Fred.Olsen Cruise Line Pursuing ‘Ship Cloud’ to Reach New Level of Connectivity

Boudicca in Flam Norway

Fred.Olsen’s Boudicca cruise in Flam Norway. Photo: Fred.Olsen

[Via Satellite 04-10-2014] Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines wants to establish a new connectivity infrastructure with the end goal of providing 100 percent Wi-Fi access from any point on a ship. The cruise line recently extended its contract with MTN Communications as part of its new plan toward complete connectivity.

“We feel that the concept of a ‘ship cloud’ is the way forward,” explained Damon Impett, head of IT at Fred.Olsen. “It’s what a lot of suppliers are developing at the moment and it’s something that we need to have a strategy to make sure we can do.”

Demand for bandwidth from vacationers is rising thanks to the proliferation of tablets and smartphones. In 2000, Fred.Olsen installed physical Internet centers where passengers could go to connect. Wireless hotspots were set up in 2010 mainly for crew welfare, but were quickly expanded to include public areas. User expectations only continue to climb.

“Between 2008 and 2013, MTN managed a six-fold increase in satellite bandwidth requirements as a result of Internet, content and voice usage,” said Liz DeCastro, senior director of corporate communications at MTN. “Internet logins on the MTN network more than doubled to almost 33 million per year. Voice communications increased approximately 50 percent. We anticipate this demand will continue to accelerate because faster, land-like connectivity has clearly become expected.”

Fred.Olsen envisions switching future services to digital formats. Currently a paper newsletter called the Daily Times is delivered in paper to every passenger’s cabin. In the future the newsletter may be sent en mass to screens instead of doors. But before reaching this point, the cruise line may have to focus first on making sure the service fits what customers desire.

“We do find that the expectation from guests when they bring tablets is quite high because … they have super-fast broadband connections at home,” said Impett. “They are coming onboard and expecting the same. That’s one of the challenges: trying to manage expectations concerning bandwidth and speed.”

The Internet speed on Fred.Olsen ships is approximately 1 Mbps, burstable to 2 Mbps, according to Ross Sutherwood, senior IT consultant at Fred.Olsen, using C-band exclusively for its satellite connectivity. Impett said the company would be open to using Ku-band, but they find C-band to be more reliable on a global basis. Occasionally there is a need for massive amounts of bandwidth, and in such cases Fred.Olsen looks to MTN in order to determine what is feasible.

“One example is a Titanic cruise in 2012 where we had the BBC come on to do live broadcasting off of our ship,” recalled Impett. “It was a charter that went over to the wreck site, and the BBC did a series of TV and radio broadcasts from the ship directly back to the United Kingdom … broadcasting is new to us and we certainly needed MTN to get involved from a bandwidth point of view and get the live feed off the ship back to the U.K.”

Other similar opportunities have come up, but these are not the primary focus of Fred.Olsen’s “ship cloud.” The company does want to manage expectations, but Impett does not see service remaining in the 1-2 Mbps range indefinitely.

“If we make the ships 100 percent wireless then there is absolutely no way we will stay at that, but for the moment there are no major issues with the service. It’s more to do with expectations. TV streaming is something that wouldn’t be feasible, but regular Internet browsing, surfing and other normal tasks outside of watching video are perfectly acceptable from our ships. With the future concept of a ‘ship cloud’ and content being served locally over wireless, TV and video streaming will become a reality, ” Impett said.

“It has been important to ensure a common vision around how communications at sea should be managed,” added DeCastro. “As Fred.Olsen adopts new products to its MTN communications portfolio, we will watch closely how that shift increases user satisfaction and acceptance. We are only mutually satisfied when we are delivering a service that exceeds the expectations of passengers, crew and management.”

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