Driving a new era of connectivity at sea

SES is delivering high-speed, low-latency connectivity to cruise lines to fulfil growing demand

Driving a new era of connectivity at sea
SES is the only provider offering a solution combining satellites travelling at different altitudes

By Simon Maher |

Now that occupancy rates onboard cruise ships are beginning to return to normal, the volume of data being consumed at sea is growing dramatically. Cruise lines are facing an increasing challenge to ensure they have the right level of connectivity to meet this demand and support the delivery of real-time services. 

An array of satellite-enabled connectivity technologies is emerging to help them rise to this challenge. From geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) to medium Earth orbit (MEO), or potentially in the future low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, there is now an improved range of systems available that better match today’s assortment of connectivity demands. While some businesses simply need the reliable broadband they cannot get through their terrestrial network, those in the cruise industry require truly global coverage to facilitate connectivity wherever they operate, as well as a flexible solution that adapts to operational data demands. The key is to choose the right technology – and connectivity provider – to ensure they stay one step ahead of demand, both now and in the future. 

Different providers offer different solutions, depending on the orbits available to them, and understanding how the distance of the spacecraft from Earth affects performance is crucial when selecting a satellite service. GEO satellites provide coverage over a large area but with some latency in data transmission due to their high altitude. MEO satellites enable the highest level of throughput and much lower latency while maintaining coverage at 96 per cent of the global population. In the future, LEO constellations may enter commercial operations. Composed of thousands of satellites, these systems promise lower latency coverage over focused areas of operation. However, they are challenged in terms of providing true high-throughput capacity, so if demand rises in a specific region or a major cruise location, customers will potentially experience poorer performance due to the contention limitations of these satellites. 

The ideal solution for cruise operators is a multi-orbit satellite network that combines the advantages offered by satellites travelling at different altitudes. SES is the only provider offering a multi-orbit solution combining both MEO and GEO technologies. While GEO provides cruise lines with high reliability for applications that are tolerant of latency and require relatively low bandwidth, MEO satisfies their growing need for uncontended, high-bandwidth, low-latency services that can meet on-ship demands. In addition, network services delivered over GEO and MEO leverage proven, market-validated solutions that lower customers’ risk during deployment and support their future growth plans with confidence. 

Flexibility is also a key advantage of SES’s GEO/MEO multi-orbit approach. Customers can match the right technology to their unique requirements, mitigating or eliminating the inevitable trade-offs that come with force-fitting a single technology to meet increasingly complex needs. This approach also means SES can take advantage of advancements in adaptive resource control to use one orbital solution to either scale or provide resiliency for another. In addition, with an SES multi-orbit GEO/MEO capability, there is flexibility inherent in a larger field-of-view, as expansive reach leads to traffic routing efficiencies that drive better end-user experiences and application performance. 

SES has developed a new multi-orbit connectivity solution named Cruise mPOWERED. Capable of relaying multiple gigabits per second to a single ship and delivered over our next-generation O3b mPOWER network communications system, Cruise mPOWERED provides the ubiquitous, lowest latency, high-speed connectivity service cruise lines need to meet their growing bandwidth demands. Cruise mPOWERED will allow the cruise industry to leverage a highly resilient global network and deliver an always-on connectivity experience with ample capacity for key demand areas, including the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Asia-Pacific regions.  

With Cruise mPOWERED and its adaptive traffic management technology, cruise lines will be able to optimise the use of their network bandwidth and increase connectivity to any ship wherever it may be. This will allow seamless and secure access to cloud-based platforms and applications for shipboard productivity, passenger communications and entertainment. The service will provide the fastest internet speeds at sea that result in truly immersive guest experiences, while also empowering cruise ships to achieve operational efficiencies with real-time condition monitoring and other connected operational technology.  

Four of the five major cruise lines have now entered long-term strategic framework agreements with SES. We expect the connectivity delivered by Cruise mPOWERED to help unleash the enormous potential of cloud computing and other bandwidth-hungry applications, driving new opportunities for at-sea connectivity and broadband services that were previously unthinkable.  

Simon Maher is vice president of global sales for cruise maritime services at SES.

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

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