Meeting increased bandwidth demands at sea

Cruise lines require a connectivity solution that can continue to meet growing demand

Meeting increased bandwidth demands at sea
Social media usage onboard cruise ships has increased significantly as guests share their experiences

By Simon Maher |

With Covid-19 vaccination rates increasing and therapeutics continuing to grow and improve, the cruise industry is expecting to see low prevalence of the virus in the summer and autumn and therefore predicts occupancy rates will begin to get back to pre-Covid levels. In preparation, cruise lines are continuing to make changes, adapt and push forward to ensure guests have a great cruise experience.  

As cruise activities begin to return to normal, one thing is clear; digital behaviour has changed forever, and the amount of data consumed at sea is about to grow dramatically. Even with recent occupancy in the 20 per cent to 70 per cent range, bandwidth usage is way up, with demand per person skyrocketing. 

Digital consumption is increasing exponentially as the number of smart devices connected to a ship’s network can now exceed 10,000 devices, up from 3,000 devices just a few years ago. Passengers and crew are engaging more frequently with real-time video chat and meeting sites. Social media usage has also increased significantly as passengers regularly stream short videos and share their on-ship experiences by uploading content onto sites. And data-intensive apps and wearables employing radio frequency identification technology are now becoming the norm, requiring around-the-clock connectivity to the ship’s wi-fi network. 

Additionally, much of a ship’s operations infrastructure now relies on data residing in the cloud. Weather updates, engine and fuel consumption optimisation, waste water and heating, ventilation and air conditioning management all demand robust connectivity as many of these systems are now monitored, controlled and updated remotely. 

All of this is driving bandwidth demand, and cruise operators need the right level of connectivity to support the delivery of huge volumes of data and real-time services.  

SES’s latest service offering, Cruise mPOWERED, delivers the ubiquitous, lowest latency high-speed connectivity service cruise ships need to meet these growing bandwidth demands. This enhanced solution is built on SES’s next generation O3b mPOWER constellation network.  

O3b mPOWER is SES's global terabit-level scalable constellation that will operate in medium earth orbit – 8,000 kilometres away from Earth. Based on the proven success of SES's current O3b system, the new system provides an unprecedented increase in flexibility and throughput and is capable of continuously delivering multiple gigabits per second to a single ship anywhere on Earth during seasonal peaks and in areas of high density. O3b mPOWER’s advanced technical features, which include a ‘follow-the-ship’ capability, allow for maximum efficiency in delivering the highest throughput available today. Each vessel receives the bandwidth it requires – whenever and wherever it’s needed – with the ability to scale as conditions change. This is all controlled dynamically via an intuitive service portal, significantly improving the guest experience by reducing overall latency and balancing traffic loads. 

The new O3b mPOWER system provides the ideal combination of global coverage, low-latency and high-throughput performance for the cruise market, ensuring seamless immersive wi-fi and connectivity experiences.  

SES has entered into long-term strategic framework agreements with four of the five largest cruise lines for services delivered over the next-generation O3b mPOWER in enabling a new-era of internet connectivity services to their cruise fleets.  

With satellites scheduled to launch in the first half of 2022 and service beginning later in the year, the high-performance connectivity delivered by O3b mPOWER will allow the cruise industry to leverage a highly resilient global network and deliver an always-on, fibre-like connectivity experience, as well as delivering seamless and secured access to cloud-based platforms and applications for shipboard productivity, passenger communications and entertainment. 

Cruise lines will also be able to dynamically optimise the required bandwidth and increase connectivity to any ship wherever and whenever it may be, delivering the fastest internet speeds at sea that result in truly immersive guest experiences. Furthermore, O3b mPOWER will allow cruise ships to achieve operational efficiencies by enabling real-time condition monitoring and other connected operational technology.  

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

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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