Wireless Maritime Services (WMS) provides connectivity solutions at sea including cellular, Wi-Fi and IoT. The team responsible for remotely managing wireless networks on board cruise and container ships is our Network Management Center (NMC). The NMC are the first responders for WMS when network issues or outages occur with a mission to restore critical communication keeping people, data and things connected at sea and maintaining our best-in-class network uptime.
The First Responders of WMS
Every single day of the year the WMS NMC monitors 170+ vessels around the world at sea. To adequately manage so many vessels in various time zones, the team rotates three shifts in a 24-hour period. The NMC network engineer’s area of responsibility expands far beyond providing basic support and includes deep technical knowledge of end-to-end mobile connectivity in a maritime environment. Because of this in-depth knowledge, the members of the NMC team independently resolve complex technical issues maintaining our best-in-class network uptime and customer satisfaction.
The team's priority is to handle critical faults; the NMC are Tier 1 engineers when a fault is identified. With their in-depth knowledge and expertise of maritime networks, the team may consult with Tier 2 engineers throughout the life of a fault until the issue is resolved. Using this methodology, the NMC Tier 1 engineer continues to learn advanced skills which improves response time and ultimately further improves network uptime.
Not Your Typical Day
As the first responders of WMS, a typical day begins with a team huddle to communicate open issues. This is a critical step in maintaining service continuity for incoming team members. A network health check is performed to further isolate any undetected issues. If anything is detected the team investigates and analyzes the issue and provides details to Tier 2 for resolution. During a shift, the team collaborates with internal and external customers to discuss reports, issues or ad hoc projects. Unlike other operations centers, at the NMC all shifts have critical work to conduct in addition to monitoring the WMS fleet around the world. Since ships are dispersed across all time zones there are no shifts that have a lighter workload compared to others.
Network issues can range from something as simple as a single component fault to a complete network outage. As faults are identified, the NMC Engineer investigates to see if it can be solved remotely and independently. When needed, the NMC will contact the ship's onboard point of contact to assist; it is not uncommon for the NMC to report an issue before the vessel team is even aware of a fault.
Many critical issues are satellite related, causing all systems to be offline when the connection has failed. Outages are more common in the northern regions of the globe such as Alaska, Canada and Norway due to the geographical landscape. The satellite "look angle" is significantly less in these areas, thus large glaciers and mountains block the satellite signal to a ship because of the curvature of the earth. When a high priority fault comes in for an outage, the NMC immediately notifies the vessel team and begins to work with them, internal WMS teams, and the satellite vendor to solve the issue.
Although there is nothing typical about the NMC’s daily workload, there are atypical days with critical issues that allow the team to put their skills and expertise to the test. The team must contend with the ever-changing maritime environment, ranging from environmental satellite interference to hurricanes. The team must consistently strategize and find innovative ways to continuously monitor networks under various environmental conditions.
The Traits of an NMC Engineer
It takes agililty, strategic thinking and diligent problem-solving skills to succeed as an NMC Engineer. They are excited to put their telecommunications and network experience to use in a field that allows them to exercise their theoretical knowledge and expand their skills with continued training. The exciting part of the job is being able to work with different network types, vendors, systems, technologies, maritime markets, use cases and protocols as well as collaborating with various departments. Because the NMC is the tip of the spear for WMS, and the team solves some of the most complex issues in maritime communication, NMC engineers are often promoted to other departments in the company. Having NMC engineers move to other technical teams increases trust, expectations and knowledge of the entire WMS operations team as we have insight into the demands of our cross-functional teams.
Linda Ryan, Director of the Network Management Center, summarized her view of the team saying "The NMC team is as diverse as the network with each individual contributing their specialized knowledge. We consider ourselves the first responders for WMS. We are the first ones to respond to any network fault, and our number one goal is to administer procedures with a sense of urgency to repair and restore the health of our network quickly." WMS President & CEO, Pramod Arora, commented on the critical importance of customer-facing teams, "A business is only as good as the front-line employees. I am proud to have the WMS Network Management Center as the first team our customers encounter when needed. They are a true differentiator for WMS."