Creating a holistic digital environment on cruise ships

Jan Erik Norli from Telenor Maritime tells us about connectivity at sea 

Creating a holistic digital environment on cruise ships

By Sean Dudley |

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

People expect a certain level of digital connectivity at all times in the modern age, and this expectation extends to any cruise or ferry vessel they may step onto.

“When people board a ferry or a cruise ship, they want to be connected,” explains Jan Erik Norli, chief sales officer for cruise and ferry at Telenor Maritime. “They want to be able to use social media and other mobile services. Not having a sustainable and high-quality mobile and wi-fi network is no longer an option. People expect networks to be available and ready to use, preferably with seamless onboarding.”

Founded in Norway but now boasting offices in Sweden, the US and Singapore, Telenor Maritime is a dedicated specialist marine mobile operator. The company has had a presence in the cruise and ferry business since 2004, but recent years have seen a significant shift in the speed at which technology in the industry is moving.

“Since 2012, mobile technology development has continuously accelerated,” says Norli.

“When the smartphone entered the market, the demand for services exploded. There used to be a lot of constraints on the mobile ecosystem. There was not enough bandwidth and no wi-fi services for mobile phones to hook up to. We had to address this, and as a telecommunications provider we saw 3G ready at that time, knew 4G was coming, and with 5G already being talked about, we needed to develop substantially.”

As such, the company made a series of decisions that would enable it to better serve the modern customer.

“We decided to invest in providing 3G, 4G, wi-fi and more on vessels,” Norli says. “Bandwidth usage has also become huge. A typical cruise ship in 2013 might have had one megabit (mbit) per second in bandwidth, but today it’s usually closer to 200-300mbit per second, demonstrating what kinds of leaps have had to be made.”

Telenor Maritime has developed a countless number of services for ferries, fisheries and offshore developments in the past, and this expertise is now increasingly being harnessed in the cruise industry, thus actuating cross-vertical synergies. Furthermore, to meet this demand and have a truly global presence, the company has partnered with satellite and ground communications solutions provider SES.

“We have an agreement in the cruise industry with Carnival Corporation, serving half of their fleet,” Norli says. “We serve Norwegian Cruise Line, and Silversea Cruises also uses our systems plus several other of the more ‘expedition-centric’ cruise companies. Silversea is a particularly demanding cruise company to work with due to the fact they have above 2,400 ports of call each year worldwide! They go everywhere from Greenland and Iceland down to Antarctica. But we rise to this challenge and supply bandwidth, mobile broadband, mobile 3G and wi-fi services.”

As well as these services, Telenor Maritime also delivers its custom applications to clients.

“The connectivity we deliver can benefit crew as much as it can passengers,” Norli says.

“Crew can use the mobile and wi-fi networks for operational use or private matters, such as social media. In a cruise ship, or a ferry vessel, there are a lot of cabins, and a pervasive wi-fi and mobile network allows for applications to be used to enhance and streamline tasks such as cabin cleaning and maintenance. Restaurants and show lounges can use applications, allowing customers to make extra orders easily by their mobile phones at their table for example.”

Though Telenor Maritime has a spectrum of services on offer, Norli advocates a unified approach to enhancing a company’s digital offering.

“What we are trying to do is promote companies having a holistic view of their digital environment,” Norli explains. “Sometimes in the cruise and ferry industries, we see a company’s IT, marketing and operations departments working quite separately, but these departments should work together to excel. Companies need to be brave. Digital transformation creates a lot of questions, and you don’t always have the answers immediately. We have an expression in Norway: “You can’t jump a wide ravine in two small jumps; you need to make one giant leap.” We can help companies make this leap. It’s a matter of embracing the idea of an end-to-end service. Our service provisioning into the ferry market has boomed over the last two years, with Fjordline and Color Line being the frontrunners, and we’ve added DFDS, Finnlines, Stena Line and Brittany Ferries. These lines all use our end-to-end services, and are now moving from 3G and introducing mobile 4G services onboard. We’re also preparing several new press releases for imminent release, adding a significant number of brands to our extensive reference list.”

Moving forward, Norli believes that by working closely with customers, the company can continue to grow and deliver exceptional services.

“We’re always looking to update our competency, develop and plan the technology roadmap, and then execute,” he concludes. “Telenor Maritime invests in technology and our customers, but there needs to be a willingness to invest from our partner side as well. This isn’t a field where somebody will just fix things for you. It requires collaboration, partnership, and everybody needs to be prepared and be willing to take on the challenge.”

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