Digitalisation is driving demand for satellite bandwidth like never before, as users who have long depended on remote mobility services are joined by new players needing to use sophisticated applications across multiple sites. But what is a smart, hybrid network and are there other drivers behind the increase in demand for network capacity?
No conversation about supply and demand can ignore the pandemic. Covid-19 changed bandwidth usage patterns for all kinds of workers and for remote mobile users in harsh environments it was no different.
A secondary effect has been that the supply chain issues affecting the global economy have also impacted maritime satellite. With technicians unable to make ship visits and perform upgrades and installations due to restrictions in port visits, the volume of remote operations has taken an increasing share of bandwidth.
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of digitalisation among shipowners and managers. Increased data capture and analytics helps vessels to operate more efficiently and economically, but also from an environmental perspective. More cloud-based applications are finding their way into the IT infrastructure of maritime customers.
This requires more data transfer in a secure and reliable way, and drives demand for bandwidth. A generalised increase in bandwidth demand we observed before the pandemic, has seen throughput on our network double every two years as more customers and assets were added. This has required us to become increasingly agile at curating the bandwidth that customers need across multiple networks, orbits, bands and channels.
Marlink has recently signed a series of agreements to add capacity to our network now and in the future. These include new partners like OneWeb and existing ones, including SES, Intelsat and Eutelsat to deliver enhanced coverage across market sectors.
New satellite capacity joining the available satellite fleet is an exciting prospect but it is important to understand what these networks were designed to do and how that fits in the maritime sector.
Meeting the user demands of mobility requires a network built to meet the specific requirements of each customer, considering the level of service, applications and location of their operations.
This is not about the user of tomorrow; vessel operators need an array of digital tools to achieve next-level efficiency gains and a completely different level of collaboration and data transfer and the networks are available to support them now.
This philosophically shifts the approach to constructing networks away from specifying a throughput number towards understanding what the owner needs to achieve and how to optimise the available services to meet that requirement.
A hybrid network combining constellations, orbits, frequency bands and channels is the only way to achieve a truly optimised network solution. Some of this connectivity comes into play only when needed but this is not ‘back up’, it is about providing the network as a service, on-demand, at guaranteed performance levels.
Creating this ’network as a service’ is about more than just new satellites, it’s the provision of guaranteed bandwidth, brought together in a package that reflects the importance of the data to the user taking throughput, latency and applications into account. Meeting that demand takes more than best effort, it means bringing the elements together in the most efficient way – and continuing to respond as demand grows in future.
Meeting this kind of demanding scenario requires a deep integration with the customer so that the solution provided has the functionality and scalability it needs, with an eye on future proof operations too. Often creating the right solution will require rethinking the IT and network architecture from end to end to make the technology required work in cloud, onboard ship or at remote sites.
The need for more complex, real time data will continue to grow and disparate markets will need a different blend of GEO, LEO, NGSO or 4/5G services. The important element is to combine the right technology package with the right service. Each customer is different; now the way their network is constructed can be too.
Click here to find out more about Marlink’s Smart Network Solutions, which include the management of hybrid networks.