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Data & Tech

China’s focus on data security and the impact on AIS signals

November 26, 2021
3 min

There has been much news coverage about the recent developments in China surrounding the Anti-espionage Law and the Data Security Law and their impacts on Automatic Identification System (AIS) data. Whilst these reports focus on the theoretically marked decline in information the market (and companies such as Kpler) are able to gather, the reality is very different.


It is true that some AIS providers have been impacted by as much as a 60% drop in active terrestrial receivers, others have only seen impacts in the range of a 20-40% drop. This is still significant but once again does not tell the full story. There are multiple backup receivers in the networks and so a drop in the number of operable receivers does not directly correlate with a drop in the coverage of vessel activity


It is also important to note the use of the word terrestrial. Historically, AIS data gathering was based solely on land-based receivers. Whilst these systems provide the highest level of accuracy, the technology has moved on and we are now able to use satellite-based networks to monitor vessel activity not only in coastal waters but also the high seas. The recent developments in China have so far only impacted the use of these terrestrial receivers. 


From the perspective of continued service provision for our clients, we are pleased to say that the impact for Kpler has been minimal to negligible. From the outset, we at Kpler have been determined to not be reliant on any one source of base data. Through the use of multiple AIS data feeds, both terrestrial and satellite-based, as well those with seaborne receivers located on vessels that are able to pick up signals from others nearby, we have been able to maintain a high level of coverage for China. We are closely monitoring our data quality metrics and thus far have not been able to detect any meaningful drop in coverage. The chart below shows the average count of AIS positions per vessel per day in Chinese waters through October and November. As you can see, there has been no marked decline in coverage. In an analysis of the LNG fleet, of the 683 active vessels we track, only 10 had their latest position updated more than a day ago, and very few of those had actually been in Chinese waters. 


Source: Kpler


Looking at the aggregated vessel count for liquid tankers in Chinese waters (including those acting as floating storage) we can see there has been no significant decrease in tracking when allowing for the normal variation in the number of vessels from one week to the next.

Source: Kpler


As well as using multiple AIS sources and technologies, Kpler is also able to utilise its large network of non-AIS information sources. In the world of commodities tracking, the data gathered from AIS signals only gets you part of the way. For detailed information on what products vessels are carrying, where they are going to load or discharge next and exactly what quantities are on board, you need a network of commercial partnerships. The data gathered from brokers, port agents, inspectors and customs agencies goes beyond just supplementing our AIS feeds and adds a wealth of hard to gather information that is invaluable to our clients.


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