Communication channels

Growth in data transmission has increased demand for bandwidth in the maritime sector. 

New digital services especially need high-speed and reliable connectivity. This affects shipping companies, port operators, and other stakeholders.

The following technologies are popular candidates for delivering the required bandwidth.

VHF data exchange system (VDES)

VDES is a standard that integrates the Automatic Identification System (AIS) with VHF Data Exchange (VDE). 

VDE uses terrestrial and satellite components for worldwide coverage. VDES is often referred to as “AIS 2.0” and provides a higher bandwidth than AIS and a system for bidirectional data exchange. VDES is suitable for low to medium-intensity data applications in Maritime Services. Potential use cases include MASS, SAR, VTS and ship reporting.

Cellular networks (4G, LTE, etc.)

Cellular networks are important for maritime communication in coastal areas. When a vessel is in the range of a cell tower, the crew or onboard systems can: 

  • access the internet
  • make voice calls
  • send text messages
  • transmit data. 

There are initiatives focussed on providing maritime information via Internet Protocol (IP). This can be through public-facing web portals or via standardised web services. 

An experimental version of LTE for the maritime domain (LTE-maritime) can also deliver coverage up to 100km from the coast1

LEO satellites 

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are an emerging technology for providing worldwide connectivity. Due to their low orbit, they can provide high-speed and low-latency internet connectivity. 

They are useful for applications that communicate in real-time. They are also useful for Maritime Services that must send large amounts of data.  Most other terrestrial communication links are not feasible for ship-to-shore communication.


Each of these communication technologies has advantages and disadvantages. The best solution for a specific service depends on factors such as: 

  • bandwidth requirements
  • cost
  • location
  • legal requirements. 

1. LTE-Maritime: High-Speed Maritime Wirelesscomm Communication Based on LTE Technology | IEEE Journals & Magazine | IEEE Xplore