One of the problems faced by cruise and ferry operators when providing mobile connectivity to guests is the high cost of satellite links at sea – a cost which they have tended to pass on to guests.
MCP is tackling this through the development of an affordable system that bypasses the satellite for many routine communications. “By installing a server infrastructure onboard, connected to the networks that we have already provided, we can create an onboard cloud or community where a lot of the content and the services can reside locally on the ship so users are not dependent on using the satellite link for absolutely everything,” says Sivertsen. “We have a delivery infrastructure that can deliver any kind of digital content to any kind of device, from the cabin television to mobile phones, tablets or PCs – enabling people use them in a very intuitive way onboard.”
Are passengers ready to make the leap from stashing their mobile devices as soon as they board to using them frequently? Sivertsen says that MCP is aware that guests will need to be reassured that they will not incur large bills through onboard mobile device use. “Especially on big ships, people worry that if they use their cell phones to call each other, it will be expensive. With our Value Added Voyage Experience (VAVE), guests can communicate with each other using the wifi network onboard. It helps bridge the digital gap that still exists between sea and land and provides guests with information about the ship’s amenities, activities and shore excursions.”
One of the key factors driving the development of technologies to enable more efficient onboard connectivity is the potential to grow revenue. “The system also gives the cruise or ferry line the capability of establishing one-on-one marketing and communication channels to passengers. If business is a little slow at one of the restaurants or the spa, they can reach out to people and offer them a discount, for example,” explains Sivertsen.
Being an established player in shipboard telecommunications has its advantages: “As a mobile operator, we already have networks on the ships, so whenever a guest comes onboard with a device, we can identify both the guest and the device and then immediately start to message them and direct them to where to find all these valuable information services and applications.”
The VAVE system was initially tested with a pilot scheme for a ferry customer, Corsica and Sardinia ferries. “It has been a very good project so far – we’ve seen a huge impact on the usage of mobile technology onboard and it’s driving revenue. People see that using their devices onboard is a natural part of the journey that enriches their experience.
“We have quite a flexible platform – it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ product but is tailored to the individual needs of each operator. The important thing is to find the business potential we want to address and tie that up with the value for the line. Then we can adapt and tune the right technology components to achieve just that.”
Some might argue that by taking a revenue-driving approach to enabling mobile use, cruise lines might end up alienating their guests by subjecting them to a never-ending stream of promotional messages. Sivertsen says: “It’s important to connect this with knowledge about what individual guests are interested in. As long as you provide relevance in the information you will not be regarded as spamming. When guests sign in to the service they can choose to opt in or they can say: I’m going to be a part of this and this, but not this.”
So, for example, communications with guests can be fine-tuned so that they are relevant not only to the individual’s stated interests, but also to the person’s location on the ship at a given time. “We can connect it with relevance and also with location. Certain information might only be relevant if the guest is in the cabin or the restaurant or walking in the shopping street, for example.”
An added benefit of encouraging people to keep their phones switched on is that certain critical messages can be delivered by this medium as well as (or even instead of) via the traditional channels such as in-room TV or print media.
“Whenever people first log on, the system can prompt them to view the safety and muster drill video instructions. We can distribute any kind of digital content including movies, TV streams or other rich content so a safety and security briefing would be a very nice feature to add – and it also gives confirmation of which guests have actually watched this.”
Having had a positive response to the pilot scheme, Sivertsen says MCP has big plans for the VAVE solution in the coming months. “We plan to roll this out for the rest of the Corsica fleet and we are in discussions with two other very large cruise-style ferries – and we are also talking to some cruise lines.”
This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.