More than 50% of the world’s seafood is exported from developing countries where artisanal fisheries using traditional, sustainable methods catch 25% of the total harvest. However, the small boats used by these fisheries are difficult to monitor and protect because they lack sufficient communications. In the face of a multi-billion illegal fishing industry and piracy concerns, governments in developing regions are implementing programs that enhance safety and security in national waters.

The bigger fisheries use of satellite communications, but they can be a very costly. Another option is the Automatic Identification System (AIS), a digital, high-frequency, radio-based transponder system that can prevent collisions. While commonly used and partially mandated as a maritime radio system, there are issues that plague AIS and those who are using it.

The communications crossing AIS are not properly secured; anyone can decode AIS messages and portray themselves as a vessel. Also, Maritime Mobile Service Identities, the global license number for vessels, can be faked, allowing rogue vessels to pose as other boats, effectively stealing their identity on the open ocean.

A more reliable and cost-effective solution for providing secure communications and tracking technology for boats is wireless machine-to-machine communication. This low-power, wide-area (LPWA) technology is easily adaptable for those fisheries and boats that stay within about 20km offshore, as it can move a lot of data per Hertz frequency of bandwidth that is allocated.

LPWA shares the same range of AIS transceivers, but solves many of the security issues AIS faces, as simple two-way messages are encrypted to prevent spoofing from outside sources. Power consumption also is drastically lowered so a small solar panel is enough to power the beacon. Broadcast messaging can handle important weather forecasts and firmware updates.

Certain zones in danger of being over-fished can be effectively policed by officials using LPWA networks to see and warn boats in danger of illegally entering these areas. Illegal fishing operations can also be curbed through a more reliable nationally tracked fishing fleet, as every vessel in national waters can be seen at any time securely and safely.

To ensure every vessel can be adequately tracked and have the means to securely messages back and forth, an LPWA solution must have high bandwidth to combat moments of high network congestion. Wireless management of the system must be made simple to ensure every message gets through, be it a simple confirmation of location or a call for help. Additionally, a solid downlink capability is critical for notifying boats of weather updates, fishing restrictions and zones, and other critical information.

Jonas Olsen is Chief Strategy Officer at Orolia and once led its Maritime Domain Awareness group. Previously, he was a vice president at On-Ramp Wireless, an LPWA provider, now named Ingenu.