It is said that the (now leaning slightly less) bell tower in Pisa was used to gain valuable data; news of ships approaching the port – vital news for traders and ship owners who would be affected by the riches on board and, possibly, good news for the families of returning sailors.
The truth of that tale is suspect. Pisa is a fair way up the river Arno and even in the 11th century it was 2.5 km from the coast. But the plausibility of the tour guide’s story rests on our current wonder at how those earlier generations of seafarers managed without reliable communications.
Keeping in touch with very large mobile assets with valuable cargoes en route around the globe has got to be the ultimate broadband challenge. Far more than keeping in touch with crew and passengers, every aspect of shipping operations produces a wealth of data – the engine room’s performance metrics, navigation tracking, cargo conditions and maintenance schedules. Life on board is never dull. Fleet owners and operators (and their insurers) expect to be fully informed.
The international fleet operator Vroon, based in The Netherlands, operates and manages a diverse fleet of around 170 vessels, with more than 400 shore-based staff and around 4,000 marine personnel worldwide.
Their vessels are active in offshore support, offshore wind turbine installation and maintenance, dry cargo, container and other segments, including product/chemical tankers, asphalt/bitumen tankers and car carriers.
That diverse fleet adds up to a megaload of megabytes and the job of keeping Vroon connected to its offshore assets has fallen to Hong Kong based SpeedCast, a leading global satellite telecoms service provider. Their always-on 24×7 broadband platform will support a wide range of services, including Internet, voice and video streaming, with real-time connectivity at sea.
Anyone who has experienced Satcomms on land will be well aware of the challenges. Internet connections via satellite are relatively slow compared to a fully fibred connection – slower even than the hybrid fibre/copper connections that claim to be superfast – and the latency (over half a minute) on a round trip of 70,000km would never be the first choice of games enthusiasts.
But to meet Vroon’s specific requirements SpeedCast have designed solutions for every aspect of the operation with a range of Upload and Download capacities and optimized routing from earth stations to minimize delays. The prize for this design expertise? A multi-year contract for three parts of the Vroon fleet including subsea support ships and Wind Turbine installation & maintenance vessels with up to 110 people on board.
This is a classic example of a technology finding its market niche and ensuring that it has a reliable future – unlike that bell tower in Pisa that took 200 years to install and another 500 years to stop it falling over.