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Focus: Game-Changing Trend Drivers For The Cruise Industry
By Brent Horwitz, Sr. Vice President + General Manager, Cruise + Ferry Services, MTN Satellite Communications

Traditionally, cruising was all about “getting away.” Today, it’s still about getting away while staying connected. Does that sound paradoxical? Well, it is. And therein lies the challenge for communication companies serving cruise operators.

MTN With this in mind, I’ve staked out the following trends that are driving communications, not just satellite communications, for the cruise industry in 2012 – and beyond. Without these essentials, cruise lines will find themselves falling far short of travelers’ expectations, creating a significant competitive disadvantage:

Content is king. It’s not enough to establish the connection. Cruise lines are asking for content in order to meet the needs of a new kind of customer – the Digital Natives – that are demanding more and more content onboard. Because this is quickly shifting the market towards a gigabyte and terabyte world, providers must constantly be looking to add additional content to meet the demands of our cruise customers’ international passengers and crew, but more importantly how to deliver it without impacting the customer experience or cost.

At MTN, for example, we offer eight channels of television content globally, and a special events channel to broadcast live programming (including NFL football games, the World Cup and Premier League Soccer). In addition to that, cruise customers can integrate additional video and audio content such as shore excursions, ship and port information, and onboard vendor advertising for a comprehensive and customized line-up. And getting content to passengers and crew isn’t just limited to cabins. The industry is adapting to passengers’ expectations – for example, streaming broadcast quality video to their laptop or other mobile devices so that they can access news and entertainment information anywhere and anytime during their voyage. Needless to say, content is how you keep customers happy.

This future for content is to strategically leverage both satellite and terrestrial wireless networks for further content delivery and “connections.”

Ubiquitous Wi-Fi. The rising sale of smartphones and tablets over the past few years has been a major contributor to the exponential increase in broadband demand. As indicated, passengers climb onboard thinking that they’ll be able to boot up their mobile devices and log in anywhere: from the cabins to the fitness center to the pool lounges to the decks. Let’s not forget about the crew either, which also depends upon Wi-Fi to relay messages from often isolated places, like the engine room.

The newer ships are designed with this in mind and we are seeing our partners taking advantage of the opportunity to re-engineer/retrofit their ships to meet this need. Because these ships have been around a while, the wealth of potential blocks such as steel bulkheads weighs even more prominently as a challenge. Let’s face it: This is an imperfect science and each project presents its own individual puzzle to figure out. What’s key is that this is now acknowledged as a priority.

It’s all about bandwidth. This is the biggest driver for now and the indefinite future. Cruise lines are faced with the challenge of delivering more to passengers and crew, but making sure it comes at a return on investment that delivers to the overall business.
Just check out the wealth of cruises specializing in booking business conferences as an affordable and adventurous alternative to the standard hotel or convention center setting. Sure, people still want to get away. But they want, and sometimes need, to stay connected while at sea.

Thus, the demand for bandwidth. Traditionally, a land-based resort will hold an inherent edge over ships in supplying Wi-Fi to guests, given the pure logistics. In the recent past, vessels often just supplied fixed stations in Internet cafes, and that was that. But the mobile revolution has forced a transformation. A rapidly growing segment of travelers refuse to set sail if they can’t replicate the same user experience they enjoy at home.

This requires a greater investment in bandwidth to raise the bar for speed and overall user-interaction quality. But available budgeting remains a concern and the bandwidth crunch is prompting satellite companies to look for efficient, affordable and long-term ways to increase their network coverage in various markets.

As network and bandwidth demands are increasing, and costs and margins are being squeezed, the industry must focus on maximizing overall throughput in the interest of affordability without compromising customer service or a reliable connection. That’s why we’re advancing the way customers purchase and utilize bandwidth around the world; from the pipe to the solutions that will be optimized for the new gigabyte model with MTN’s Next Generation Network. The goal is to solve the capacity, price and performance constrains the industry is facing today, across market segments, delivering the highest quality of products and services customers want.

This can be a game-changer for our industry where the ultimate goal is to give passengers and crew what they want, when they want it – and in this instance, its impeccable communications.

About the author
Brent Horwitz is Senior Vice President and General Manager, Cruise & Ferry Services, MTN Satellite Communications.