By the end of the 19th century, one of the earliest uses for radiocommunication was communicating with ships. To this day and over a century later, frequencies are still irreplaceable for keeping in touch with seafarers and ensuring the safety of sailors and cargoes, although in the meantime, the volume of information needing to be transferred has increased. Digitizing communications is helping to increase the quantity of data that can be transmitted using the same amount of spectrum and plans are under consideration for responding to these new requirements by making new frequency bands available.
It should also be noted that maritime transport is a major component of national economies: 90% of the global movement of goods is seaborne. This represents some 8 billion tonnes of freight. In the case of France, 72% of imports and exports are transported by sea. In addition, French maritime transport companies carry 15 million passengers annually. In contrast with the economic crisis prevailing in recent years, maritime transport has increased by an annual average of 4%.
The growth in maritime radiocommunication requirements is the result of increasing maritime traffic and data transfer rates. In the last fifteen years or so, items have appeared on successive WRC agendas with the aim of facilitating the introduction of digital technology to the spectrum in use by the maritime community, following the earlier example of maritime HF bands.
Conventional communication systems (i.e. the telephone) have turned out to be ill-suited to transferring the information required to improve navigational safety, in particular when conditions are poor. To ensure the safety of ships and the efficient management of maritime traffic, the sector needs more real-time information, thus upgrading operational decision-making on land and at sea, including for example: weather forecasts, ice coverage maps, the position of aids to navigation, water levels and data on rapidly evolving port situations.
For security purposes, shore-based authorities also wish to gain access to more real-time shipping information, including for instance travel data, passenger lists and notifications in advance of a ship’s arrival. Efficiency would certainly improve if such data could be digitized and transmitted before a ship docks. Several projects of this kind are under way internationally, such as Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa2 and EfficienSea.