Telenor Maritime believes its new platform can help facilitate the digitalisation of the shipping industry, with secure, reliable and cost-effective sharing of data right across the globe. CEO Lars Erik Lunøe sees a new wave of connectivity ahead.
“It’s a bit more complex than that.”
Lars Erik Lunøe is quick to dispel the impression that Telenor Maritime is a mobile provider at sea.
The firm, founded as MCP in 2002, before being bought by Norway’s Telenor (a mobile operator with 180 million global customers) in 2006, is primarily known for delivering mobile services for cruise and ferry vessels, as well as building and operating offshore 4G networks connecting the energy industry. It is an acknowledged leader in the niche, boasting contracts with over 100 shipowners, covering more than 500 vessels and connecting 25 million passengers.
However, Lunøe, who assumed the CEO role two year ago, is eager to lead an evolution of the business, fine-tuning its image from “mobile specialist” to “communications partner” at sea. Central to this drive is an expansion into the merchant fleet, where the business will deliver not just calls and online demands but “data and digitalisation”.
The potential is huge for the firm, but greater, he stresses, for the industry as a whole.
“Shipping has been slow to embrace the benefits of digitalisation when compared to onshore industries,” he explains. “That’s definitely changing now, with shipowners and operators keen to start utilising data. However, the problem is a) they’re not always sure what for and b) they lack the infrastructure to enable the sharing of data across fleets, assets and organisations. We’re working to address that now.”
Environmental awareness is climbing higher on the public and industry agenda, Lunøe notes, while commercial pressures, heightened for many by the ramifications of the global pandemic, are exerting an ever-tighter grip on individual owners. A more effective approach to data can ease the pressure on both these fronts, he says, delivering benefits for stakeholders across the shipping spectrum.
“We’re exhibiting at the Blue Economy Hall at Nor-Shipping 2022,” Lunøe states, “which is focused on enabling commercial opportunity through responsible use of resources and environmental care. That concept of the ‘blue economy’ is at the heart of sustainable shipping and our strategy – we see commercial and environmental success as intrinsically linked.”
“If we can provide the platform for shipowners to collect, share and use data in a smarter, more ‘joined-up’ way we can help them with some of the major challenges they face. For example, collecting, comparing and analysing engine and fuel consumption data across fleets will deliver the understanding to optimise energy use, control costs and reduce emissions. More effective tracking of vessels will provide greater security, control and ensure that individual assets deliver in accordance with customer agreements and KPIs,” says Lunøe.
He continues, “The potential is so great it can be almost overwhelming for companies looking to start their data sharing journey. So, that’s something we’re focusing on now – approaching major shipowners with case studies explaining what is possible and where they can start. It’s a real eyeopener.”
But to build this digital future, the industry needs the right foundations. And, until now, Lunøe argues, that’s been lacking.
Satellites have traditionally been seen as the solution for enabling remote, deep sea connections, but this comes at a price. That is fine, the Telenor Maritime CEO says, for cruise ship operators that generate income from their passengers’ digital lifestyles, but not so feasible for a dry bulk vessel operating on wafer thin margins.
“The majority of ships don’t need huge bandwidth to share business-critical data, but what they do need is reliable, secure, end-to-end global coverage with a cost-effective price tag,” he says. “The merchant fleet has different requirements to passenger ships, so they need a different solution.”
With the purchase of Finnish-based KNL Networks in December last year, Telenor Maritime believes it can now fill that gap in the market.
KNL Networks has built something unique: A closed, cyber secure, low-cost MESH network that uses short-wave radio to connect installations across the globe and facilitate seamless data sharing. Each installation, for example on an offshore platform or operational vessel, becomes a system component, acting as both a receiver and base station for data transfer. The more installations, the more robust the network becomes. KNL worked out they needed around 70 such installations to cover the world, serving customers ranging from polar research vessels operating at the extremities to tankers plying busy routes.
There are now around 100 installations up and running.
“KNL Networks demonstrated breakthrough innovation and technology that we believe can empower the digital transformation of the shipping industry,” Lunøe explains. “Telenor Maritime has the size and market presence to truly commercialise that solution, helping it fulfil its potential and deliver data that makes a difference.”
Here he expands to move from shipowners wishing to analyse, harmonise and utilise fleet data through to regulators, class societies, port authorities and cargo owners that would also benefit from real-time insights and intelligence.
“Efficiencies are multiplied when you don’t just connect assets and organisations, but the whole industry,” he states.
“That could unlock even greater benefits as we work towards a healthy, profitable and thriving blue economy.”
A comment that brings us back to Nor-Shipping, where Telenor Maritime is a key Blue Economy partner, as well as exhibitor. Although keen to expound the virtues of digital connections, Lunøe, speaking from a country that has experienced various degrees of lockdown for over a year, is a firm believer in the power of face-to-face contact.
Teams, Zoom and the like works well, he states, but when it comes to building contacts and explaining an idea like KNL’s MESH network and digital transformation to owners ‘physical’ meetings just can’t be beaten.
“I think we’ve all missed that,” he comments. “Modern technology is excellent for maintaining relationships, but when it comes to building them and making initial connections it’s, well… it’s not optimal.”
“I think that’s why we’ll be looking forward to events like Nor-Shipping so much. The Blue Economy Hall is the perfect arena for us and it’ll be so refreshing, so welcoming, to feel the tangible sense of connection and community once again. We believe this proposition can help truly change the industry. The importance of that message demands a real connection,” he adds.
It seems MESH isn’t the only form of networking key to shipping’s digital future…