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BLOG: Cruise ship bandwidth more important than ever

As the cruise industry continues in its post-Covid ascent, cruise ship bandwidth has become more important than ever, writes theICEway.

Digital transformation is ongoing and ever evolving. Our collective appetite and expectation levels for seamless tech experiences has never been higher. Remote working is another factor. Very much here to stay, people are now beginning to realise that they can work remotely on holiday, or aboard a vessel.

A Huge Appetite For Bandwidth

The internet is quite simply indispensable. The average amount of time spent online is increasing yearly. Our thirst for data consumption is almost insatiable. In 2021, it is estimated that internet users spent over 3 hours per day online. Predominantly via smartphone, they engaged in popular activities including instant messaging and video streaming. Social media was and is at the forefront, led by Facebook. Users nowadays typically spend over 2 hours each day on the various platforms.

These trends fuel our expectations when it comes to connectivity. Any internet outages, no matter the location, are generally met with outrage. The situation at sea is now no different. Even with recent cruise ship occupancy levels being low, bandwidth usage is up in line with tremendous per person demand.

Along with that, the number of smart devices connected to a ship’s network can now exceed 10,000. Just a few years ago this number was at around 3,000. Both guests and crew members are using real-time video conversation platforms. They are also now regularly streaming videos and sharing their cruise experiences.

In addition to all of this, the number of apps and wearables has multiplied significantly. An acceleration in Cloud migration also means a huge increase in the need, and demand for, robust connectivity.

“Cruise companies are responding by prioritising increases in bandwidth, adding satellites and changing infrastructure.” – Tracy Fletcher, Service Delivery Lead for theICEway

Remote Working

Pre-pandemic, around 5% of office workers in the US were based at home for the most part of their roles. Now, that figure has increased to 20%-30% and the situation is similar across the globe.

People have come to realise that they are no longer bound by the confines of the traditional workplace. In fact, they can set themselves up in practically any location as long as there is an internet connection in place. In what may be the biggest impact of Covid-19, many employee agreements now feature a split between office-based and remote working hours. Whilst this is not feasible in certain industries, the scope remains huge.

Holidays are a different prospect now also, with people able to work from their hotel room or cruise ship cabin. Originally, the abbreviation ‘WFH’ referred solely to ‘working from home’. Today it has evolved to also translate into ‘working from holiday’. Recent LinkedIn research revealed that 39% of UK adults have worked whilst on holiday in 2022.

Cruise ship bandwidth has always been a major focus as cruise lines strive to deliver a seamless guest experience. With the working environment no longer a static one, this focus has taken on even greater importance.

Satellite Communications Service Provider Speedcast worked hard to expand its coverage during the pandemic. Through a series of infrastructure changes, its bandwidth in Europe and Alaska climbed from 13 Gbps to 30 Gbps. Carnival Cruise Line has also improved its bandwidth in 2022 and is now able to offer each guest a 50% increase. Carnival crew members can now text for free on WhatsApp.

‘Working From Holiday’ Onboard A Cruise Ship

Is it possible to work whilst on a cruise? It is, but it is important to know beforehand what level of connectivity you can expect. This will depend on the cruise line, the cruise ship and perhaps most importantly, the route. It is also important to take note of the port(s) you will be visiting, as signal strengths will vary.

“In port, a guest would most likely use their own 4G/5G connection having chosen a location where they can pick up a good signal. Alternatively, some ships have an onboard repeater system that can provide improved coverage on board in these circumstances. ” – Gus Davidson, Principal Consultant for theICEway

For those seriously contemplating WFH on a cruise, the starting point is to first establish the real shared bandwidth on a known existing ship. You could then estimate the number of guests who might be using the wi-fi service at any one time, thus working out what share of bandwidth each is likely to have. Easier said than done!

Other considerations would involve the services and applications guests are likely to be using and what the expected traffic might be. Texting via WhatsApp uses very little bandwidth, for example, whereas calls and image sharing would consume far more. Remote working nowadays typically involves Zoom or Teams meetings, which also require substantial bandwidth. This is even true of Microsoft Office when there is a need to retrieve files in SharePoint. Therefore, it seems as though WFH on a cruise may be a little ‘hit and miss’ as things stand. It is certainly possible to get things done but as for a full working day…? No doubt we will get there in time but for now, it might be best to stick to dry land!

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Information Technology continues to be one of the top sectors at the annual cruise gathering with the Interactive Tech Zone returning for the second year in a row. Last year the Interactive Tech Zone saw hundereds attendees visit to learn about the latest advances in science through an information technology playground which included everything from headsets, emotion recognition technology, dynamic digital displays to AR crew training. You don’t want to miss out!

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