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  • Melvin Mathews

A $1 billion problem that needs solving

We are all familiar with phones & the connectivity it has given us. The analogue rotary phones were cabled, but the modern cell phones are wireless & allows us to do more, in fact much more than what the landline allowed.

It took over 130 years to get about 1.25 billion landline phones installed. However, by the end of 2019 in just about 12 years from its inception, it is estimated that there will be 5 billion smart phone subscriptions. It demonstrates the ‘power to scale’ with technology that is enabled by wireless connectivity.

We have the technology to go wireless anywhere on the planet, but perhaps the last remaining frontier is inside a ship. That is because of the effect of the Faraday cage, which does not allow wireless signals to pass through steel barriers - bulkheads & decks.

As a consequence, every single equipment, machinery, device & sensor needs to be connected on board by cables. This means,

  •  Installing or retrofitting equipment (depending on ship type & size) can take 1-4 weeks on average to pull cables across the length, breadth and height of a ship. There are cases of big complex ships where this has even taken over 3 months.

  • On average (depending on ship type & size) the cost of cables and manpower for a retrofit installation is anywhere between $5,000 to $30,000 and it can be as high as $50,000 for a large complex ship.

 If we consider the average cost of installation to be $10,000, then that adds up to ($10,000 x 100,000 vessels) $1 billion cost of installation that the industry has to bear for cabled connectivity.

If you think about what being wireless meant for the phone, it has allowed us some incredible innovation and inventions, with the ability to call being a very small part of what we use smartphones today. Goes without saying that wireless capability on board will give us the option to scale quickly and allow sensors, devices, equipment & machinery to be connected and communicate with each other under wireless IoT. This will then enable and speed up development of the next generation of digital services & solutions that we have perhaps not yet even conceived.

It is believed that going wireless will give us the possibility of disruption not just in technology, but also in how we do business today. New business models such as 'as a service' (aaS) business models could be explored in shipping, including connectivity aaS, data aaS, platform aaS, engines aaS, maintenance aaS, to power aaS, voyage aaS, vessel aaS, transportation aaS, etc.

If we can solve the problem of the Faraday cage, the benefits & savings are bound to be enormous:

  • Installation time can potentially be reduced from weeks to hours

  • Estimated cost may be reduced by up to 90%

Unlike what happened with phones, we certainly hope it won’t take a century to change from cabled connection to wireless connectivity on ships. If the on-board wireless connectivity problem is solved, it will perhaps take just under 5 years to turn the entire world’s maritime fleet into one that is digitally capable.

The questions is - who will solve this problem?

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