Unmatched Network Uptime is Our Standard
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven communication and connectivity are vital necessities across the globe. The ability to stay connected with our families, teachers, grocery stores, friends and work have been essential during this crisis. Just as on land, maintaining connectivity at sea is equally vital. A vessel at sea is essentially a small self-sustaining floating city with complex communication needs without the open real estate that a small city provides. Amid the global pandemic, there are still thousands of crew members onboard cruise ships waiting to be repatriated; all of them need to stay connected with family and friends. When connectivity is lost at sea, it can isolate the ship from the rest of the world.
At WMS, we are proud that across our fleet of 170+ ships we maintain an unmatched core network uptime for our Cellular at Sea service. This ensures that connectivity is there when it matters, and less downtime means fewer headaches for our customers. Our brand is built on the promise of enabling digital transformation shaping the future of maritime by connecting people, data and things through a seamless network. We are successful in executing this promise due to our incredible WMS family including our Shipboard Operations (SBO) team that installs and maintains our network equipment deployed on ships at sea.
The Network Installation and Maintenance Process
Take into consideration the general design and build of a ship. It has a steel hull and steel walls with multiple decks and unique spaces within the ship. Networks must be designed and installed so that connectivity is provided for everyone from the officer on the bridge, to the guest in their mid-deck cabin to the stage manager of the Broadway style show on the lower deck. The onboard network must provide exceptional connectivity even with these unique design considerations.
A WMS maritime network is comprised of telecommunications hardware and software platforms, satellites, antennae, and miles of cable all custom-designed for each vessel. The signal must propagate the interior of the ship (including bulkheads and firewalls). The network equipment must be reliable, weatherproof, and hidden so that it is not visible to guests. Installations on container ships are quicker, but still requires hauling equipment by hand up several decks to the uppermost deck where the equipment is installed.
Shipboard Operations (SBO) is the field and operations team that builds, installs, tests and updates the networks on cruise and cargo ships. It is no easy task installing a maritime network onboard a vessel that can be well over 300 meters long, 15+ deck highs for 7,000+ guests and crew members. SBO Field Engineers require mental focus, physical strength, and endurance to get the job done. These team members experience long hours installing the equipment, midnight testing and many nights away from family. The SBO Field Engineer is like a lone soldier in the field travelling across the globe to the front line hauling 150 pounds of tools, computers and personal luggage.
For network installations on newly constructed cruise ships, work begins in the shipyard. The network equipment for the vessel is shipped to the shipyard and typically consists of at least 5 pallets of equipment. On average there is usually one SBO Field Engineer that completes the entire network installation in a few weeks not including the cabling and Distributed Antenna System (DAS) which can take months.
Once installation of equipment is complete, the engineer must fully test the network. Testing includes checking and cleaning equipment, analyzing signal strength and checking for call quality. Upon completion of all testing, they educate the technical officers on board about the network installation, equipment and support, close out the ticket and travel on to the next job.
Achieving Excellence Is Not Easy
The Shipboard Operations team consistency ranks among the highest within WMS for customer satisfaction scores measured across all operating units. This incredible accomplishment is summarized by Chris Barger, Director of Shipboard Operations and Logistics "Our success is a combination of many things including constant communication with our customers, detailed analysis of issues, support from leadership and strong collaboration among our WMS team. We are here for our customers."