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Wi Fi on Cruise Ships – Ensuring Maritime Connectivity B

Wi-Fi on Cruise Ships – Ensuring Maritime Connectivity

We are living in the Twenty-First century, where everyone is closer to each other than ever before. This has been made possible through social networks, video calling, and regular status sharing using high-speed, stable internet. Today, stable internet connectivity has become a basic expectation of customers in the hospitality industry, and most lodging facilities today are equipped with WiFi service for all customers.

Hotel chains like OYO and Intercontinental Hotels promise instant WiFi connectivity upon arrival. For people sailing on ships, too, it is a necessity rather than a luxury to stay connected to their families and the world at large.

Connecting to the internet on land is done through mobile phones connected to cell towers and WiFi. Both these services are enabled by optical fibre cables running underneath the ground. However, building cell towers and connecting a long enough optical fibre cable is impossible for a ship that sails in the sea.

The question here is:

Do they have Wi-Fi on cruise ships? If yes, how do they bring internet service to cruise ships?

How does Internet and Wi-Fi function on Cruise ships?

Establishing an Internet connection on a cruise ship can be done by connecting the vessel to a satellite. Traditionally, ships have telephones placed in every room/hall to facilitate seamless communication within the ship. These phones can also be used for calling beyond the sea through satellite communication by inserting a satellite-calling card into the telephone. This calling service is not only expensive but also brings sub-standard voice-over-call quality.

Today, the to-and-fro of signals from satellites brings internet connectivity to the ship, which routes the service to WiFi access points across the ship. Customers connect to the internet by connecting their devices to WiFi routers installed at every access point, enabling internet service across the metallic walls. Depending on the ship’s location, the connectivity is maintained by synchronizing with the nearest geostationary or polar satellite.

Every customer is provided with a username and password, and the amount of internet usage is monitored. In most cruise ships, every member is allotted a limited amount of daily data, beyond which the service is chargeable. Customers use dedicated mobile applications that restrict all background data usage and save data wherever possible, enabling the best use of the available internet data.

Wi Fi on Cruise Ships via Satellite

Cellular networks, too, are enabled in cruise ships through dedicated cellular access points placed throughout the ship. However, roaming charges often supersede the amount the customer is willing to pay. Many cruise ships have WiFi access points to connect with the ship’s own data centers, which contain recreational content like films, educational videos, cruise advisory, etc. These networks help keep the customers engaged during uncertain times like harsh weather. Once the ship docks into a port or reaches near it, it switches to land-based signal towers by using technology onboard, enabling customers to complete all non-necessary updates and downloading. This is how in-house cafeterias provide free WiFi on cruise ships. Customers keep local sim cards for faster and cost-effective internet service on ships that do not switch to land-based internet on ports.

Indeed, there are limitations of connecting to the internet via satellites. The service is costly, its speed is lower, and its latency is higher when compared to the internet on land. The service is less dependable as harsh weather impacts internet connectivity. But with time, more and more satellites are launched, and the service quality is thereby expected to improve. Several initiatives today directly or indirectly enhance the internet and WiFi experience in the seas. Princess Cruises MedallionNet provides lower latency and fast internet with video streaming capability by connecting to O3B (medium-earth-orbit) satellites. At the same time, Spacex’s Starlink initiative is bound to launch thousands of satellites above the land and the sea, revolutionizing internet in remote areas, including the oceans. The service quality of WiFi on cruise ships is improving and is expected to be at par with the internet on land in the coming years.

Challenges of the Wi-Fi on Cruise Ships

Despite the potential of increased speed and reduced price, several questions, including the ones below, remain unaddressed:

  • How does a cruise line ensure a seamless and secure WiFi onboarding experience for all new customers?
  • How does a cruise line partner with land-based internet service providers to save costs while ensuring security?
  • How does a cruise line personalize advertising of its services to customers?

In an ideal world, we would have a solution that equally handles all mentioned problems for all types of customers equally regardless of the scale and domain of the client’s needs. But most available solutions are designed to serve specific clients and are reworked and upgraded continuously to adapt to the dynamic technological needs. While one solution may be most suitable for a single cruise ship, another may be best implemented on a fleet of multiple cruise ships owned by a single cruise line. On a positive note, we have several solutions available today that address the industry’s needs. The problem of slow connectivity is being solved by a technology solutions provider by providing justified bandwidth allocation to each user and by allowing multiple devices to share single bandwidth. Another services provider eliminates the need for on-premise wireless controller hardware to manage access points through a cloud solution centrally. Along the same lines, Hughes Systique’s Next Generation Hotspot Solution upgrades WiFi access points to Hotspot 2.0 and delivers a seamless, secure WiFi experience to customers.

Benefits of using Managed Wi-Fi Platforms on Cruise Ships

There are many benefits of using Managed Wi-Fi Platforms on Cruise Ships:

  • Justified allocation of bandwidth: By allowing multiple devices to run on a single bandwidth and capping the number of devices used by each customer, many managed Wi-Fi platforms reduce data usage by some customers at the cost of others.
  • Improved onboarding experience: Onboarding becomes convenient when customers can fill in details through their mobile phones on their own while connecting to Wi-Fi service for the first time.
  • Reduced Manual Efforts: Since manual efforts of collecting information are eliminated, employee-customer interaction is reduced, thereby optimizing resource allocation at the end of the cruise line.
  • Secure Connectivity: Managed Wi-Fi platforms protect customers’ confidential information from all threats through the encrypted connection between the client and the access points.

Let us understand how Managed WiFi platforms serve their purpose through the working of HSC’s Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) Solution.

Analogous to a cellular network connection, when a new user switches on their WiFi, signs up, and connects to the Wi-Fi, HSC’s NGH Solution stores their profile. It automatically reconnects whenever the user is in any of the branches of the network, which in this case would include all the ships of the cruise line. Automatic reconnections bring seamlessness to the user’s experience, while authentication and encryption between the user’s device and the access point ensure security. NGH can also facilitate a secure partnership of the cruise line with a land-based internet service provider, benefiting both parties. Finally, NGH brings Wi-Fi Analytics, which helps cruise lines know their customers better. Thus, it helps cruise lines offer personalized recommendations that match the profile and desires of the customers, eventually leading to higher revenues and increased loyalty.

Benefits of deploying NGH Solution on Ships

Here are some of the benefits that cruise line companies can get as well as offer to their customers by deploying NGH Solution on ships:

  • Enriched Experience: Improved onboarding and reconnecting processes enrich customers’ experience and lead to increased satisfaction. A satisfied customer is more likely to be a repeat and, eventually, a loyal customer.
  • Effortless Network Management: Each crew member aboard a cruise ship requires various resources, which are maintained at an excessive cost. NGH minimizes the need for dedicated IT personnel for processes like new staff registration, visitor registration, access revocation, etc., making the processes effortless and reducing the expenses of the cruise line.
  • Additional Revenue: Cruise lines offer a wide range of services to customers. By personalizing advertising, a cruise line can make sure not to burden customers with irrelevant ads and offer the right service at the right place to the right customer at the right time. Eventually, increasing revenue.

The past has had plenty of unfortunate incidents like MS Sea Diamond and Le Joola. However, in a future where everyone onboard a ship has instant access to reliable communication both within and beyond the ship, mishaps can be avoided, and memories can be made. If not, they can be remediated quickly.
So, the next time you are onboard a ship and begin sharing pictures of exotic cuisine with your friends and family or a pleasant morning twilight in the middle of the sea, you can appreciate the invisible satellites and complex processes and software that collectively work to make the experience possible!

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