Enabling a new era of connectivity experiences at sea

Greg Martin explains to Rebecca Gibson how SES’s industry-first connectivity solutions are helping cruise brands to optimise smart ship operations and deliver superior guest and crew experiences

Enabling a new era of connectivity experiences at sea

Princess Cruises

SES’s solutions help operators like Princess Cruises to deliver fast and reliable connectivity experiences for guests and crew

By Rebecca Gibson |

When Princess Cruises’ newest ship Sun Princess debuted in early 2024, it introduced multiple new innovations and also became the latest in the fleet to offer the MedallionClass experience. Designed to personalise the cruise experience for every individual passenger, MedallionClass is powered by both the cloud-based Ocean Guest Experience Platform and the OceanMedallion, a wearable disc that interacts with thousands of sensors as passengers move around the ship and selected cruise ports.  

Passengers can use the medallion to locate friends and family, unlock their stateroom doors, purchase merchandise, food, beverages and shore excursions, and much more. Meanwhile, the medallions capture real-time data about individual guests’ behaviour and share it with an xIoT (experience Internet of Things) platform to build continuously evolving guest profiles that help crew customise onboard experiences and services. Underpinning the entire offering is Cruise mPOWERED, a multi-orbit satellite connectivity solution developed and delivered by managed services provider SES.  

Cruise mPOWERED is the second generation of SES’s O3b product, which was the first in the industry to use geostationary (GEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellite networks to deliver fast and reliable connectivity services to cruise operators when it launched in 2013.  

“Cruise mPOWERED sets an entirely new standard for worldwide cruise ship connectivity and is pivotal for helping Princess Cruises and other cruise brands to deliver transformative guest and crew experiences,” says Greg Martin, vice president of product management for maritime at SES. “This is because it offers guaranteed network availability, low latency performance, high throughput, and seamless regional and global coverage at multigigabit scale, wherever their ships are located.”  

Cruise operators also benefit from “unprecedented flexibility”, says Martin. “Capacity and coverage can be scaled up as and when needed, enabling shipowners to increase bandwidth and the optimal upload and download speeds to keep pace with their passengers’ evolving demands and individual vessel requirements.”  

Driving efficiency with automatically optimised traffic 

Cruise mPOWERED features SES’s Adaptive Traffic Management technology, which is crucial for helping operators keep pace with changing demand for different connectivity services throughout each cruise.   

“Passengers are most active during the day, making voice and video calls, uploading high-quality content to social media, or streaming live and on-demand entertainment from platforms such as Netflix,” says Martin. “Meanwhile, crew traffic tends to peak in the evenings and overnight when individuals are completing back-office tasks, carrying out bulk data transfers from ship to shore, or using the internet during their leisure time. Cruise operators also see spikes in demand from both guests and crew during embarkation and sea days.” 

To meet this demand and provide the best possible connectivity experiences for everyone, cruise operators typically need to switch between three or four different system configurations each day. They must also prevent their satellite communication links becoming saturated during periods of heavy traffic.  

“Our Adaptive Traffic Management technology enables cruise lines to optimise bandwidth by intuitively routing traffic and prioritising critical communications at peak times,” says Martin. “Cruise lines can set parameters to govern how they allocate access to high bandwidth throughout the day and we manage everything automatically. For example, they may prioritise bandwidth for critical operational functions and passenger-facing applications during the day but give the crew precedence at night. This ensures passengers never face the dreaded buffering experience and crew members are always able to work productively and efficiently.” 

SES provides real-time analytics and on-demand reports for cruise brands to track traffic distribution and monitor how people are using different connectivity applications. “This allows them to identify any new usage trends and update their Adaptive Traffic Management parameters accordingly,” explains Martin.  

One US-based family cruise brand has successfully resolved the saturation issues it was experiencing with its existing satellite communication links by implementing Adaptive Traffic Management technology. “The line is also using Cruise mPOWERED to power a suite of innovative connected technologies for passengers, including wearable devices and a first-of-its-kind immersive augmented reality experience,” says Martin. “Plus, it is now able to use smart ship technologies to boost operational efficiency and enhance the crew experience.”  

Redefining connectivity with an industry-first solution 

Adaptive Technology Management is a key feature of SES’s latest connectivity offering for the cruise industry, which was developed in partnership with US-based aerospace firm SpaceX and launched in late 2023.  

SES has integrated SpaceX’s low-earth orbit (LEO) Starlink system with Cruise mPOWERED to create the world’s first integrated MEO and LEO satellite network, as well as the first end-to-end connectivity solution capable of delivering speeds of up to three gigabits per second per ship worldwide. Managed and delivered by SES, the Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink offering is available at both Pro and Premium level to enable cruise operators to choose the performance and networking features that best meet their specific requirements. 

“By combining SES’s terabit-scale MEO technology with the world’s most extensive LEO communications satellite fleet, we’re able to deliver the lowest latency, highest throughput and most flexible connectivity services in the cruise industry,” says Martin. “Cruise operators have unlimited geographical reach and limitless bandwidth and capacity, so they don’t need to pay for capped consumption-based data plans and can easily scale to accommodate growing demand. This, combined with our Adaptive Traffic Management technology, helps them deliver superior guest experiences, optimise smart ship operations, and empower crew to work more productively and efficiently.” 

Virgin Voyages was the first cruise operator to implement SES Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink Pro, choosing the solution to power its ‘Pretty Fly for a Wi-Fi’ connected experiences for passengers sailing on its three adult-only ships. The brand will be guaranteed connectivity speeds of up to 1.5 gigabites per second (Gbps) per vessel and will be able to optimise and scale bandwidth according to passenger and crew demand, wherever in the world it is sailing.  

“Virgin Voyages will now receive unmatched levels of connectivity at sea, enabling it to give passengers unlimited wi-fi access across multiple devices and power its technology-enabled cabins, entertainment offerings, and more,” says Martin. “It will also experience enhanced operational efficiency. SES installed all the equipment, manages everything and provides 24/7 monitoring and troubleshooting services, so Virgin Voyages is free to focus on delivering the best possible experience for customers and crew.” 

Laptop on a cruise ship


“SES ensures that cruise brands can enable superior experiences on every ship for every passenger and crew member,” says Martin

Entering a new era 

With satellite communications research agency NSR forecasting that the average bandwidth consumption per vessel will increase from 32 megabits per second (Mbps) in 2021 to 224 Mbps by 2030, Martin predicts that many cruise operators will soon need to upgrade their connectivity solutions.  

“Tech-savvy passengers are increasingly embracing cruising, bringing with them a proliferation of connected devices and demand for land-like connectivity at sea,” he says. “At the same time, ship operators are introducing new entertainment offerings and passenger-facing applications and experiences that require reliable, always-on connectivity. Consequently, they must adopt connectivity solutions that deliver much higher capacity than ever before to guarantee optimal performance and meet passenger and crew expectations.” 

In addition, cruise brands are digitising operations and investing in smart ship technologies. “Connectivity now underpins systems for crew management, training, e-health, administrative work, water and waste management, inventory monitoring, safety, logistics, and more,” says Martin. “All these technologies continuously collect data, so cruise brands require a robust, end-to-end connection to the cloud.”  

Partnering with a managed service provider like SES will enable cruise operators to easily prepare themselves for the new era of connectivity, says Martin. 

“SES has been delivering robust and reliable connectivity solutions with unmatched speeds, network coverage and capacity to ships sailing all over the world for more than a decade. We’re still the only multi-orbit satellite operator in the cruise industry and we continue to push technological boundaries to further enhance and expand our offerings. For example, we’re working with Starlink and we’ve joined forces with two of the world’s biggest cloud solution providers, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, so we can deliver private dedicated connectivity to the cloud, optimising performance for any cloud workload, in any location. Partnering with SES ensures that cruise brands can enable superior experiences on every ship for every passenger and crew member, anytime, anywhere.” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox. 

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