Connecting smarter: ‘Solid’ satellite communications from Marlink

By Michael Rogers

Sealink Flex represents a winning combination – the reassurance of a fixed monthly cost for minimum rates with total control over high-speed bandwidth usage
Sealink Flex represents a winning combination – the reassurance of a fixed monthly cost for minimum rates with total control over high-speed bandwidth usage (illustration: Marlink)

Provider of end-to-end managed connectivity and IT solutions, Marlink covers a lot of ground – or sea, to be more accurate. Who better to talk with concerning the latest developments in offshore communications?

During this year’s Nor-Shipping, Energy Northern Perspective met with Marlink’s President Maritime, Tore Morten Olsen, who, along with Knut Natvig, Marlink’s Vice President Corporate Communications, provided insight into the current state of the offshore satellite communications market.

For Marlink, Olsen explains, business has been brisk: “One of the reasons we are at Nor-Shipping is that the take-up in the market is going very strong. We’re equipping somewhere north of a thousand new vessels with broadband services every year. And that trend is increasing. And now, because of digitalisation and automation – and lots more data needs – we also see a clear tendency that more of the communication is used to benefit the owners and operators through operational efficiency gains.”

Flexible services
Leading up to Nor-Shipping, Marlink launched its new VSAT service Sealink Flex, which offers customers more than 100 bandwidth options, enabling maritime companies the opportunity to select from an unrivalled level of high-speed bandwidth flexibility.

Olsen says, “If you look back 5 years, charter contracts of 3 or 5 years were typical. Now those contracts may be 30 days – or just a few days – so we have more dynamic requirements in terms of uplifting the bandwidth and capability for a vessel, and it’s specifically tailored to the charter. It’s a different world today from what it was only 5 years ago.”

According to Olsen, as the new VSAT service is compatible with a variety of existing communication management platforms it’s easy and economical to move to Sealink Flex. Moreover, Marlink’s ability to rapidly respond to bandwidth alteration requests allows enquiries to be processed and resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Sealink Flex enables higher speeds with the ultimate regional and seasonal flexibility
Sealink Flex enables higher speeds with the ultimate regional and seasonal flexibility (illustration: Marlink)

This new VSAT service also features six new high-speed zones in strategic offshore areas around the globe so that Sealink Flex subscribers can access the fastest available onboard internet access, with the added benefit of available substantial bandwidth boosts.

When asked if the need for operational data has been a factor in the demand for bandwidth, Olsen responds, “Absolutely – especially in shipping – it’s one of the drivers for operators moving to broadband, because they always need to be connected to the vessel. And even if it’s relatively small data, they want to capture data that’s uploaded into the Cloud and then used for analysis by the operator – or by the equipment manufacturers.”

“And we also see that customers who already use VSAT services for crew welfare have started to upgrade the bandwidth, because much of what they originally bought is consumed by automated processes that send data to shore,” Olsen continues.

Secure services
With greater bandwidths comes increased demand for data security, and Marlink chose Nor-Shipping to roll out its new, sophisticated “IT Breach Policy” monitoring for its CyberGuard Detection service.

“With the IMO 2021 recommendation for IT compliance, we’ve invested a lot over the last couple of years on the IT side,” explains Olsen. “Two years ago, Marlink acquired Palantir, which we have now integrated completely and expanded the portfolio. So, we’ve been working to automate IT on-board, which means that anything you might use on shore when it comes to software, we can take care of offshore on the vessels, including security patches and updates. And we also offer a cyber security suite of services as well, depending on what the customer needs.”

CyberGuard portfolio – sophisticated cyber security solutions to support vessel digitalisation
CyberGuard portfolio – sophisticated cyber security solutions to support vessel digitalisation (illustration: Marlink)

Marlink launched Cyber Detection as part of its CyberGuard portfolio in 2018, and the company continues this commitment to provide dependable tools to defend against cyber-attack with its IT Breach Policy. Marlink’s full operational Cyber Detection service supports cyber security compliancy ahead of the IMO deadline of 1st January 2021, when ship owners and operators are required to include cyber risks into each vessel’s International Safety Management (ISM) Code.

Knut Natvig points out that the “human element” may be the prevalent weakness in cyber security, and the philosophy behind new IT Breach Policy monitoring service is the result of a recent Marlink study. “It’s not just something we talked about, it’s something that we’ve proven, and it comes back to the importance of what kind of security procedures you have in place now that these new regulations are coming into play,” Natvig explains. “And that’s what we see is going to be a challenge – how operators are able to integrate reliable procedures in order to be in compliance with the upcoming new IMO regulations. And there we see a discrepancy between where they are today and where they have to be one and a half years from now.”

To help ensure operators’ compliance, the new IT Breach Policy extends Cyber Detection service’s inbound and outbound network traffic monitoring, combining an automated and expert support procedures. Marlink designed the new IT Breach Policy service to identify deviations from an operator’s IT policy and raise an alert whenever suspicious activity is detected.

‘Solid’ solutions
Tore Morten Olsen describes how demand for satellite communications offerings has driven the Marlink’s innovations: “Our role is really to make sure we understand demands of the different market segments in maritime – those who we are serving – and that we can bring to market the services of the satellite operators.”

“This applies both in terms of the number of vessels that are being equipped with VSAT and in terms of the actual usage on each individual vessel. But of course, the market is extremely competitive, so we have to be sharp with what we’re doing.”

“So, Marlink is offering a lot capacity from all satellite operators, and blending that into solutions that are really solid.”