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Svitzer Marine tracks tugboats with 4G ship-to-shore Wi-Fi

Maersk-owned tugboat operator Svitzer Marine has deployed Cradlepoint rugged networking solutions to support its fleet operations in ports around the world

Maritime safety and support specialist Svitzer Marine has seen a massive improvement in operating efficiency after deploying 4G mobile networking and ship-to-shore communications from supplier Cradlepoint.

Svitzer, which is part of global shipping group Maersk, has been operating towage and emergency response services in ports since the 1830s. It now employs 4,000 people and runs 430 vessels all around the world, from Russia to South America.

Svitzer faces a number of challenges in its customer-facing business processes. Towing a large ship into port is a tricky endeavour at the best of times, explains Khurram Inam, regional IT manager for Europe. He says it requires close co-ordination between up to five tugboats, all navigating through busy inshore waters with plentiful obstacles, constraints and restrictions.

Until recently Svitzer was constrained, explains Inam, because it had to deal with multiple implementations of 3G and 4G networks and ship-to-shore communications processes in the countries in which it works.

“We essentially had no way of managing and supporting vessels on a global scale,” he says. “We realised we had to come up with a product to provide stable and reliable communications to our tugs.”

Inam also wanted to standardise the on-board IT processes, which varied from country to country, and bring in cloud connectivity so that Svitzer could manage its entire fleet from a single, central management dashboard. The ultimate goal, he says, was to switch on truly 21st century digital operations, cut out paper reporting entirely, and enable real-time updates and access to documentation, such as manuals, timesheets and so on.

Mission-critical network

Inam settled on Cradlepoint, which at the time had just launched its COR IBR1100 ruggedised 3G/4G/Long Term Evolution (LTE) cloud-managed network appliance. A trial in Europe had determined that the solution, designed for in-vehicle networks for emergency services customers, could stand up to being deployed at sea.

Engineered to withstand extreme temperature, humidity, shock, vibration, dust, water splash and transient voltage, the appliance has multi-carrier 4G LTE support – critical for Svitzer’s globalised operations, Inam says – Ethernet Wi-Fi wide area networking (WAN), software-defined radio, GPS and standard network security features.

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Inam backed up the basic network installation with Cradlepoint’s enterprise cloud manager (ECM) platform to deploy and manage its multiple network locations. For his stretched, 12-strong IT team, this was a key component of the overall deployment because it means they can now resolve connectivity problems, configure groups and devices, and remotely update firmware.

“The ability to fix and update remotely is important, because getting to a tug is not always easy,” Inam says. “We can also troubleshoot other problems and get the crew to fix them.”

He also added a Zscaler internet security solution to provide protection from attacks, viruses and worms. It can be centrally managed to ensure standardised policy enforcement and destination filtering.

Calling all captains

The IT process improvements at the back end have already improved Svitzer’s fleet uptime and productivity, and cut the costs incurred by Inam’s department, but the deployment has also helped Svitzer’s crews improve their own operational practice.

“From a master’s perspective, they now have always-on access to jobs, so they can see what is happening now and what will happen later,” explains Inam.

“Once the job is booked in they need to do health and safety checks – is the tug seaworthy?, is there any planned maintenance?, and so on. These applications run on laptops on the tugs and it is very important to have reliable and speedy communications to get the data they need, when they need it,” he says.

Inam adds that the enhanced 4G service has also given him the confidence to begin planning ahead for the advent of 5G mobile networking standards, expected to drop within the next five years in some parts of the world.

“We want to be ready for it, as opposed to having to adapt a consumerised solution,” he says.

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