Inmarsat is staying ahead of fast-changing dynamics in ship connectivity by launching Crew Xpress, a new service for crew available as part of an ever increasing number of services on Fleet Xpress. The new service package includes a managed Wi-Fi solution ‘Fleet Hotspot’, a leased antenna, a business use data package, automated billing and a usage revenue recovery scheme to incentivise ship managers to invest in crew connectivity. “We have seen migration by a significant part of our customer base to our full high-speed Fleet Xpress service, but we also recognise crew wellbeing as a separate connectivity imperative,” says Ronald Spithout, President, Inmarsat Maritime. “There is a group of owners and managers who seek fully-managed Wi-Fi connectivity that crew can use on a self-service basis, but whose business data needs do not yet extend to the sensor-driven equipment maintenance or IoT-based route planning enabled by Ka-band. Crew Xpress allows those managers to start offering a managed, high-speed crew internet solution, while staying on an allowance plan, with the ability to migrate at any time to the full Fleet Xpress package. The Crew Xpress package consists of a 60cm Fleet Xpress antenna and a 6GB business allowance plan with an antenna offered on lease terms, with separate, managed crew internet access through the ‘Fleet Hotspot’. Accessing the internet via a unique login, the ‘Fleet Hotspot’ user secures time or data with allocated vouchers or by making online payments via a range of different methods. A number of Asian shipping companies have been trialling the new Crew Xpress service on board vessels since January 2019. Full commercial launch of the service is due in April with a wholesale version available in H2. Inmarsat’s Spithout observes that one of the more memorable sentiments expressed by a seafarer in last year’s Royal Holloway University of London/Inmarsat study - ‘Navigating Everyday Connectivities at Sea’ - was that ‘the only thing more important than connectivity is food’. “When seafarers need to connect, it is critical that they are not short-changed on coverage, stability and reliability,” he adds. The Crew Xpress ‘Fleet Hotspot’ portal is an evolution of a state of the art service first developed by Inmarsat’s aviation business unit for pilots and cabin crew. Inmarsat has already recognised that ship crews are likely to need greater variety in payment methods than their airborne counterparts and is concluding arrangements with a range of electronic payment services. Spithout also points out that the ‘Fleet Hotspot’ model could be equally useful for passenger vessels and superyachts, or for the contractors on board offshore support vessels, as it will be in the merchant maritime space.