New horizons for connectivity onboard cruise ships

Brent Horwitz of Speedcast tells Elly Yates-Roberts why hybrid networks are a game changer for cruise operators, crew and guests, and how the launch of lower-Earth orbit satellites will take this one step further

New horizons for connectivity onboard cruise ships
Hybrid networks, like those delivered by Speedcast, switch between land-based and satellite signals to improve guests’ connection while onboard

Connectivity has become an increasingly important part of the cruise experience. According to research by Condor Ferries, 66 per cent of millennials book their trips using smartphones and 97 per cent want to share their travel experiences on social media.

With the spending power of this generation estimated at over $200 billion on travel alone, Brent Horwitz, senior vice president of the cruise and ferry segment at communications technology provider Speedcast, believes that cruise lines need to catch up with this desire of onboard connectivity, or risk being left behind. One way to do this is by leveraging the power of satellites. 

“By integrating satellite technology with land-based networks, we can create hybrid networks that allow us to deliver a more reliable and higher quality global communications solution for our customers,” he explains. “We can be confident that no matter where the cruise ships we’re serving are roaming, there are multiple ways we can deliver connectivity and we can select the best option based on needs and availability.” 

For onboard guests and crew, these hybrid networks translate into better quality internet service. “This is because devices can automatically switch between the ship’s satellite signal and the available land-based networks to provide the best available connection,” says Horwitz. “A robust, hybrid solution provides passengers and crew with the same internet experience as they’re used to at home while onboard, so they’re able to stream, browse, work, connect with family and more at the speeds to which they’re accustomed.”

The benefits also extend to cruise operators. “A hybrid connectivity approach saves them from added capacity costs and bandwidth usage,” he says. “When a ship pulls into port, they can switch to land-based networks and preserve their satellite bandwidth for use the next time the vessel is at sea. While in port and using a land-based network, ship operations and IT teams can also perform important data transfers and transactions at a faster rate than if they were relying solely on the satellite solution, preparing the ship for its next voyage more quickly.”

Speedcast’s approach to delivering this win-win-win scenario is based on the firm’s Unified Global Platform (UGP), which is essentially a network of networks. “It identifies the best available technology given the operational conditions, applications and available bandwidth and leverages the most appropriate path to provide optimal service,” says Horwitz. “We also work with industry suppliers that are focused on providing next-generation antennas and other onboard equipment that can manage the variation in networks seamlessly and keep up with the ever-increasing demand for connectivity.”

Despite this successful approach to cruising connectivity, Speedcast is constantly striving to be better. “We are working towards getting as close to a land-like connectivity experience possible with each improvement we implement,” explains Horwitz. “We are continuously testing and assessing all the latest technologies that come to market. Our customers trust us to bring together the best of what is being developed into a comprehensive solution that delivers more for them and their end users as their needs grow.”

For Horwitz, new innovations could be key to delivering this. “All eyes are on the launch of lower-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations, which will be another tool for delivering a great communications and internet service at sea over the next few years,” he says. “LEO will offer the fastest speeds and lowest latency for a satellite solution. Combined with the ability to automatically switch between land and satellite networks, the holistic communications that will be available onboard aims to be virtually indistinguishable from the user’s experience at home.” 

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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Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts
09 May 2022

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