In the past, disconnecting at sea was common, but the convergence of three waves of modern communication – cellular, wi-fi and the internet of things (IoT) – have significantly improved at-sea connectivity. Passengers expect to stay connected during their cruise and the personalised service many operators are promising requires cellular, wi-fi and IoT systems to work in harmony. These services are moving from being a novelty, to being a necessity for modern cruising.
Wave one: cellular dominates availability and convenience
Cellular technology came of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The so-called Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X grew up with this technology and today more than 4.8 billion people worldwide – almost 75% of the global population – use the service on land, and at sea.
Myth: international and at-sea cellular use is expensive.
Reality: international cellular roaming rates have decreased significantly over the past few years, making service at sea economical and predictable with cellular packages.
Wireless carriers now offer customers the option to use cellular services internationally for much cheaper rates, and they are far more seamless than wi-fi or app-based communications. Savvy cruise operators know that a convenient cellular service contributes to the overall customer experience, particularly for enterprise customers who need to remain contactable. Wireless Maritime Services (WMS) is the only maritime communications provider that offers cellular packages with major mobile carriers. Not only do these packages provide a more predictable service and prevent customers getting a shock at their bill, but they also deliver more revenue per user to the cruise line.
Wave two: wi-fi dominates utility and bandwidth efficiency
Although cellular services at sea are seamless and sustainable, cellular cannot provide affordable access to high-bandwidth data apps, such as video streaming service Netflix, or live news and sports footage. Now that more guests are using these mobile apps for entertainment and data-rich communication, a wi-fi infrastructure is a necessity for any cruise ship.
Myth: wi-fi internet service will continue to be a healthy revenue stream for years to come.
Reality: the quality of wi-fi will need to go up and the prices will need to come down so cruise lines can use the quality of their complimentary wi-fi to gain and defend market share.
Many cruise lines have focused too much on the cost of providing a wi-fi infrastructure – either by using a fragmented web of suppliers (which increases costs) and/or managing the service in-house (which may lack expertise) – so they have more expensive, sub-optimal wi-fi networks on their vessels. A much better option to manage costs, yet still provide superior customer experience, is to let a provider like WMS manage the technologies and create a seamless onboard ecosystem.
Myth: wi-fi can replace cellular communication services on cruise ships.
Reality: wi-fi as a communication platform is extremely fragmented, and it does not offer seamless interoperability or have the critical mass of cellular communication.
Using wi-fi for ship-to-shore communications is not as reliable as using cellular services. For example, Facebook Messenger is the world’s top instant messaging app and is used by 900 million people each month, but if guests used it to contact 10 random people around the world while at sea, they would likely only reach one. In contrast, if guests used cellular texting to do the same, they would likely reach six people. Similarly, using carrier-enabled wi-fi for calls is relatively new and only used by 6% of mobile owners worldwide. For cruise lines, this means that on average, fewer than 10% of passengers would be able to use wi-fi to communicate via their mobile number.
While there are emerging ways to communicate via wi-fi at sea, the experience is still fragmented. WMS recommends that cruise lines continue to offer both cellular and wi-fi internet so passengers can choose the communication option that best meets their needs. Operators should also focus on how the two technologies can complement each other to decrease costs, while improving service quality and guest experience.
Myth: installing and managing a wi-fi network is a fairly easy task.
Reality: wi-fi is a continuously evolving radio frequency technology with many complexities, so cruise lines should work with a trusted partner as they look to use it for ship operations and passenger experience.
A typical wi-fi network has over 20 core components sending signals from the ship to satellites in space, to land and back. With more mobile functions riding on wi-fi networks, it is important for the infrastructure to have a reliable and high-quality design. For cruise lines, the right wi-fi installation and management can be very expensive, sometimes indirectly. WMS is a trusted partner in this space and specialises in designing, managing, and optimisation services. In our experience, cruise lines have been unaware of either the sub-optimal quality or the bottom-line financial performance of the current build-your-own model.
Wave three: IoT allows personalisation and creates new revenue streams
A good IoT-driven strategy seeks to reduce guest pain points and personalise their onboard experiences. IoT involves more than connecting devices to each other, it’s about using data and mobile technology to create meaningful insights, predict guest needs, optimising onboard operations and equipping crew and ship systems to take action.
Reality: for providers like WMS, it’s obvious that once we create a seamless ecosystem of connectivity technologies, the final piece of the puzzle is to mobilise the cruise guest experience.
As WMS keeps its sights set on closing the gap between mobile technology in terrestrial and maritime environments, it’s clear that passengers must be able to use software apps and connected devices to access shipboard services. WMS believes that to improve the guest experience and onboard revenue, cruise lines need to mobilise elements such as dining, entertainment and shore excursions, so guests can access them via their personal devices and other connected devices. Rather than continuing to save short-term supplier expenses by cobbling together a web of hardware and software-based services, cruise companies should use a single trusted provider to make it more cost effective in the medium to long term.
All three communication technology waves play a crucial role in delivering an enjoyable cruise experience. Within the next few years, WMS predicts that cellular services will become more affordable and widely used on ships and in ports, while wi-fi will become a necessity for most passengers, and software-centric IoT services will be commonly used to power ship operations and passenger experiences. WMS can help cruise lines to successfully converge all three.