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September 27, 2012

Marine Satellite Internet Cafes on Cruise Ships


While marine satellite internet cafes on cruise ships have typically been unwieldy and expensive to set up, the RedPort router system with PBX offers marine satellite internet solutions in a box at a fraction of the cost. This blog will examine case studies of a cruise ship and large ferry that demonstrate the RedPort router system is both profitable and efficient for passenger internet cafe services in remote locations.
On the MS Expedition in the Antarctic, passengers were busy sending emails at the onboard internet cafe to tell friends and family of their day's adventures.

Marine satellite internet cafe



Marine satellite internet cybercafes on cruise ships have typically been dominated by the big marine telcos like MTN and Marlink.

These telcos make available plastic scratch cards with a user ID and passwords randomly generated. Guests are allocated a certain time limit to browse. The cybercafe front end is typically via a captive portal that forces the web browser to a landing page where the user must authenticate before gaining access to the Internet.

The equipment is large and expensive utilizing Nomadix style captive portal units, Riverbed compression devices both on the ship and the land and a Cisco router to provide front end connectivity and IP based security. The landing pages are typically branded with the logo of the Telco.

Although the system works reasonably well there are several detracting factors. First, the equipment is extremely expensive. In order to justify the costs the licensing of the service from the telco is fierce. The ship is usually required to share revenue with the telco on a 50/50 basis however the telco typically covers the investment of the equipment and recoups it over the airtime contract period.

Second problem is by selling the service by the minute and not restricting concurrent logons the service becomes unwieldy with more people connected. This boosts profit for the ship as the slower the Internet the more profitable it becomes; however, there is a low tolerance threshold from passengers where they stop using it all together if it becomes too slow.


RedPort Alternative

RedPort provides a solution in one box that replaces all the above equipment and includes a fully functional PBX at a fraction of the cost of mainstream hardware.

The cybercafe can be deployed quickly and fixed price service contracts provide a revenue stream for the ship that is not shared with anyone else.

Although time-based charging is available, with the byte sensitive hardware used by smaller ships it becomes a lot more practical to meter usage by the byte. This is very popular with experienced users and provides a fair billing system allowing efficient webmail clients to stay on line a long time without penalizing their low usage the way a time-based solution does.

The landing page can easily be customized to the logo of the cruise or tour company.

The RedPort solution also provides a local webmail solution so the passenger can elect to have an Email only account and not have to use Internet at all. Billing software can charge by the byte sent and received and is tailored to the cruise operators requirement.

RedPort also provides all the compression services over HTTP that the Riverbed does and combined with an onboard proxy server provides very efficient caching and distribution on web page data. It is customized to several levels of compression so the ship can decide on the level of graphics quality vs bandwidth cost.


Case Study A: 100 Passenger cruise ship operating via MTN, VSAT and Iridium

This ship has many roles – it operates in high latitudes for adventure tourism and also has served as a floating hotel in the Irish Sea servicing wind turbine farms.

In High latitude mode the ship is running 256 kbps up and down VSAT over C band. With the RedPort technology it can support in excess of 50 logons as well as running the ship's business.

Pax and Ship are on separate subnets and all browsing is filtered and compressed. General rules for both subnets filter nuisance web pages and popups. Crew browsing is more restricted blocking all service ports and forcing all Internet through the captive portal. This completely eliminates peer to peer processes like Skype and malware from occupying bandwidth. Numeric IP is banned by the Proxy server making the blocking of undesirable services very effective.

Logging of the proxy server by IP address shows any user who is abusing the service and blocking by website or web keyword is possible.

Pax paying by the byte have wide open access and most of the restrictions are lifted. Their IP address is dynamic and they have a lot more privacy.

When the ship is in work mode the bandwidth is opened up to 4 mb and the captive portal turned off. Here we can expect 100+ simultaneous connects. The bottleneck here oddly enough is the upstream off site compression. Compression allows more data to be transferred per user but we do notice a drop in performance if only when one or two users are on and we cannot get the full 4 mb bandwidth. This can be turned off and we get faster download but degraded overall throughput.

In all cases we can quickly identify IP addresses that are consistantly abusing the system. In this ship for instance, we identified 80% of the traffic initially was pornography download. With the logging we could quickly identify sites and file types and move to block this activity.


Case Study B: 2000 Passenger High Speed Ferry.

The ferry runs daily service with passage time of around 3 hours across a river estuary. Internet was installed to provide free service to passengers and be used as a sales tool to encourage regular commuters to use the ship service rather than the much faster plane service.

Here we had a 500 kbps link bursting to 1 mb via VSAT over Ku Band. Several PC solutions had been tried but all proved unreliable.

On this ship we had a captive portal activated with an open Logon so the passengers were forced to the Ship branded landing page before they could browse. We could limit the maximum bandwidth to 100 k per passenger so one person could not hog the system.

Here the system would cope easily with 200 or more devices connected and, thanks to the captive portal mobile devices, could not consume bandwidth unless the user specifically passed the simple authentication process.

We would see typically over 1000 new IP addresses handed out over a day with up to 400 unique connections to the captive portal.

The system was very reliable and the only outages were due to satellite equipment failure after a 3 week initial trial period.

The Ferry company is very happy with the service; as the reliability becomes well known, passengers start to take the ship in preference to the plane.

The Operating company has ordered the same system for all their other ships.



RedPort provides a proven, cost effective and customizable solution that meets a variety of needs and can safely be deployed in the most demanding of environments.

Submitted and written by:

Jonathan Selby
GMN Systems Integrator SkyEye Systems Ltd New Zealand 

Contact for more information. 

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