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How data quota management can ensure fair distribution of bandwidth, part 2

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In part one, we looked at why Internet onboard ships is a must, for both business and crew. However, bandwidth at sea is both expensive and more limited compared to land based options. To ensure fair onboard Internet access, control costs and make sure that crew web usage doesn’t undercut business needs, you need to manage bandwidth capacity on your vessels in a way that is both fair and easily controllable.

Ensuring a fair distribution of bandwidth on your vessels requires you to control onboard traffic.

In this week’s article, we’ll take a closer look at how you can offer Internet to your crews within controlled frames. The question is: Do you want to do it the bad way or the good way?

 

How to control onboard traffic: Content filtering or quota management?

Essentially, there are two main methodologies to control traffic on a network onboard a ship. You can either filter which content should be available to your users, or you can set a limit to the amount of data each user is allowed to consume within a given time frame.

These strategies are called content filtering and quota management. Read on to learn which you should implement on your vessels to make sure everyone onboard has the same rights when it comes to Internet access.

 

Content filtering – what is it, and how does it work?

Content filtering is the process of restricting access to certain web content. In practice, you are trying to block access to material that may be deemed offensive, inappropriate, dangerous – or services that typically consume a lot of bandwidth.

Content filtering works by using hardware or software-based solutions to establish rules about the types of sites that your ship crew can visit. By using keywords or other commonalities describing websites, content is grouped into categories – such as sports, gaming, gambling, adult, streaming, and so on – and those sites in undesirable categories are blocked on the ship network.

 

The problems with content filtering

Filtering content, by any means, is the bad way to control Internet traffic onboard your ships. Here’s why:

  1. It’s complicated, as most web traffic is encrypted. Now you may ask: “Can’t we just break encryption so that we can control based on the actual data being transferred?” Technically, you can… but it will infringe on privacy (and violate GDPR). In fact, it would result in a catch-22 situation. Low privacy infringement equals inadequate control. Full control can only be achieved with complete monitoring of traffic. And yes, this equals zero privacy.
  2. Web filters are not always accurate or correct. Sometimes, websites that have nothing to do with for instance gambling or adult material do get blocked.
  3. Trying to control by using DNS filtering is not guaranteed – there are many ways it can be bypassed.
  4. Content filtering is a never-ending story, because you simply cannot keep up with all the new sites and new services that you would like to block on your vessels.
  5. It’s a complex policy. What content has to be blocked, and why? What can be allowed, and why? Who decides what is appropriate or not?
  6. Many crew members may see content filtering as an indication of mistrust. This may bring down employee morale and create tension between your crew and you as an employer.
  7. Content filtering doesn’t solve the problem of ‘misbehaving’ applications/systems, which can take up all the capacity anyway (even if whitelisted and “legitimate”).
  8. It’s never failproof. Content filtering can be bypassed by “smarter” users in multiple ways, and it’s even difficult to identify when it’s been done.

Bottom line: Trying to control data usage based on content doesn’t solve the problem, as it’s complicated and always infringes on privacy to varying degrees. Moreover, content filtering might fail at controlling data volumes simply because allowed sites and services can also result in high data usage anyway. For this reason, you should opt for the good way to control onboard Internet traffic: Control data volume and/or time, not content. 

 

Quota management – a transparent and fair bandwidth allocation system

Quota management enables administrators to restrict Internet access per user based on volume and period (day/week/month/year). If you create quotas, you can limit the total allocated volume for crew purposes – allowing you to practise capacity management conveniently.

IT administrators will reduce workload and can concentrate on granting Internet access and manage traffic to balance total volume between business and social/crew. In this way, you will have more control of total data volume and also ensure fair usage distribution amongst your crew.

 

Top 6 reasons to choose a quota management solution

  • It’s easy to set up based on the actual capacity, or even per individual communication channel
  • It can be distributed fairly between anyone and everyone as desired
  • It always ensures free bandwidth capacity for business purpose
  • A purposed-built quota policy can address all needs, involving data amounts per day, week and month, and how much time per day (to avoid developing dependency, even if using little data)
  • It prevents unforeseen spikes in usage
  • It can even be designed to allow ”selling additional capacity” or provide additional data allowance as a reward.

 

A fair system builds trust

Regulating total use of the Internet across your fleet by enforcing content filtering measures does not foster a thriving onboard workplace culture.

Placing responsibility with the individuals and letting them decide for themselves how to use their allocated quota helps build trust and goodwill among your crews at sea.

A well-designed quota management system ensures easy Internet access for your crew, based on company standards. Each crew member decides what to use his or her allocated data quota for. Talking to friends and family members? Fine. Engaging in a Twitter feud? Who cares. Making a Tik Tok video? If you have any Generation Zers among your crew, you shouldn’t be surprised. Downloading ‘adult’ content? Well… According to Marine Insight, seafarers do a lot of different things to beat stress and stay focused on board.

Read more: Enterprise social networking for ships – why and how?

 

Maritime-optimised quota management

Using a quota management system as part of an enterprise software package for ships allows you to easily allocate a certain amount of free surfing data each month to everyone on board. Or per week, or even per day. 

If this free quota is used up before the end of the month, then you can buy extra capacity and sell it to crew members, by either leveraging existing slop chest ordinances or by automating payment via salary slip discount, via a dedicated API.

Such a service will help shape traffic according to company policy and effectively control costs. The system tracks each seafarer’s usage without invading their privacy, and gives your company a complete overview from shore, via a central web-based admin tool. This enables fair usage distribution, preventing the most eager seafarers from consuming the entire bandwidth available on the ship.

 

Give your crew full control

A quality ICT system provided by a trusted vendor should also offer a self-service mechanism that enables individual crew members to keep track of their data allowance, directly on their smartphone or tablet.

Just like workers onshore, your crews at sea want to be able to use their own devices to access apps through the Internet. Helping them manage their individual capacity usage by logging onto to the crew’s Wi-Fi connection through an easy-to-use crew connection app is a win-win for the seafarer and for you as a shipowner.

Such an app puts control of internet capacity back where it belongs. Not with an airtime provider, but in the hands of those who use it – and, as importantly, in the hands of the one who must ensure it is shared equally and used in the most effective way possible for the entire crew.

 

Conclusion

To ensure a fair distribution of bandwidth on your vessels, you must control onboard Internet traffic. This leaves you with two main options: Filter content or manage quotas.

Trying to control data usage based on content is complicated and infringes on privacy – and might not work at all. A much better way to control onboard traffic is to control data volume and/or time.

Rightly designed, a quota management service enables you to offer Internet to your crew in a controllable manner without contending with business-critical data traffic.

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How data quota management can ensure fair distribution of bandwidth, part 2
Written by Rune Larsen, Service Marketing Manager

Rune Larsen is Service Marketing Manager in Dualog, with responsibilities for user experience design, visual design and marketing of existing and new services. Educated in business strategy and marketing from the Arctic University of Norway, he has more than 25 years of experience from the creative industry, where he worked as a consultant, designer and creative director in various advertising agencies and design studios. He's been orchestrating brand identity projects, design work and brand building campaigns for a wide range of organisations. He brings a passion for great design to the team, never compromising on the importance of the 'experience' part of UX. When not at the office, he enjoys hiking with his wife or is busy being a football coach for his youngest daughter. His fitness regime involves either running or cross-country skiing. Rune is an avid reader of business-related books, and he loves the occasional bottle of Barolo.

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