Unplugged No More

Internet usage at sea has changed dramatically since Norwegian Cruise Line launched the industry’s first internet cafe at sea in 1999. Passengers have gone from casually downloading content to aggressively uploading it. That’s a good thing for sharing lovely photos of a pleasurable cruise but a very difficult thing for those charged with ensuring quick, easy connectivity.

“Cruising used to be a welcomed disconnect from the busy world, but as we’ve become more connected as a society and accustomed to sharing our experiences through a variety of online channels, connectivity has come to be expected no matter our physical location,” said Ross Henderson, senior vice president of onboard revenue operations.

“One of the latest trends is the desire for improved uploading potential, so guests can capture and share their moments with their family and friends back home. Social media is one of the leading internet usage groups aboard our fleet, with those guests looking for connectivity comparable to what is available on land.”

To address internet usage trends, Norwegian has increased its bandwidth annually – approximately 40 percent, Henderson said. The greatest hurdles are cost and usage.

Guests can customize their cruise connectivity options through a simple tiered system of internet access. “For instance, if a guest only wants to post to social media, we offer a package that meets those needs, allowing us to reserve Wi-Fi bandwidth for those who seek broader connectivity,” said Henderson, who oversees onboard connectivity for the entire Norwegian fleet.

“We are always conscious of how the price of any internet plan will be received by our guests and how the online experience will be affected. The good news is that lower cost satellite technology and increased supply of bandwidth per satellite has resulted in lower per unit bandwidth costs. This enables cruise lines to continue to add bandwidth and meet the growing demand for connectivity at sea.”

Henderson said the line is optimizing capabilities by updating the equipment and software onboard as new technologies emerge: additional satellites, modems with more throughput, and software to better manage data traffic.

“Dual-band antennas are available fleetwide to enable enhanced satellite flexibility, along with terrestrial wireless networks (TWN) to accommodate secure and improved bandwidth in locations with high interference or line of sight blockage. The natural landscapes and remote locations of some of the destinations we visit, such as Alaska and Northern Europe, affect the connectivity. In these circumstances, we use a combination of TWN and satellites to overcome this obstacle.”

The majority of the Norwegian fleet underwent antenna upgrades three years ago, quadrupling bandwidth in July 2016. As the next generation of satellites, antennas, and user expectation comes around they may need further upgrades.             

“When looking to implement new infrastructure, deck space availability, location, the ship’s itinerary, and satellite availability are all challenging factors that must be considered. Thankfully, continuous advancements in the industry allow for a variety of options to overcome these hurdles and allow us to continue to enhance the online service,” he said. “Multiple band satellite terminals are the future as it increases flexibility and options to connect to satellites at various earth orbits.”

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2019

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