It’s become a standing joke that in the twenty-plus years I’ve been travelling to Greece—and Athens in particular—I have never managed to actually set foot in the Acropolis. Every visit starts out with good intentions, a determination to carve out the time necessary to make it up the hill and finally take that all-important selfie that will prevent me being the butt of any more jokes. But every visit ends up the same, with me boarding the plane having failed to do so.
So I had to smile when I saw that the venue for leading maritime satcoms provider Navarino’s customer gathering—at which they’d kindly invited me to speak to them about the future of the shipping industry—was to be held at the Acropolis Museum. Although it may not be the Acropolis, I was definitely getting closer.
Coincidentally it was at around the same time of my very first failure to visit the Acropolis in the mid-1990’s, that the Tsikopoulos brothers, one of whom, Dimitris, remains Navarino’s CEO, founded Navarino down the road in Piraeus. Since then the company has grown into one of the major distributors of Inmarsat services worldwide, with offices in the UK, Greece, Cyprus, Germany, Norway, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Focussing solely on the merchant marine market Navarino covers the entire range of connectivity requirements, from satellite airtime to hardware, together with value-added services and a global installation and on-board service network covering every continent.
Today Navarino generates 12 per cent of all Inmarsat FleetBroadband traffic globally, is on track to reach 5,000 sales of its Infinity product by the time you read this and, according to our research, touches in excess of 6,000 ships. With such a significant market presence and influence I was very interested to be part of the conference, together with senior representatives from Inmarsat, Cobham and Intellian, as the company helped its customers to understand the implications and benefits of the new Inmarsat Fleet Xpress service.
Enabled by Inmarsat’s Global Xpress ka-band high-throughput satellite service, Fleet Xpress is one of the next-generation connectivity solutions which have been on the horizon for a while now, and like all HTS services, promises unprecedented data rates. Navarino believes it has created a compelling product around the service though, packaging it with the Navarino Infinity Cube to deliver a truly, fully redundant option. Offering a dual Network Service Device (NSD) installed across both Infinity Cube nodes means that in the event of a failure of one node, the other seamlessly takes over.
Gathering key personnel from both the commercial and technical operations, together with partners like Inmarsat, Cobham and Intellian, and sitting them in front of its customers, the objective was for the more than 75 ship operators at the event to get answers to their questions about the Fleet Xpress service. However, thanks to a live polling tool deployed at the conference, the ship operators themselves volunteered answers around their attitudes and intentions towards ship connectivity which were really fascinating.
Asked what the number one driver for considering upgrading to a higher bandwidth solution on their vessels, the majority of operators said it was to improve operational efficiency (37%), with the second biggest driver being to improve crew welfare (32%).
Interestingly this mirrors the results of the maritime satellite applications survey Futurenautics Maritime carried out with Intelsat (download free of charge at www.futurenautics.com/maritime-satcoms-applications-2016) which for the first time indicated that operational efficiency had overtaken cost reduction as the prime driver for satcoms. Although a more regional test of opinion, it would seem that—amongst the Greek operators at least—that sentiment is holding. At 28%, ‘reducing costs’ was the third most popular reason, with ‘complying with owners requirements’ a distant fourth at 4%.
When asked about crew internet Navarino customers overwhelmingly reported that they charged crew for all Internet usage (60%), with those that offer a proportion of access for free and charge for additional access representing a much smaller group (19%). Those which offered crew internet either completely free of charge, or don’t offer it at all were evenly balanced at 11% apiece.
Asked what they considered the most interesting and attractive aspects of the Fleet Xpress service, ship operators pointed to the fixed fee for unlimited usage (60%) and higher bandwidth with guaranteed speeds (55%) as key aspects, whilst ‘global coverage’ (28%) and ‘reliability’ (20%) were considerably less important. It’s an interesting set of results, indicating perhaps that operators are recognising the importance of the connectivity to their operational efficiency objectives and are determined to ensure they have the bandwidth they need.
Whilst coverage and reliability scored lower, it’s likely that the represents a maturing of expectations rather than a lack of importance attached to either. Despite the persistent efforts to suggest that maritime satellite communications aren’t reliable enough on the part of some within the industry, the reality is that both Inmarsat and Intelsat routinely deliver enterprise-grade services, and this finding is probably a reflection that operators consider that level of coverage and reliability as a given.
When asked about their future plans for connectivity, the message from ship operators was an eye-opener. Despite concerns across the industry about the unavoidable costs operators will face in the coming year from compliance with environmental mandates, just over half (51%) of operators indicated that they ‘definitely’ intended to install an unlimited bandwidth solution during 2017. A further 30% said that they were ‘very likely’ to do so, with only 20% reporting that they were either unlikely or definitely would not install an unlimited bandwidth solution this year.
Similarly, when it came to cyber security, the message from Navarino’s customers was clear. 73% of them indicated that they either definitely intended, or were very likely to implement a cyber security solution for their vessels during 2017.
It’s been said many times that the Greek ship operators have an almost supernatural ability to read the market correctly and seem to know things that others don’t—hence their success. On this evidence it would appear that Navarino’s customers at least do seem to have worked out where the future lies.
The evidence that connectivity is the bridge to the digital operations, cost efficiencies and new value which shipping has to find in the new digital era, is everywhere. Yet despite it, there are still many ship operators struggling to make the foundational investments in enterprise-grade connectivity which are becoming urgent. The knowledge that connectivity is crucial is spreading, but the foresight to make the investment now, in the face of the toughest markets in memory is in shorter supply.
I left Athens having failed once again to visit its most famous landmark, but I came away with a sense that once again, the Greek ship operators might be about to outmanoeuvre the rest of the industry. Because in the same way that there’s a difference between data and information, there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom—of which Athena, the city’s patron, is Goddess.
I may never have made it to the Acropolis, but that much I have picked up.