As technologically advanced as communications have become, the bottom line, particularly for business applications, remains basically the same: the need for clear, reliable and cost-effective means to communicate.
Trends in the transmission of data, voice and e-mail from ship-to-shore are much like that of land-based operations. The need for more speed and increased reliability are never ending, and the companies that excel are the ones that not only continually innovate, but those that consistently stay on the front of the curve to deliver real-world technologies that deliver benefits in the unique maritime operational environment. In parallel, price pressures are ubiquitous, as shipowners are keen to exploit every outlet to cut costs and generate revenue. Following are updates of systems, products and service from some of the industry's leaders.
Marlink Debuts Online Tools to Control Costs
Marlink introduced a cost-saving enhancement to its account management tool, MarlinkOnline. MarlinkOnline, available exclusively to Marlink customers, is a secure Web-based tool designed to allow both maritime and land-based customers to more directly manage their Marlink communication accounts by permitting authorized users to review and analyze monthly invoices and daily account usage, as well as print call records and invoice details. Maritime customers can select and view invoices or call data for individual vessels or for their entire fleet with information updated every 24 hours. Both ship and shore-based customers now have the ability to manage their communications costs in greater detail enabling them to improve their overall operational efficiencies. Another enhancement is the WebDial feature, a feature that enables users to initiate voice calls online via the Web. Marlink's WebDial permits the user to direct calls to any terrestrial or cellular phone and to determine the account to be billed for the call.
Cell Phone Service Sets Sail
AT&T Wireless and Maritime Telecommunications Network (MTN) are working to provide cruise ship passengers with the convenience of using their wireless phones at sea. Earlier this year the companies formed a joint venture, Wireless Maritime Services, to develop and launch an innovative and affordable communications offering that will rely on a combination of satellite and wireless services to provide the cruise line industry and its passengers with on-board wireless service. Recently it was announced that Island Cruises would
offer passengers the service via their personal wireless phones anywhere their cruise ship takes them in international waters. Island Cruises' Island Escape incorporated a new communications offering developed by Wireless Maritime Services. The offering combines satellite and wireless services to provide the cruise line industry and its passengers with on-board wireless service. Wireless service is now available on the Island Escape for many passengers with GSM phones operating on the 900 MHz frequency, which is common throughout Europe.
Stratos Offers F33 MPDS
Stratos Global has available Mobile Packet Data Service (MPDS) for Inmarsat Fleet F33, bringing always-on connectivity and data-transmission-based billing to smaller maritime vessels. MPDS for Fleet F33 features persistent connectivity at speeds up to 64 kbps incoming from the satellite and up to 28 kbps outgoing from the terminal. MPDS connectivity is available within Inmarsat's spot beam coverage area and users pay only for the amount of data sent and received, rather than the amount of time they are connected. Fleet F33 from Stratos features a small, lightweight antenna and reduced-size on-deck equipment
PetroCom Helps Turn the Tide in Offshore Communication
PetroCom completed phase one of base station installations in the Gulf of Mexico — the first digital cellular network in the Gulf — with final testing scheduled to have begun in early July. Working with Siemens and Ericsson, PetroCom is introducing GSM technology to provide enhanced, secure and high-speed communications for companies in the offshore industry.
"The first digital cellular network in the Gulf is on schedule and moving swiftly to deployment," said PetroCom President and CEO Brad Parro. "The first operational digital cellular sites signify PetroCom's solid commitment and delivery on its promise to bring the dominant and most strategic communications network to our customers in the Gulf of Mexico."
In addition, PetroCom is fully optimizing the existing analog network at the same time. The analog system is being reengineered and upgraded for better, more powerful performance.
When complete, PetroCom's digital cellular network will deliver approximately 100,000 sq. miles of coverage in the Gulf of Mexico. The company will also provide additional coverage to support deepwater exploration projects and specialized market demands. PetroCom's network harnesses the strength of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard. The network will also be one of the first system-wide deployments of EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) technology in the U.S.
SeaWave Helps Steer Ferry Home
SeaWave, LLC installed the SeaWave Integrator 3.0 aboard the Alaska Marine Highway System's (AMHS) high speed ferry Fairweather, as it embarked earlier this year on its one-month trip for delivery from Bridgeport, Conn., to Juneau, Alaska. Derecktor Shipyards wanted a communications system on board for email and weather tracking for its delivery voyage. The SeaWave Integrator provided voice and email communications to the Derecktor delivery captain and 10 crew members during transit of the first commercial ferry to be built to the international High Speed Craft (HSC) code in the United States. SeaWave provides tracking services using their SeaWave STAR vessel tracki
ng software, freely available to SeaWave users from their Web portal mySeaWave.
F77 for High Speed Internet
The Tracphone F77 by KVH Industries is designed to be a compact, high-powered marine satellite communications system. Using the Inmarsat Fleet F77 service, the Tracphone F77 offers vessels high quality voice connection worldwide and high-speed data and internet connections in more than 90 percent of the maritime cruising routes and regions around the world. Tracphone F77 can meet a variety of needs via its ability to switch between Mobile Packet Data Service (MPDS) and mobile Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) channels.
Xantic Appointed BGAN Launch Partner
Xantic was selected by Inmarsat to become a prospective launch Distribution Partner for the new BGAN services which will become available to the market in 2005. The BGAN is designed as a complete, easy-to-use mobile satellite solution. With bandwidth up to 432kbit/s and improved portability via a broad selection of terminals, BGAN will extend offerings to traditional mobile satcom users.
Scratch & Phone
France Telecom Mobile Satellite Communications pre-paid phone card service, dubbed "Scratch & Phone," is designed to help control crew communication costs and boost morale. Recently, the system was significantly enhanced with reduced rates and extended "Happy Hour" times. When calling within the new Happy Hour time slot, Opti-time card users pay less than $1/minute, whatever the ocean region or call destination. On April 1, 2004, the "Happy Hour" time slot was extended to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. UTC/GMT during
the week and all day on the weekends.
Telenor Launches Sealink Global Access
Telenor launched Sealink Global Access, the company's latest broadband communications package designed to deliver high-speed global access for the maritime industry. This new very small aperture terminal (VSAT) service provides ships with connections of up to 256 kpbs at a fixed monthly fee.
The off-the-shelf package includes on-board telephone/fax lines; internet and public switched telephone network access; installation and maintenance of the on-board antenna and equipment; and 24-hour customer support.
"Sealink Global Access incorporates all the communications functionality of our well-proven Sealink broadband solution using smaller, commercially available equipment that provides the maritime shipping and transportation markets a very cost-effective and fully managed communications package for global and regional operations."
Teamtalk Satellite Launches E-mail Software
Teamtalk Satellite launched Super-Hub Pro2004, an upgrade to its existing e-mail software portfolio. The new package includes all of the standard benefits of satellite communication packages, such as compression, batching, breakpoint restart, duplex transfer, encryption and security. In addition, it uses SMTP/POP3 client software, allowing it to be used with popular programs such as MS Outlook, MS Outlook Express, Lotus, Eudora and CCMail.
Subsea7: Staying Connected with CapRock
Subsea7 travels to some of the world's most remote marine locations to provide construction, diving, pipelay and remotely operated vehicle (ROV)/survey services. Because it operates vessels throughout the world, it is essential for Subsea7 to provide a reliable means for customers and vessel crews to transmit and receive voice and data. But providing communications is outside of Subsea7's core competency and the company had been using the same VSAT systems for several years. In 2002, Subsea7 recognized that its limited VSAT communications systems were due for replacement, and the company saw an opportunity to upgrade to systems. Reliability topped the list of the qualities Subsea7 was looking for in a provider. "Working from a ship for any length of time is considerably more efficient with reliable broadband communications to the outside world," said Subsea7 Global IT Manager Anders From. "We chose CapRock Communications based on their track record of reliability and their ability to demonstrate significant savings. They gave us a system with unparalleled quality, creating value for our customers and employees who can easily work from any vessel in the Subsea7 fleet with communications tailored to their project needs." CapRock is the single source provider of both dedicated and Bandwidth-on-Demand connectivity to enable flexible ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications for customers and crew aboard Subsea7 ships
around the world. CapRock's flexible network allows voice and high-speed data connections to be provisioned on an as-needed basis from CapRock's network operating center (NOC) in Scotland. "Ensuring that the products and services were of a high standard was extremely important," said Subsea7 Project Manager John Morrison. "But, beyond that, we were interested in contracting with a company with whom we could establish a strong relationship."