Building a better network for cruise and ferry passengers

Pramod Arora from WMS discusses the importance of choosing the right design, network and provider

Building a better network for cruise and ferry passengers

By Guest |

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

As mobile technologies have evolved and use of mobile devices for guests has become mainstream on cruise ships, a parallel evolution is also happening. Satellite and vessel infrastructure is being mobilised to make the onboard experience more seamless for users and ship operations using the internet of things (IoT).

The cruise and ferry space is buzzing with excitement about the phenomenal experience IoT technology can deliver. This new technology has the potential to take the user experience to the next level, but who has the expertise to evolve your vessel infrastructure to deliver these technologies? What will maritime vessel networks of the future look like?

Communication technology on cruise lines has evolved from the humble beginnings of guests only being able to use their wired in-cabin phones, to the modern wireless cellular networks that are offered onboard today. This evolution is the result of cellular networks adapting to the maritime environment, increased adoption of cellular services, and advances in satellite communication. 

WMS has recently deployed its latest maritime innovation at sea, Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE), offering faster internet speeds at competitive costs for many leading cruise lines in the world. WMS is the first maritime service provider to deploy 4G LTE – which is the fastest of all 4G networks – for major cruise lines, including one of the largest cruise ships in the world.

Compared to 3G and 2G networks, an LTE network is more effective and efficient over satellite-based backhaul, which in turn provides the fastest and most reliable network for guests and crew. LTE is designed specifically with today’s content-rich applications in mind and LTE-capable devices work more efficiently with the cellular base stations on the ship, enabling a premier wireless experience at sea for guests and crew. In addition, faster cellular networks translate to more satisfied guests who have grown to expect a rich mobile experience at sea; an experience that provides real-time, reliable connectivity virtually anywhere and anytime. 

In parallel to device-centric mobile technology evolution, there have been many advances in using mobile technology to enhance machine-to-machine or machine-to-human communication, better known today as IoT. Many cruise lines are experimenting with diverse use cases to deploy IoT solutions to enhance how cruise guests interact with, and avail themselves of, onboard amenities. But the broader question really is, what do we need to do to achieve the same experience, seamlessness, reliability and performance for IoT uses that we have for guest devices today on a technology like LTE? Irrespective of how you design your customer experience, the one thing all cruise lines need is a reliable and cost-effective, integrated technology solution to run their IoT infrastructure. 

Today, technologies being used for this purpose are fragmented, with many different solutions being cobbled into a patchwork that may meet the short-term need, but will probably require extensive rework and overhauls in the future, increasing the long-term costs for cruise lines. With IoT devices numbering in the thousands per ship and a sub-optimal network, what cruise lines need is a long-term plan to create the right quality experience with lower total cost of ownership. Imagine a scenario where a technology shift can trigger a requirement for cruise lines to make changes or replace thousands of hardware pieces per ship to ensure continuity of their investment. Imagine the work and costs something like that can incur. This is where the right solutions provider can architect a perfect path to execute on this vision of a connected cruise ship, where every guest and every part of the onboard infrastructure is connected and mobile.

What should your future IoT infrastructure look like? Not only should it pass the guest user experience use cases, but also industrial ones that support mission-critical operations that cannot fail. It should support the ability for multiple protocols to work together for a seamless experience and mission-critical data delivery. It should be up and running all the time or when needed. All these requirements call for a trusted partner that can deliver these elements. 

With more than 14 years of experience deploying mobile networks in the maritime environment, WMS is an expert at designing, deploying and managing integrated network infrastructure for passenger shipping operators. In parallel to cruise and ferry advancements, WMS has also been building IoT networks in the commercial shipping space for asset tracking operations such as temperature-controlled cargo, location and vibration. This experience uniquely positions us to offer a seamless wireless and IoT network solution. With a properly designed infrastructure in place, technology upgrades and enhancements are incremental investments and not complete infrastructure overhauls, ultimately saving on capital and operating expenses. 

In addition, the properly designed infrastructure will future-proof your investment to avoid any unexpected or untimely step-function increases in costs to keep up with technology cycle changes. Future-proofing your IoT infrastructure is more than cables, servers, software and devices. It includes security, scalability, flexibility, standards evolution, APIs and portability; all of which are essential ingredients to continuously evolve your IoT strategy and use cases as needed. The IoT ecosystem is not limited to onboard capabilities but can also expand to port and terminal operations. Using common infrastructure will improve efficiencies and reduce complexities, ultimately resulting in lower capital investment. 

Various IoT technologies can support your strategy and fit into (or rationalise) your IoT infrastructure to track assets, provide new guest experiences, or optimise operations. Whether it is radio frequency identification, Bluetooth, near-field communications, LTE-m, NB IoT, wi-fi or LoRA, or any other wireless protocol, WMS leads the way in maritime network solutions. These advancements will ultimately drive down costs and improve customer experience, leading to more satisfied guests and streamlined operations. Selecting the right equipment, network and provider is essential to optimising costs and maximising revenues.

As cruise lines work to develop top-tier IoT technology and applications to provide guests with an elevated and frictionless onboard experience, optimal network connectivity is a key component. WMS can build the optimal IoT network to support your needs today and in the future via multiple network protocols. WMS has the right expertise, experience, and has already invested in creating next-generation networks to take the cruise industry into the future.

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