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Live from CMA Shipping

Starlink is no silver bullet for shipboard connectivity

Photo: Seatrade Maritime Connectivity panel at CMA Shipping 2024
The uptake of Starlink across the maritime industry continues at a rapid pace, but the service does not fulfill all of the industry’s needs, according to communications experts.

The high-bandwidth, low-latency communication technology uses Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and has been brought up in multiple discussions at CMA Shipping 2024; speakers in the ‘Connectivity, Optimization, and the Maritime of the Future’ conference session put the technology in context of the industry's requirements.

“In the industry, Starlink and other non-geostationary (NGSO) have really started to come into the fold into the industry… a lot of this demand is being driven by the crew. In fact, we're seeing it now as a requirement in some union contracts that come up for US flag vessels,” said Eric Griffin, Vice President, Offshore at Inmarsat.

The value of Starlink to crew is the high bandwidth which allows for streaming of video content and better connectivity to shore through video calls and social media. Connectivity is a leading factor in seafarer happiness onboard and one they consider when choosing vessels to work on. However, for business applications Starlink is not necessarily the perfect solution, the panel said.

“You are seeing some companies start to go into leveraging the Starlink connection for other corporate applications. But my suggestion is that you tread carefully when something like that. You can look at the Starlink terms and conditions, and they tell you that the service is not for mission critical use. That’s in the terms and conditions at point 7.4,” said Griffin.

The need for reliability and guaranteed service levels for certain applications is part of the driver for mixed connectivity solutions, the panel said, where multiple satellite and cellular technologies and made available to a ship. The movement of crew data to Starlink in such scenarios frees up bandwidth, said Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, CEO at Tototheo Maritime.

“We are beginning to take a more holistic approach when it comes to the infrastructure onboard. We see Starlink is mostly for crew, so it's allowing us to use other satellite options for the more critical uses on board. That's what we're seeing generally in the market right now,” said Theodosiou.

As connectivity habits change, ship operators should be aware of the benefits that resellers have traditionally brought to the market, said David Natsheh, Commercial Product Manager, Marine at Telesat. Natsheh explained about the impact that was being had on the business model of resellers with Starlink offering services direct at times, “really cutting into some of the profitability”.