The Battle for Bandwidth

Dimple Jethani

Despite everyone’s best intentions, efforts and technological integration, there are simply times when blazingly high-speed internet isn’t available. Frustrating as that might be, bobbing in an extreme-latitude sea at the edge of the world, there may come a time when life online is briefly interrupted by in-person physical interaction with objective reality.

It’s a problem Dimple Jethani, senior vice president and chief information officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), hopes to minimize.

“We live in a digital age, where people are connected 24/7. We understand this desire to stay connected even while at sea. As such, we are always looking to elevate the guest experience, which includes providing reliable connection while onboard,” Jethani said. “While we do our best to keep guests connected, at times the service may be impacted by the location of the ship and available service at the particular latitude and longitude coordinates.”

There’s only so much bandwidth allocated for each ship. Guests’ connectivity demands increase with each cruise, with more internet-enabled personal gadgets eating up bandwidth, she said.

Gaming, trading, video chatting, social media posting, it all adds to the bandwidth needs, especially as more people work from home, taking that workload on vacation with them.

The ships themselves need more connectivity for increasingly sophisticated equipment as well as live-aboard staff expecting descent internet speeds.

“Not only are we serving our guests with reliable and efficient internet capabilities but also the crew, so they can stay connected with their loved ones and communities back home. As guests and crew both equally require a certain amount of bandwidth, we carefully balance the consumption for each and provide the operational systems to achieve optimal performance to support all needs onboard,” Jethani noted.

There’s no final answer but an ever-evolving reaction to bandwidth needs across NCLH’s brands, which include Norwegian, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

“As a part of our guest-first philosophy where we place the guest at the heart of every decision, we continue to modernize our onboard infrastructure such as wireless, wired and satellite capabilities to enhance the guest experience, the overall crew operation and to take advantage of newer and more innovative technologies,” she said.

This includes integrating new low-orbit satellite connections from SpaceX’s Starlink.

In April, Norwegian started testing Starlink on the Norwegian Breakaway. If all goes well, Starlink could be rolled out in a phased manner across the line’s 18-ship fleet.

The satellite constellations provide nearly global internet capability and, reportedly, will soon offer global phone service.

The company’s plan is to connect seven more ships with Starlink, including the Vista for Oceania, the Grandeur for Regent, and the Norwegian Viva.

But there are more solutions to be found, Jethani said.

“At select ports, we have wireless solutions that complement the satellite service of the ships while in the location, she said. “We are constantly evaluating other technologies that may support and enhance our in-port connectivity operations and ultimately the guest experience.”

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine Summer 2023



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