Personal communication services onboard cruise ships are becoming more and more important. Passengers now expect to be able to use their cellular phones wherever they are in the world. One company, Marine Communication Partners AS (MCP), recognised this several years ago and is now one of the leading companies for the installation of onboard cellular phone wireless capability.

The company provides the CellAtSea service to cruise ship and ferry operators so that passengers can receive full GSM and CDMA access while at sea. Its full range of services can be used for calls, SMS messaging, MMS and BlackBerry email services.

MOBILE SERVICES

Tom Sekkelsten, MCP’s marketing director of in Norway, talks about the market for this new technology: "Our success lies in the number of roaming agreements we have around the world: currently 98 GSM, two CDMA and another 66 agreements pending."

“The advantage for passengers is in the openness of the billing for the service.”

"We currently have 43 onboard systems installed for a range of companies. We also have ships contracted to have systems installed by Christmas 2006.

"The advantage for passengers is in the openness of the billing for the service; this is all carried through their own cellular provider at home at the international roaming rate they have been set according to their tariff.

"Because of the booming cruise market we are very optimistic about business over the next two to three years and there will always be new ships entering the market." Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

INSTALLATION

Given the complexity of cellular systems, is the equipment difficult to install, and what do the cruise lines and ferry operators have to do to maintain the service? "This is one of the big advantages,” says Sekkelsten. “The service requires little or no effort from the cruise ship staff or from the ship owners – MCP installs, supervises, maintains and upgrades all of the necessary equipment to provide the cellular service on board."

Is the installation intrusive and does the ship have to be in dock for installation? "The equipment is very compact and installation is quick and easy and can be done at sea if required,” replies Sekkelsten

"The only decision for the operator to make is whether they want full coverage wherever the passenger is on the ship or whether they just want to limit the service to ‘hotspots’ such as restaurants and bars. This will determine the number of antennas required – as much as 80 to obtain full coverage on the larger vessels but more usually around 30 to 40."

SUITABILITY

And what about value-added services? "These services will include the ability for the cruise ship to SMS passengers advising them of ship board events (promotional services) as well as a range of other passenger information. The service will also give passengers the ability to book onboard services and events using their cellular phone.

“The wireless system can be used for paging passengers or crew and could also be used for location-based services in the future.”

"Beyond this, the wireless system can be used for paging passengers or crew and could also be used for location-based services in the future."

And can this wireless system interfere with ships’ systems, particularly navigation or communications? "The simple answer is no. There are no known conflicts and we have had excellent feedback on all the systems we have installed."

Introducing seamless cellular communications as a service for passengers can be beneficial for cruise companies as well as customers. Services such as these can help cruise ships to stay ahead of the curve. Passenger demand for advanced technologies is set to continue, and choosing to incorporate wireless capability will provide great advantages for cruise operators.