Princess Cruises is the first to commit to SES’ US$1Bn O3b mPower constellation that will deliver 10 Gbps of bandwidth when commissioned
Carnival Corp recognises the importance of investing in faster satellite communications and higher bandwidth to enhance guests’ onboard experience. Underwriting this commitment, the cruise giant’s brand Princess Cruises will be the first shipping line to connect to SES’s new satellite constellation.
O3b mPower will be a ring of medium Earth orbit (MEO) high-throughput satellites (HTS) around the Equator providing spot beams of Ka-band for gigabytes of bandwidth to cruise ships.
SES is investing more than US$1Bn in O3b mPower, producing and launching seven satellites and the associated ground network.
Carnival’s Princess Cruises’ global cruise ship fleet will access O3b mPower to augment its MedallionClass guest experience, ensuring its ships are not constrained by traditional bandwidth capacity and keeping bandwidth ahead of demand.
MedallionClass is exclusive to Princess Cruises and uses Carnival’s OceanMedallion and the Ocean Guest Experience Platform to enhance guest-crew interactions, passenger connectivity and to deliver personalised services.
SES has also become part of Carnival’s Global Experience and Innovation team, which spans design, creation and delivery for game-changing connected guest experience innovations, technical platform development, intelligence and hybrid cloud and edge computing. This will drive further development of OceanMedallion capabilities, which power Carnival’s Ocean Guest Experience Platform, says Carnival chief experience and innovation officer John Padgett.
“The future is now with real solutions and proven technology delivering real experiences to floating smart cities around the globe powering a coveted experience,” says Mr Padgett. “SES’ integration into the Global Experience and Innovation team provides expertise for creating amazing experiences through the fusion of creativity, story, connectivity and media across the world,” he explains.
“Our first joint creation, MedallionNet, has significantly elevated the cruise experience for our guests and crew, but more importantly, stimulated the creation of leading-edge, cloud-based edge computing models that were previously considered impossible.”
MedallionClass is available on six Princess Cruises ships – Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Regal Princess, Royal Princess, Ruby Princess, and Sky Princess. In March 2020, Grand Princess will be added, followed by Enchanted Princess in June, Emerald Princess in August, Coral Princess in October and Island Princess in December 2020.
SES Networks vice president for maritime Greg Martin says cruise ships will regularly use up to 2 Gbps of connectivity on the downlink and uplink, per vessel, when O3b mPower is active.
“Many of the modern ships have connectivity of 200 Mbps to 500 Mbps and the bigger ships will have up to 1 Gbps up and down,” Mr Martin tells Maritime Optimisation & Communications. “By mid-2022 there will be ships passing 2 Gbps.”
SES says mPower satellites will be launched on a Space X vehicle from Florida, US, in H2 2021, with the whole constellation in service in Q2 2022. These satellites will augment connectivity of the existing O3b MEO constellation that has provided HTS connectivity to cruise ships for more than five years.
SES also operates a constellation of geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites with C-band and Ku-band communications for maritime including passenger shipping. Cruise ships need dual-band or even tri-band VSAT antennas to use both GEO and MEO constellations for passenger and crew communications.
Many cruise ships will have two or three of these antennas for connectivity redundancy. They will not need to replace existing VSAT hardware to use mPower.
“We can support higher than 2 Gbps even with existing antennas,” says Mr Martin. “2 Gbps will be accessible in the next few years, guaranteed, for guest connectivity and cloud applications – cruise ship operators will want this capacity.”
Cruise lines can use bandwidth to increase revenue from passengers by providing them with capacity for social media, video over IP and onboard gaming.
“Guests want similar services as they get on land,” says Mr Martin. “The market trend is towards supporting the new generation of passengers that have grown up with everything on the cloud and applications on devices.
“They want to use applications such as YouTube, Netflix, TicToc and other video formats on cruise ships,” says Mr Martin. Cruise ship operators can also use this connectivity to sell onboard services and onshore tours.
“Each cruise line has its own applications that improve guest experience and provide travel guides,” says Mr Martin. “Cruise lines are looking at how internet use will grow 30-40% per year on their ships.”
There are, generally, two types of connectivity services on cruise ships, a basic level for social media messaging, email and voice calls, and premium for full media streaming. The fastest connectivity and highest bandwidth will be on the new series of cruise ships under construction in shipyards for delivery later this decade. This is encouraging cruise lines to update hardware across their current fleets.
“With new ships coming out with smart technology, there is demand to upgrade satellite communications and entertainment systems on existing ships for gaming and video streaming,” says Mr Martin. “A lot of money is made on cruise ships from providing internet services. We are looking at guest experience and upgrading systems with smart technology to manage their experience end-to-end.” This includes upgrading SES’ terrestrial networks as well as MEO and GEO constellations.
SES is upgrading the GEO constellation with a new HTS in the next two years. SES 17 is scheduled to be launched in 2021 and should be in service in Q4 2021. “It will provide mobility and cruise ship connectivity in the Caribbean, Atlantic and Americas,” says Mr Martin.
He stressed the importance of investing in the ground network to improve guest connectivity. “Terrestrial system connectivity is a big part of the guest experience from ship to space and through our ground network.” This includes teleports to the MEO and GEO satellites and terrestrial fibre optic lines.
SES will work with Carnival to enable a seamless transition between existing O3b services and O3b mPower when it is commissioned and available. The satellite operator is also working with other cruise lines, such as MSC Cruises and luxury passenger ship operator Ritz Carlton Collection to deploy VSAT hardware and connectivity.
Ritz Carlton is offering bespoke voyages on three custom-built superyachts and curated experiences ashore in 2020. Each yacht will feature 149 suites with accommodation for up to 298 guests and VSAT for continuous ship-to-shore connectivity.
Onboard wifi and virtual assistant
MSC Cruises’ 17 ships feature a host of cutting-edge connectivity innovations and technologies. It invested €6.0Bn (US$6.6Bn) in this fleet from 2003 and has launched an €11.6Bn (US$12.7Bn) plan that will expand the fleet to 25 ships by 2027. Plus, it is investing €2.0Bn (US$2.2Bn) in four luxury superyacht cruise ships between 2023 and 2026.
MSC’s latest deliveries included Meraviglia-class ships – MSC Meraviglia (2017) and MSC Bellissima (2019) – and the first of two Meraviglia-plus ships, MSC Grandiosa, came into service in November 2019. While MSC Seaside (2017) and MSC Seaview (2018) were added, MSC’s larger Seaside EVO ships are coming with MSC Seashore scheduled to begin service in 2021. A sister ship will arrive in 2022 and four LNG-powered World Class vessels will join the fleet after that.
On its existing ships, MSC offers passengers internet access from their cabins and in public areas using vessel-wide onboard wifi. This is linked to VSAT for MSC’s Internet Access @Sea service to guests. Passengers can use their own devices, smartphones, tablets and laptops 24/7 using wifi. They can arrange internet packages to suit their requirements for what MSC describes as “trouble-free communications throughout your cruise”.
On some of its ships, there are internet cafes with full-sized screens, keyboards and high-quality printers. These are available on MSC Musica, MSC Orchestra, MSC Magnifica, MSC Poesia, MSC Divina, MSC Preziosa and MSC Splendida.
Another innovation was installed on MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa to enhance the guest experience. MSC introduced its artificial intelligence and machine learning-based cabin concierge Zoe, which was a first of its kind for the cruise industry, in 2019.
This digital cruise assistant was developed by the MSC innovation department along with experts from connected technology specialist Harman, part of Samsung Electronics.
Zoe is not linked to a cloud system but to an onboard server, as MSC Cruises wants to ensure a rapid connection independent from the satellite.
It provides answers to frequent customers’ questions. Zoe will start with 800 answers, but being an artificial intelligence product, it will continuously learn others.
MSC Cruises chief business innovation officer Luca Pronzati tells Maritime Optimisation & Communications about the huge operation involved in bringing Zoe to life.
The system underwent extensive testing in areas such as speech recognition, transforming speech to text and vice versa, and other behavioural and performance tests. Some 400 people trained Zoe, which speaks seven languages. The aim is to increase this to 10.
Mr Pronzati says “We started a project phase, analysing seven languages and all the different accents of these languages had to be taken into consideration. There are so many different accents for each language – we had to map all the accents and understand what the best combination of accents was, to record and cover 80% of each language.”
Importance of a back-up
Marella Cruises uses VSAT from Speedcast for passenger and crew communications. It also has Iridium’s L-band satellite communications as a back-up if structures or geography become an obstruction between the cruise ship and available VSAT satellite. This sometimes occurs to Marella Cruise ships in the Norwegian fjords, where communications switch to Iridium for email, operational messages and passenger financial services.
Marella Cruises operates six ships in the Atlantic Ocean, northern Europe, Mediterranean, Middle East, Asia and Caribbean.
All six have C-band satellite communications and the four most recently built ships also have Ku-band VSAT. Coastal 4G mobile phone networks can also be used for communications when they are in range. There is wifi on board each of these ships for passengers to use for internet access to their mobile devices.
New communications platform
Speedcast will begin deploying ST Engineering iDirect’s latest remote communications hardware, Newtec Dialog, on cruise ships and superyachts. This will enable onboard wifi to support guests’ requirements for social media, gaming, video messaging and media content on multiple devices.
Speedcast chief executive P J Beylier says Newtec Dialog enables a seamless, high-quality, high-speed connectivity experience.
“We were looking for a technology platform that could meet our current and future bandwidth challenges,” he says. “Dialog platform, with its high throughput and efficiency capabilities, allows us to deploy high-end services.”
Speedcast will deploy a unified platform for the cruise sector using Dialog. “This network will leverage the optimal satellite capacity over each region to deliver bandwidth to hundreds of cruise ships and yachts,” says Mr Beylier.
Unity offers broadband internet on Baltic crossings
Unity Line has selected Nowhere Networks’ wireless technology to offer broadband internet to passengers travelling on the vessels Polonia and Skania between Ystad, Sweden, and Świnoujście, in Poland.
This uses radio communications as an alternative to satellites for high-speed internet applications. Nowhere Networks has set a wireless network over main shipping routes in the Baltic with transmission masts and onboard antennas with tracking technology.
Unity Line will use this to provide internet access throughout the whole 160-km route to boost bandwidth and speeds.
“This agreement provides us with a complete service including the communication solution, IT systems and management around the clock, 365 days a year,” says Unity Line deputy managing director P-O Forsberg.