WMS aims to lead the way in regard to implementing 5G for cruise ships
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Wireless Maritime Services (WMS) was founded after the first successful installation of a cellular network on a cruise ship. This significant technical achievement changed how passengers communicated at sea. This year, WMS celebrates its 15-year anniversary and has always led the pace of innovation by deploying 2G, 3G and 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile cellular service at sea supporting more than 18 million cruise passengers per year on over 160 vessels.
WMS is the leader in 4G LTE at sea with the largest fleet and largest cruise ship deployment, now providing cellular mobile, wi-fi and internet of things (IoT) services to the maritime market.
Cruise ship networks of tomorrow will converge
The current cruise ship network infrastructure must evolve as the technologies driving communication, operations, guest and crew experiences continue to develop and converge. The networks on today’s cruise ships often consist of wi-fi, cellular and IoT networks that are designed, implemented and managed by several providers using different protocols. Given that several vendors individually manage these disparate ecosystems, this increases hardware costs, satellite backhaul and potential security risks. However, there will soon be a convergence of technologies and providers that will harmonise onboard connectivity to make it more seamless for the end user and make it simpler to implement machine-to-machine use cases. At the same time, it will help cruise lines to maximise returns on investment.
One of the most significant developments that will consolidate the cruise ship connectivity is the emergence of 5G technology. It delivers three new capabilities: greater speed (moving more data), lower latency (more responsive), and the ability to connect more devices at once (for IoT sensors and smart devices). 5G technology will be a catalyst in removing the friction in the user experience for a cruise line passenger as they struggle between different connectivity options, user experiences and pricing models.
The technology evolution will also help make the emerging IoT ecosystem on cruise ships more seamless and capital efficient. Coupled with emerging low and medium earth orbit satellites, a host of new capabilities will enable cruise lines to enhance guest and crew experiences, improve marine safety and operations, and contribute to the industry’s environmental sustainability efforts. 5G cellular mobile is a game-changer for cruise lines and how they use mobile connectivity onboard their ships, not just for passengers but for every part of their cruise ship operation.
Design today for benefits tomorrow
Forward-thinking cruise line executives will need to start conversations with experienced companies like WMS for guidance about how this convergence will create enriched onboard experiences. This will consolidate the fractured cellular, wi-fi and IoT networks of today, and support person-to-person, person-to-machine, or machine-to-machine interactions.
As cruise lines start to move towards more competitively priced onboard communication services, they will need to focus on better capital expenditure and operating expense models by uniting networks and network vendors.
By merging networks and vendors, cruise lines can set their timetable and strategically offer better and more affordable communication at sea without jeopardising their profitability. In addition, a converged network will reduce potential security risks. With multiple vendors, installing multiple networks with protocols that may be less secure than they should, cruise lines open themselves up for cyberattacks that can cripple operations and open their passengers to risks. It makes sense to drive towards a converged network solution and to start the discussions about how this is possible.
Converged networks will also open opportunities for alternative monetisation of connectivity, moving away from today’s model of charging for basic connectivity on a pay-as-you-go model. WMS is already seeing some of these changes in recent cruise line projects that were centred on using connectivity to make guest experiences more seamless and immersive. However, it is still being executed with the older philosophy of creating yet another technology silo.
Connectivity models of the next decade will demand harmonisation of connectivity platforms, so all users – human and machines – will use a common infrastructure. This will lead to a better experience for the user, more efficient operation of the cruise ship, and better use of capital and human resources for the cruise lines.
User experiences will change drastically. The passenger is at the centre of a myriad of onboard and onshore communication options using a combination of technologies such as cellular, wi-fi, Bluetooth Low Energy, near-field communications, and over-the-top applications. This complexity is being exacerbated by the addition of new initiatives by different cruise lines that further add to the hardware and software complexities of the user experience. Within the confines of a single project, these enhancements might make sense in the short term, however, in terms of looking at the entire technology environment for a ship, it is clear that new vendors are just adding to an already overcrowded ecosystem.
With a technology aware mindset, cruise lines can design networks that can allow passengers to avail themselves of all the ship services in whatever interface form factor the cruise line wants to deliver – a medallion, mobile phone app or otherwise. The design networks can also use the same infrastructure to enable machine-to-machine connectivity and transform how ship operations are managed. This could include real-time edge computing and artificial intelligence-driven decision making that can manage systems wirelessly without satellite backhaul. A single network experience will enable all the machine-to-machine use cases, from monitoring elevators and fuel systems to waste management systems or engine operations.
Driving the future of maritime communications
WMS will continue to lead in maritime radio frequency engineering, leveraging its access to technology expertise and its satellite relationships to be the first to deliver 5G to the maritime market. In this regard, how cruise lines monetise this network will change too. Cruise lines will have easy access to ‘smart ship’ technology as the upfront investment will be reduced. Dealing with a single vendor for voice, data, IoT network and satellite infrastructure for guest, crew and maritime operations will be possible with WMS.
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