Building connections and creating opportunities for passengers

Pramod Arora discusses the changes in communications technology onboard cruise ships

Building connections and creating opportunities for passengers
Pramod Arora accepted the Seatrade Cruise Product of the Year Award in 2021 for WMS’s advances in cruise ship wireless networks

By Elly Yates-Roberts |

Maritime communications have changed significantly over the past 20 years, and with it, so have the opportunities available for offering new services to passengers. 

“After Wireless Maritime Services (WMS) was founded in 2004, cellular connectivity became widespread very quickly,” says Pramod Arora, president and CEO of the communications technology provider. “Cellular roaming soon became part of every ocean-going vessel and wi-fi came along with it.”

According to Arora, this superfast growth was prompted by changing attitudes towards the technology. “In the mid-2000s, mobile connectivity was still in its infancy on cruise ships, and for vacationers it was even seen as a distraction rather than a potential benefit,” he explains. “I remember some cruise lines even promoting the idea of not using devices because it would prevent guests from being able to enjoy their vacation. 

“It’s a whole different world today; having that connectivity with the outside world is now often a key part of enjoying a vacation. In the last two years, staying connected no matter where you are has become an integral part of daily life. Work from anywhere has become the latest trend, and the lines between work and vacations have become even more blurred than before.”

After nearly two years of separation and isolation caused by Covid-19, bringing people back together is the main priority for WMS. “The biggest game-changing trend I’ve witnessed in my nine years in this job is definitely the change from seeing connectivity as ‘nice to have’ to it being essential to the cruise experience,” says Arora. “I don’t think we can imagine being connected at a personal level as anything but an absolute necessity now. That trend has brought about continuous evolution in maritime cellular and wi-fi technologies to enable mobile connectivity with rich applications for cruisers.”

And passengers seem to feel the same. “Our passengers are not looking at whether they can connect, but where they can get the most seamless, affordable and best quality connectivity,” says Arora. “That’s where WMS adds the most value to cruise lines, because no other connectivity technology is as easy to use as cellular.”

Arora predicts that the emergence of 5G could continue to transform the sector and create whole new experiences for cruise lines and their guests. “Applications that use a lot of data with less lag facilitate a new set of opportunities, such as gaming,” he explains. “The upcoming generation consumes content in real time, streaming both ways, and cruise lines need to consider these trends to provide the activities that guests want.”

For example, e-sports venues could become commonplace on cruise ships with seamless participation by passenger mobile devices. “5G presents a lot of opportunities, so it’s important that we look into making that a reality for passengers through unique products like private LTE/5G, which are dedicated on-premises networks designed to make these exciting use cases possible for the passengers in a secure and reliable manner. In addition, there are many other applications for cruise line staff, onboard commerce and interactions that we are excited about as well.” 

One way that WMS is helping cruise lines deliver these experiences is through continuing its own technological evolution. While WMS is planning 5G deployments, their 4G LTE solution won the Seatrade Cruise Product of the Year Award in 2021 in recognition of the investments and advances it makes in cruise ship wireless networks. 

Delivering the experiences that customers want and need cannot be done through a one-size-fits-all approach. “We need to look at it from a customer-centric point of view,” says Arora. “Not everyone wants the same type of connectivity. At WMS, we pride ourselves on helping our customers create an ecosystem where people have a choice that is unencumbered by barriers such as the availability of technology, communication about technology and pricing plans. When guests feel forced to use technology in certain ways based on these barriers, it ultimately erodes cruise brand loyalty and guest satisfaction.”

Arora saw the cruising hiatus during Covid-19 as a valuable learning opportunity, not just in managing the business through an unprecedented crisis, but also in working in partnership with customers and suppliers. “Many organisations in the industry needed to carefully maintain their partnerships and focus on collaboration for survival,” he says. “When cruise ships and their crew became stranded at sea and unable to dock, we provided free wi-fi so that they could keep in touch with their family members. We also asked for certain concessions from our customers as we too needed to manage our business in a zero-revenue environment, and most of them partnered with us to ride out the crisis together. 

“This experience has shown us, and the rest of the world, how important connectivity is. Going forward, we want to ensure that connectivity is as easy to use as possible for cruise passengers, so they can focus on the things that are really important: connecting with family, friends and co-workers. Let connectivity be the least of their decision-making process as they plan a cruise vacation.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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