Ground-breaking VSAT technology including tri-band antennas helped Carnival drive VSAT to Gbps levels with its MedallionNet connectivity
Carnival Corp has taken VSAT to new levels of connectivity for passengers on its cruise ships and broken the bandwidth-at-sea world record using its MedallionNet connectivity service on Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess.
Connectivity over the satellite link reached 2.25 Gbps during a specific media-driven event at the end of February, said Carnival Corp chief experience and innovation officer John Padgett. This demolished the existing record that was set in December 2017 when MSC Cruises’ newbuild MSC Seaside reached just over 500 Mbps using an Intelsat EpicNG satellite (MEC Q1 2018).
This new record was achieved while the ship was anchored off Princess Cays in the outer Bahamas. “We have pushed the VSAT to its limits to demonstrate that there are no practical limits to creating great connectivity,” Mr Padgett told Marine Electronics & Communications.
Bandwidth was made available to guests for streaming images and video over satellite uplinks and downlinks. MedallionNet uses connectivity from SES Networks’ constellation of geostationary and O3B medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites to provide a pool of bandwidth. “Our 2.25 Gbps is far in excess of what guests actually need on a daily basis at present,” he said, adding that this pilot test demonstrated what could be achieved to cover future requirements “We have enough bandwidth for years of advances in connectivity,” he said.
When Carnival is not testing the boundaries of connectivity, Bermuda-flagged, 2014-built Regal Princess is provided with around 50 Mbps in “a mutual fund of bandwidth”. This is compared with a cruise industry average that is around 10-20 Mbps per ship.
To achieve this, Carnival worked with SES Networks to minimise any changes in available bandwidth and connectivity experience when ships move out of the O3B satellite Ka-band coverage, which stretches between the tropics. When this happens, connectivity goes seamlessly on to the geostationary satellite coverage of C-band and Ku-band.
Carnival uses the positive elements of geostationary satellite coverage that includes resilience to different weather patterns and reliability of coverage with the higher bandwidth and lower latency from MEO satellites.
“We always give guests the best experience possible even when outside MEO coverage as we work to eliminate barriers that prevent people going on cruises,” said Mr Padgett
“It is part of improving the vacation experience to provide land-based connectivity. Passengers can use Facetime, watch Netflix and run their own business from our ships with 24/7 video conferencing.”
Carnival evolved VSAT hardware and ship networks using “ground-breaking technology” as it developed MedallionNet, working with Intellian Technologies on installing the world’s first tri-band antennas. There are three of these on board Regal Princess to receive and transmit using C-band and Ku-band for the geostationary constellation and Ka-band to the O3B satellites.
There is a dedicated wifi network for passengers and a separate one for crew and ship operational requirements. “We distribute the bandwidth through a hybrid fibre Ethernet around the ship and distributed access points for every guest in high density formats,” Mr Padgett explained.
“We distribute the bandwidth through a hybrid fibre Ethernet around the ship and distributed access points”
“Ships historically have access points only in public areas and hallways. We decided that we wanted wifi access points in all 4,000 staterooms so there is complete access around the ship.” There are high-throughput modems and routers for managing connectivity and wifi for mobile access. For other services, Speedcast supports the ship’s administration and media content is from Global Eagle.
More innovations are coming as Carnival is deploying “embedded wifi access points in television displays that enable more efficiency in distributing signals,” said Mr Padgett.
Currently, MedallionNet is available on Medallion Class ships, although only Regal Princess has been tested to Gbps bandwidth limits. There are also plans to deploy MedallionNet on other ships in the Princess Cruises’ fleet, which includes three on order and 17 existing vessels. “We can rewire ships in the confines of a standard drydocking period so MedallionNet does not have to be fitted just on a newbuilding,” he said. “We can retrofit ships to this level in 12 days.”
“We can retrofit ships to this level in 12 days”
Existing ships in the Carnival fleet have communications networks with wifi access points in public areas and wifi coverage. Wifi access in staterooms depends on the distance from the hallway wifi access point and whether passengers have the door open, said Mr Padgett. These ships have dual-band antennas for C-band and Ku-band coverage from geostationary satellites.
“We have prepared a couple more vessels in the Princess fleet and plan to share the learning and capability with other Carnival brands,” said Mr Padgett. “Each brand and operating company can then plan this investment.”
Carnival is involved in other connectivity innovations. Princess Cruises is starting to deploy a service called Ocean Medallion on its ships, which provides guests with information linked to their location on board. It tracks a medallion that is about 25 mm in diameter and carried by each passenger. These gather information about the wearer’s preferences and are updated multiple times per minute, which enables the ship’s IT infrastructure to present each guest with relevant options.
There is a third key component to the technology: Ocean Compass. This enables the guest to access cruise planning and concierge information, either via their own personal device, from their cabin’s TV or through one of the interactive screens that are located throughout the cruise ship.
In another innovation, Carnival introduced OceanView TV streaming in September 2017. This is available to download on Apple and Amazon devices and Mr Padgett said this includes “original content that can be downloaded anywhere and is a new level of connectivity experience”.
Regal Princess particulars
- Operator: Princess Cruises
- Built: Italy, 2014
- Tonnage: 141,000 gt
- Guest capacity: 3,560
- Crew: 1,346
- Registry: Bermuda
- Length: 330 m
- Decks: 19
- Service speed: 22 knots
- Wifi access points: All staterooms
- Connectivity: split between passengers & crew
- Bandwidth: Apex of 2.25 Gbps
- Satellite: SES Networks MEO & GEO
- Antennas: 3x Intellian Tri-band
- Bands: Ku, C & Ka
- Network: hybrid Ethernet fibre
- Infotainment: Ocean Medallion