MTN Pioneers New iDirect X7 Modem with Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian's Breakaway cruise ship. Photo: Norwegian

Norwegian’s Breakaway cruise ship. Photo: Norwegian

[Via Satellite 01-21-2014] Norwegian Cruise Line’s on board Internet connectivity for passengers and crew is about to get a fleet-wide makeover. MTN Communications, a long-time partner of Norwegian, has selected the cruise line’s Breakaway to pioneer their newest modem: the iDirect X7.

Over the years, Norwegian and MTN have worked together to bring the latest technology to cruise line passengers including newspaper direct services, Internet cafes and at-sea cellular service. Now, they are joining together again to bring improved Internet service to the entire fleet.

“The benefit of the X7 — I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we are — is the bandwidth,” said Jeff McVay, vice president of information technology with Norwegian. “The prior model modem we were using, the demand we were putting on it was maxing it out … we had to actually put two modems on each ship to handle all the bandwidth requirements and we were having to split the traffic.”

This was particularly concerning for Norwegian because there was high demand for bandwidth from both passengers and crews and this couldn’t exceed 5 to 8 megabits-per-second (Mbps).

“When it got up to that high level, we started to experience lost packets and slower latency, and latency is very, very important in the satellite world,” McVay added. “I was told from the MTN engineers that we’d be able to achieve up to 100 mbps … That’s the biggest plus that we get from this new modem.”

The X7 also features an 8-port embedded switch to manage multiple user groups, allowing Norwegian to dedicate pieces of the modem to its three primary services: passengers, crew, and their operational team.

MTN worked closely with iDirect to fix any bugs or issues that came up while testing the new X7 modem.

“We have two complete replicas of a ship environment and that consists of a satellite antenna and a full satellite link and all the full modems and hardware that we typically have on the ship, as well as traffic generators so we can simulate the thousands of passengers and crew and the load that puts on the network,” said Kevin McCarthy, COO of MTN.

iDirect X7 modem. Photo: iDirect

iDirect X7 modem. Photo: iDirect

After several months of testing and usage simulations at MTN’s ship lab in Miramar, Fla., they reached out to Norwegian to participate in a beta test for the modem.

“We’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this X7 modem for about a year and a half now, so we were very excited to get it operational. Anything we could do to assist MTN in getting it to the operational stage we were all for,” McVay said.

With the successful completion of the beta test, Norwegian now plans to complete installation of the X7 modems on their entire fleet by this summer, with Getaway’s upgrade scheduled for Jan. 26. But the installation of this new technology is just the beginning of their plans for 2014.

This year, Norwegian will begin to shift unused satellite bandwidth from one ship to another, ensuring quality Internet connection for all ships in the fleet. Currently, the company’s ships connect to terrestrial antennas while in port to provide better Internet connectivity for the ship’s crew, leaving an unused space satellite segment.

“With MTN’s help, we’re going to shift that space segment to another ship that can use it at sea, thus giving them more bandwidth for guest and crew use,” said McVay.

Norwegian and other users of the X7 modem will also benefit from MTN’s new high-throughput, multi-spotbeam satellites (HTMS) set to be released next year. These advanced satellites will work with the X7 modem to open up even more space for connectivity.

“The modem supports much higher throughput and performance, so this is a prerequisite for HTMS,” said McCarthy. “Without the high throughput satellites, the modems improve our performance, but they’re going to shine once the high throughput satellites are available and we will be able to take full advantage of the advanced capabilities with these modems.”

MTN’s goal is to roll out the iDirect X7 to all major cruise lines. “It’s kind of the next generation,” McCarthy said. “We’ll be rolling out the X7 this year pretty aggressively so we’re in position for 2015.”

 

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