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Change ahead for Pullmantur as Satellite Tech Evolves

Javier Gill, IT director of Pullmantur, discusses challenges and opportunities from new satellite technology.

“We have to change,” Javier Gill, IT director of Pullmantur, says when talking about how the Spanish ferry/cruise company intends to use satellite technology to equip its fleet. The company has been using old C-band antennas, and Gill admits Pullmantur is aware of the technology’s limitations. “There have been blockages in ports. We have found that it is a technology that cannot give you a big availability and offer a really stable service. We have changed it to a hybrid technology for the antennas. We will be able to use Ku-band and C-band,” he says.

He says the satellite technology that Pullmantur uses has become “obsolete.” The company will be using this summer to completely refresh the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) technology it uses. Pullmantur wants to be able to offer different types of internet access depending on how its customers use the internet. It wants to have a level of control where it can offer different levels of service, although Gill admits it is really difficult to say how much more bandwidth the company needs. “If [we] manage to get a higher penetration of the service, we will need more bandwidth. In some of the bigger ships, they have big amounts of available bandwidth. It can be 600 to 800 Mbps per ship for the really big cruise ships, such as Royal Caribbean. We are much lower than that. It is difficult to have a single answer for the amounts of bandwidth we need. It depends on the area where you are, [and] access to services when you go shoreside. There are a lot of factors that impact the need for bandwidth,” Gill says.

Gill also says that Pullmantur is aware of new emerging technologies in satellite and new constellations that will go live over the next few years. But because Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations are still a bit far away, which is impacting the company’s technology investment decisions, the company feels like it can’t wait, and has to invest in technology now. “We need to use technologies that we have access to. The cost is affordable for us. But the market will change a lot in the next 12 months. Ideally, if I could do that, I would sign one year contracts with whatever provider we decide to work with. But this isn’t really possible. The hardware is really expensive. I try to get these flexible short-term agreements but they are difficult to get hold of. The market will change a lot and the bandwidth prices will go down. But the investment you need to access these technologies makes it difficult to be really flexible. We would like to double our penetration of the service,” Gill says.

Gill says the satellite connectivity market is changing fast and the company will need to be aware of the new opportunities. He admits he has a “special curiosity” about how the big satellite companies will be able to make profitable the huge investments needed to put these new constellations in service while data connectivity becomes more and more a commodity.

Service Offerings

Once Pullmantur deploys better technology, it can grow its service offerings to customers. “We are working on what services we can offer through an app, and how can we increase the revenue streams on board,” he says.

Pullmantur already has full Wi-Fi coverage of its fleet. In terms of the numbers, Gill says, “We have around 400,000 customers per year. We are trying to find out how much bandwidth they will use. Our biggest ships have almost 300 people per cruise. We have a penetration of the services that goes from 3 and 10 percent. In the Western Mediterranean, it can be between 3 and 4 percent. It is going lower because there are very little roaming charges. In other areas like the Caribbean, it can go up to 10 percent. We have capped the bandwidth usage, but we need more. But, as of today, we don’t know how much more we need. We don’t have the proper tools.”

Gill is in charge of putting Pullmantur’s roadmap together, and he admits it is quite a complex roadmap. He says the company wants to have its customers be more connected. He says what the company has seen over the last five to six years is that people want an internet connection so they can use their social networks. They see it as a commodity. They want to be able to use it wherever they are. He adds, “Five years ago, it was just not possible. Many customers who go on cruises want to disconnect. It was not a big issue. But now they want to be connected. So, we now see a growing demand of people wanting to be connected.”