CruiseAdvanced connectivity is key to luring back travellers, says SES Networks VP Product Management for Maritime Gregory Martin.

Cruising into the future with satellite-powered ships

Technological innovation and advanced connectivity will be key for cruise operators as they attract new and returning passengers looking for a quality vacation experience without any hassle.
Technological innovation and advanced connectivity will be key for cruise operators as they attract new and returning passengers looking for a quality vacation experience without any hassle. Photo Credit: SES Networks

Following the global sailing pause, most cruise operators have now resumed sailing in parts of Asia, Europe, and the US. But even as more cruise ships begin tentatively venturing seawards, the question is how to make the holiday experience both more exciting as well safest for passengers to come back and help to revive the industry?

While entire industries have been hit by the pandemic there has been a shift in customer behaviour and expectations, as well as changes in social norms. Adapting to the new normal, companies across the globe are rapidly embracing digital transformation, and cruise line companies are no exception. By enabling more wearable technologies and unlocking more personalised services, while enhancing safety management, cruise operators now provide the ultimate experience on board.

Fortunately, the lure of the sea remains seductive and over 75% of cruise travellers say they look forward to their next vacation on the seas. Advanced connectivity solutions will be key to enhancing their experience and luring back travellers.

Delivering seamless connectivity

Even before the pandemic, cruise passengers have increasingly been seeking improved connectivity on board. Passengers delight in sailing the high seas, having seamless connectivity on board to their lives and their loved ones on shore, while enjoying the experience of easy access to the myriad facilities and entertainment options on the ship.

The need for broadband speed is clear as cruise guests have listed broadband-speed internet access onboard as a top-five must-have vacation amenity. According to Cruise Industry News estimates, over 50% of cruise guests use Wi-Fi-enabled internet services while on board, and expect the same broadband access to content, entertainment, and applications as they have become accustomed to on land, especially in the last 18 months.

To generate new revenue and elevate guests' overall quality of experience (QoE), providing broadband­enabled services at sea and in ports worldwide has become a must for leading cruise ship operators in the industry. Beyond seamlessly communicating with loved ones while at sea via messenger apps such as WhatsApp or real-time face-to-face video applications like Facetime, Teams and Zoom, cruise guests today are expecting being able to share and livestream personal videos via social media platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, lnstagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Guests also want to be treated to an array of broadband-enabled, interactive, digitally-driven shipboard activities while having easy access to food, beverages and various entertainment activities.

Elevating Quality of Experience (QoE) and safety with smart ships

The cruise industry has started to respond to these very specific needs.

Major cruise operators such as Royal Caribbean International, MSC, and Carnival Corporation are fast deploying 'Smart Ships' while developing customer experience-based systems to enhance their operational capabilities and elevate QoE to the next level.

With these technologically advanced systems, smart ships can offer amenities such as pervasive high­-speed Wi-Fi, in-cabin, mobile device connectivity, advanced in-cabin technology such as Royal Caribbean's real-time virtual balconies, wayfinding portals around the ship, Internet of Things (loT) enabled sensors, Bluetooth Low Energy tracking, and wearables that facilitate contact tracing and passenger safety.

With the pandemic providing a new normal, travellers are increasingly taking health considerations when making travel decisions. Satellite-powered high-speed connectivity on smart ships enable the facilitation of contact tracing to ensure better monitoring and safety of both crew and passengers. With the use of intelligent wearables, safety management systems can be actively monitored and administratively controlled through cloud-based solutions.

Powered by low-latency Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites for primary broadband connectivity, and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) connectivity for network diversity and business continuity, these luxurious smart vessels are equipped to deliver low-latency managed broadband with throughput up to lGbps available anywhere, enabling greater connectivity for an enhanced guest experience onboard.

This will be key for cruise operators as they seek to provide significant safety assurances to attract new and returning passengers looking for a quality vacation experience without any hassle.

As for myself, I welcome this unique travel experience. Of being able to go from indulging in exhilarating digital-enabled shipboard entertainment, to the simple joy of sitting on a deck chair, enjoying the quiet beauty of a sunset across a tranquil sea. That is what travelling on a cruise ship ultimately is to me.

Gregory Martin is Vice President of Product Management for Maritime at SES Networks, a provider of global managed data services. Earlier roles include that as Director of Information Technology Operations for Royal Caribbean International.

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