Skip to Content

5G Private Networks for Intelligent and Connected Cruise Ships

7 June 2023

A cruise ship’s crew and passengers expect continuous access to affordable, high-quality internet services while onboard. But the communications network on a typical cruise ship is a complex system, integrating multiple types of infrastructure to meet the needs of the ship, its crew, and its guests.

It will often include existing wired infrastructure, supporting multiple network protocols, and will be augmented by both WiFi and private cellular networks such as 4G, LTE, and 5G to meet current and future connectivity requirements. The often unpredictable nature of a cruise ship’s journey means the network must constantly adjust to changing conditions, selecting the most appropriate connectivity options for providing reliable and fast internet access, and supporting onboard applications.

Optimizing backhaul connectivity is crucial to delivering the desired internet access. To address this while at sea, the ship’s network may rely on a combination of Geostationary (GEO), Medium Earth (MEO), and more recent high-bandwidth, low-latency Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite connections, depending on availability and the ship’s location. Alternatively, when at port or close to coastal areas, it may utilize terrestrial public cellular and port WiFi networks to provide the best possible internet connection.

Deploying a private 5G network can address many of the onboard challenges faced by a cruise ship’s communication network by providing faster, more reliable connectivity.

Enabling a host of new applications

A private cellular network based on 5G can augment existing WiFi and wired infrastructure and, by enabling modern applications requiring high bandwidth, low latency, and higher connection density, create a more intelligent and connected ship.

5G technology offers high-speed broadband connectivity, low latency, a vast number of simultaneous connections, and quality of service through network slicing. Unlike WiFi networks, 5G can operate at higher frequencies, potentially providing faster speeds and better coverage. Moreover, its slicing technology can be optimized for specific use cases such as providing high-speed internet access to all the guests on a cruise ship, thus alleviating bandwidth constraints and improving the overall guest experience.

A host of new applications, based on a private 5G network and with improved backhaul internet bandwidth connections, can help reduce operational costs for a ship’s owners, enhance guest experiences, and generate revenue through monetizing applications.

Exploring the benefits

Private 5G networks can enable the remote monitoring and maintenance of a ship’s critical systems, allowing cruise lines to diagnose and resolve issues more quickly and efficiently, reducing downtime and associated maintenance costs, and improving overall performance. And through secure connectivity, real-time data collections, and automated controls, a 5G private network can be employed to optimize energy consumption in a ship’s lighting and HVAC systems.

And, by allowing video data to be processed quickly and more reliably, a private 5G network with Edge computing can improve the effectiveness of real-time high-definition video surveillance applications, helping to create a safer, more secure onboard environment for passengers and crew.

The benefits extend beyond greater operational security and efficiencies. 5G private networks can improve the guest and crew experience, too.

For instance, a 5G private network can offer the immense bandwidth required to enable live streaming of onboard performances, games, and entertainment for thousands of guests. Exclusive, high-profile events can be streamed externally over the internet by prioritizing onboard 5G network traffic using network slicing and optimized SD-WAN routing for backhaul internet connections, which benefit from improved bandwidth via LEO satellite connections.

Furthermore, by leveraging a 5G private network, cruise line operators can partner with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) or Neutral Host Network (NHN) provider to offer guests and crew low-cost or no-cost seamless cell service. Not only will this optimize onboard operations, enhance the guest experience, and reduce costs associated with cellular service, but this solution also presents a monetization opportunity for cruise lines to offer innovative solutions to guests and crew, addressing the pain points of high cellular service costs and poor connectivity.

Potential use cases

There are a many potential use cases for the deployment of 5G private networks onboard a cruise ship. Here are some more examples.

Improving security, safety, and operational efficiencies:

  • Use IoT/sensors to monitor and optimize fuel/energy consumption, creating a digital shadow/twin of key operational domains for improved real time Inventory Management.
  • Stream real-time high-resolution videos with live vision AI/analytics for enhanced security, faster onboard check-in, improved cruise ship operations, and crowd management, among other benefits.
  • Use automated vehicles and robots onboard for operational efficiencies and for loading crates and baggage for reduced ship turnaround times.
  • Provide onboard immersive crew and employee enablement and training.
  • Conduct drone-based inspections, onboard asset maintenance, and asset revamping.

Improve guest and crew experiences:

  • Offer live performance simulcast.
  • Provide immersive AR, VR, and XR onboard guest experiences.
  • Stream onboard edge-enabled entertainment and games.
  • Leverage the Smart Energy Management Digital HUB to create Smart Cabin applications for guests.
  • Use AI/ML-enabled vision-based embarkation/disembarkation/identity verification processes at sea and at port.
  • Enable improved onboard guest-to-guest, guest-to-crew, crew-to-crew communication including push-to-talk services through the onboard mobile app
  • Enable seamless connectivity to mobile network operator services for guests and crew to communicate with their families on land.