To develop cutting edge design, it takes expertise, imagination and innovation. As the leader in maritime communication, Wireless Maritime Services has been successfully designing and deploying wireless networks at sea for over 15 years. The core of our success is the WMS Engineering team. WMS engineers design, build and innovate wireless maritime networks for today, tomorrow and the future.
Years ago, when people dreamed of a cruise vacation, the concept of using your personal mobile phone on a cruise ship was nothing more than a novel idea. When you think about it today, it is still an incredible technological triumph to be able to make a phone call or post a picture on your social media account in the middle of the ocean on a ship, but it is something we take for granted on a daily basis. It is a technological triumph because of the imagination, innovation and engineering that it takes to make this happen.
Cellular service at sea shares some similarities to cellular service on land. From a passenger perspective the service is almost identical, however, behind the scenes is where the similarities end. WMS engineers must imagine and adapt wireless technology built for a terrestrial environment to the maritime environment. When a passenger makes a call, sends a text message or uses data from their mobile device from a ship, the call, text or data session is connected to a customized network comprised of software platforms, hardware, satellites, antennae and miles of cable that is designed specifically for that vessel. From the ship at sea, the call, text or data session is then routed to a satellite link orbiting in space then to the WMS core cellular network on land which ultimately delivers the call, text or data session to the receiver on the other end.
WMS engineers not only design the network onboard the ships, they also design and manage the core network on land including capacity planning and traffic flow. The shipboard and core networks work together over satellite seamlessly keeping guests and crew connected.
Considering the design of a vessel - which can be 15+ decks and can expand over 300m in length - the materials used to build it, and the various environmental elements vessels sail in, there are many variables that impact the design of a maritime network. The WMS Engineering team is responsible for the design of the entire network which includes the cable layout, location of the DAS (Distributed Antenna System), and the structural design of the network components and how they coexist with ship’s existing technologies and the satellites. While creating a custom design, the engineers must always take into consideration several factors such as where the vessel will be located, number of passengers, demographics and the equipment vendors provide.
There are three primary challenges the team must address for every design. The first hurdle is equipment. When vendors manufacturer equipment, it is built with the terrestrial environment in mind. Equipment developed for use on land is built without the size limitations that exist on a ship. The engineering team must search for equipment with a smaller profile. In many cases, they may need to make modifications to the equipment so that is optimal for a vessel environment and remains mostly hidden from guest and crew members.
The second challenge that the engineers face is the satellite link orbiting the Earth used to send and receive communication traffic to and from ships at sea. Cruise ships typically use geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) systems, and orbit 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles) above Earth's equator following the direction of Earth's rotation. The distance a communication signal needs to travel from the ship to space, and other factors like weather, need to be considered to reduce performance issues such as delay (called “latency”) and data loss. The team optimizes the satellite connection that enables a stronger connection with minimal latency. Without any modifications by the engineering team, there would be significant latency and poor call quality.
The third challenge the team must address is the vessel, specifically the layout of the vessel and the materials used to build it. Network components are designed for terrestrial buildings such as a stadium or hotel. In a hotel, the network signal must travel vertically with significantly less interference from the building. On a cruise or cargo ship, metal is used throughout the vessel which causes more signal loss and reflection which in turn impacts network performance. The network must be designed so that there is continuous connectivity whether the signal is traveling to the lowest deck to enable crew members to place a call, mid deck so that guests can text from their stateroom or on the top deck so the captain can send an e-mail from the bridge.
The Wireless Maritime Services Engineer
WMS Engineers wear two hats: design and operations. They are not a standard operations team; they are project focused and spend a large amount of their time designing and innovating in addition to their critical responsibilities that must be performed daily. When asked how the team manages to successfully execute such a complex list of responsibilities WMS Director of Engineering Mobility, Manuel Naranjo said “One of the biggest strengths of the WMS engineers is their ability to adapt to the constant changes in this unique market and the capacity to figure out solutions to complex issues.”
A WMS engineer’s day begins by meeting with the Network Management Center (NMC) and Shipboard Operations teams to discuss any urgent matters that may have occurred during the night shift. Once those issues are assigned and the tickets have been closed out, the team performs a daily network performance analysis and systems optimization check across all technologies to ensure that the network is operating efficiently and effectively. As vessels move from country to country, it is important to check systems daily due to the constant environmental changes. Upon completion of their daily operations responsibilities, the team switches hats and moves into their design responsibilities. Engineering dedicates a considerable amount of time researching ways to incorporate new technologies, develop and improve network design and hardening the network to be future proof, durable and maximize uptime for service availability.
Director of Engineering IP Core, Allan Lindo touches on the extensive training, education and skills WMS Engineers are required to have saying, “A WMS engineer must be a problem-solver who is nimble, tech savvy, analytical and creative with excellent communication skills.” Team members must be creative and bold to try new technologies and push boundaries of innovation. A person who has a natural curiosity that drives a hunger for knowledge will be successful in this role. WMS President & CEO Pramod Arora summarizes the team's ability to execute flawlessly by stating “RF engineering is complex to begin with, with different combinations of constantly moving parts making it necessary to fine tune the network to make sure the end user experience is optimal, and making it work well in a cruise ship environment adds many levels to that complexity. I take pride in the ability and energy of our engineering team to manage this challenge, and they have proven to be the best in the industry over the past several years as we evolved our network from the earlier technology cycles.”