Silversea Cruises CIO Fabio Agostini says the cruise ship operator has ambitious plans to bring passengers better internet services on board. The company has really stepped up its plans and is working with the likes of SES and Telenor to bring the next generation of connectivity to passengers.
Silversea has a small set of ships with a maximum of 600 passengers on board at any one time, and a complete fleet of nine vessels with less than 3000 passengers at sea at any given time. The company plays in the luxury cruise ship market, and can offer some cruises that last up to 120 days. It sails to more than 900 ports all over the world, covering some of the most remote parts of the world with its very unique cruise packages.
But, what does this mean in terms of its internet offerings? Agostini told Via Satellite that Silversea currently offers complementary free internet on board to passengers and crew, but that this offer is not unlimited. It additionally sells standard and premium connectivity. Agostini admits moving forward, Silversea wants to extend as much as it can its free internet offering to passengers. However, going forward, it will want its premium service to resemble the services that passengers get at home; even though this is an ambitious objective, it has been working hard on connectivity.
In 2016, Silversea had planned a major revamp of connectivity services on its ships and selected SES and Telenor to help it achieve its aims. “At the beginning of 2017 we activated new services on our whole fleet. It took almost the whole year to replace antennas on our ships. We decided to use Telenor as a one-stop shop for the whole connectivity stack: on boarding portal, local network management, firewall and filtering, modem and connectivity. At the end of 2017, we decided to move one step forward and in 2018 we are introducing a bandwidth optimization layer to the firewall and we are taking ownership of firewall management. This will give us the possibility to manage personalized policies per account/device granting a better than average experience to our users and preventing the overuse of scarce resources,” he commented.
Agostini says it is important for the operator to offer a consistent service. “Consistency of service is also another big plus that we offer to our customers. Having smaller vessels means we cannot put too many antennas on one vessel to follow Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) / Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites. We also cannot have excellent connectivity through MEO and then a less inferior C-band connectivity elsewhere. For these reasons, we have decided to keep C-band for coverage and complement it with Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) Ku-band,” he adds.
While there was much talk at SATELLITE 2018 about the role of new LEO and MEO constellations, part of their success will be down to persuading companies like Silversea, which operates across the world, to make the leap. “LEO/MEO will make a difference to us when they will be available almost everywhere and when the technology is much simpler than it is today. We also believe that terrestrial connectivity via LTE can be a good complement to our internet offering and that’s why we decided to go with Telenor, which is also a telco provider. We complemented the coverage with far north satellites from Telenor to cover the Arctic sea and with mobile antennas that can get LTE connectivity from terrestrial cells to complement our proposal so that we can get connectivity even in fjords or other areas where satellite cannot be reached by our antennas,” Agostini says.
One of the key questions facing any cruise company or any company in this area is justifying the Return on Investment (ROI), and what is the business model around connectivity. After all, with ships going to remote outposts in the world, providing connectivity is not a cheap process. Silversea offers an all-inclusive product and given it operates at the luxury end of the market, its customers do not expect to pay on board for basic services like connectivity, so Silversea sees the main ROI in this area with this respect is customer satisfaction. “Luxury is anyway about choice, so if some of our customers want to have even better connectivity at a price, we do believe that we need to provide it. This way we can have also a revenue stream, but our customers should be happy to pay to get a really premium service,” Agostini says.
Silversea measures the satisfaction of its customers with a questionnaire at the end of the cruise. One of the questions is related to the internet experience on board and it uses the ratings that it gets from its customers to measure its investments in the area. “We do see an increase in the satisfaction of our customers after each change that we introduce, but after a while they get used to it, so we need to do more and find new ideas to prevent satisfaction ratings going down,” said Agostini.
While Silverseas’ guests may hope to have the same experience on ship that they do at home, these expectations are still somewhat unrealistic given the constraints of the technology. “They do use more and more smart devices instead of PC or laptops and they ask for multiple devices to be connected at the same time. The main usage is still social networking,” says Agostini. “We continue to evolve our platform to get as close as possible to that goal and we try to explain why it is difficult and what our guests should expect from us on board in terms of connectivity. Knowing that, no matter what we do, our customers will still have moments when the internet won’t be available on board. We are also trying to give them basic local services that will keep them connected and entertained. We do believe that onboard connectivity is a fundamental component of our offering.”
One of the things you hear a lot from companies like Silversea is the ability to customize the experience. This can be everything from specialized dietary requirements to other parts of the experience. Agostini admits connectivity is changing things here, particularly when it comes to meeting customer expectations. Waiters and waitresses can now get alerts on iPads if passengers need a dish to be cooked without salt, for example. It adds up to a much more personal experience for the passenger.
“We want to have the same level of support and personalization on the onboard internet experience. The main challenge we face is that connectivity is managed by many different components: antennas, modems, bandwidth controllers, firewall, local network, onboard platform, consumption monitoring, billing, etc. and it is difficult to be really excellent everywhere,” says Agostini.
In the past, Silversea used a one-stop-shop approach delegating the whole level of services to one supplier, but it was not happy about results so it decided to use a number of different suppliers. “We really want to delegate satellite, modem and bandwidth management to our provider. In the ideal world, the provider should manage remotely its devices on board so that we get the contracted bandwidth almost without intervention on our side. Of course, we need to provide a hands-on service if neither the main satellite link or the fleet broadband backup link work correctly, but this is the only situation,” says Agostini.
Silversea has delegated security and profiling to a specialized company and it has decided to take in house bandwidth usage optimization with a custom application linked to its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. It also uses another company with a web onboard platform that has been developed for its market and is tightly integrated with its reservation, Property Management System (PMS) and CRM system.
In terms of how things will develop for Silversea, Agostini says, “Over the last 10 years, we have implemented a lot of onboard monitoring and automation, all based on the same architecture: local server and applications fully replicated in near real time shore-side. Our focus is on the level of service that we grant to our guest and on the interaction that they can have with us. Luxury is about choice: they can decide if they prefer actual service or our self-services or any mix of the two.” VS