“Social life became more complicated and maintaining a social link with friends and family became more important than ever. As a result, the satellite communications market for merchant shipping actually saw an increase in consumption in support of crew welfare,” the Euroconsult report noted.

Merchant shipping represents the largest maritime connectivity market, with more than 225,000 active terminals at the end of last year, including 16,000 active VSATs, according to Euroconsult.

“The limited number of new terminal installations during the year and an increasing need for bandwidth allowed service providers to apply upgrades on price plans throughout this segment in 2020,” the report observed.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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