Stena Line’s partnership with Marlink keeps them at the forefront of passenger technology services

Wednesday 24, May 2017

With connectivity, sustainability, digitalisation and passenger satisfaction as core drivers, Stena Line is at the forefront of providing communication technology on ferries. Marlink has provided connectivity services on Stena Line ferries since 1996, supporting telephony and free Internet access, operational connectivity and third party services such as ATM, credit card authorisation, remote access and GSM.

ABOUT THE CUSTOMER

Stena Line was founded in 1962 and is headquartered in the Swedish City of Gothenburg. The international transport and travel service company specialises in freight and passengers and is one of the largest ferry companies in the world, hiring approximately 5,200 employees.

With a fleet of 35 vessels, every year over 7 million passengers travel with Stena Line. The company also transport 1.6 million vehicles and about 2 million freight units. The company’s mission is to increase value through affordable and seamless ferry transportation with a commitment to safety and reliability, digitalisation and a reduced environmental footprint.

THE CHALLENGE

Connectivity is a key differentiator for Stena Line. The company have worked closely with Marlink for more than 20 years to develop and trial innovative new communication solutions designed to reduce costs and offer market leading connectivity services, which help to differentiate their offering in a very competitive marketplace.

Stena Line has always been at the cutting-edge of passenger communication services. It was the first ferry operator to introduce free Internet access and the first to trial integrated multi-band services. Stena Line’s commitment to leveraging the best communication technology and services supports high levels of customer satisfaction and Marlink continue to develop solutions and offer support that helps to keeps them on top.

THE SOLUTION

A history of firsts
Stena Line is well recognised as an early adopter of new communication services. Working closely with Marlink since the mid-nineties to participate in the development and trial of new services and innovations, they have introduced a number of ‘firsts’ in the world of maritime communication. They were Marlink’s first customer to install an ATM onboard, provide pay-per-use on our Internet@Sea Prepaid Surf service, one of the first to introduce onboard GSM, and in 2010 they became first ferry company to offer free onboard WiFi. Working in close partnership, Marlink designed a highly customised WiFi network shaped to their requirements with a WiFi captive portal and Radius AAA for passenger fair use access to the Internet.

Hybrid connectivity
Today Marlink has developed one of the most advanced multi-band networks for the Stena Line fleet, using Marlink’s SMARTConnect system. Stena Line vessels switch seamlessly and automatically between Marlink’s Sealink VSAT and 3/4G services, in addition to hooking into port Wi-Fi services when docked, ensuring seamless communication and connectivity for passengers and crew.

With a keen focus on innovation, Stena Line invested in having a simulated ship in their shore-based office for testing applications, including the full Sealink Maritime VSAT system with integrated SMARTConnect. As one of the first Marlink customers to utilise the SMARTConnect service, which was largely developed to meet their specific requirements, they played a key role in its development, and it is subsequently rolled out successfully across vessels in the merchant, offshore and cruise market segments today. This is especially efficient when close to shore, because vessels can switch from VSAT to cheaper, low latency shore-based resources, saving satellite capacity and saving money.

Multiband bandwidth is then pooled into a unique satellite ‘Closed User Group’ (CUG) reserved just for the Stena Line fleet and dynamically allocated per vessel based on current demands. Stena Line’s CUG service was significantly upgraded further in 2016, when Marlink more than tripled the bandwidth, enabling faster Internet speeds for passengers, to meet the growing demand for access to social media and connectivity for working while travelling.

In addition to passenger Internet, Marlink’s Sealink VSAT provides ship management with ship-to-shore networking for office communications, plus operational data communications for technical, freight, onboard restaurants and shops, as well as for passenger accommodation and bookings. The network also supports provision of onboard third party GSM voice, SMS and data services in addition to routing for third party service providers such as navigation, engine monitoring, credit card authorisation, digital signage and bank ATM devices.

Marlink has also developed integrated ship-shore telephony for Stena Line where all ships and their three shore offices are interconnected via an integrated telephone system, allowing calls in all possible directions between land offices and the fleet based on a common numbering plan. All voice calls within this network are free, contributing to Stena Line’s ability to offer free connectivity to and from shore.

Back-up and back door access is provided via Iridium OpenPort, enabling system engineers at Marlink’s MNOC to gain direct access to Stena Line’s onboard Sealink system for around-the-clock monitoring and trouble-shooting. In case of any issues, an alarm is triggered at Marlink’s Eik Teleport enabling challenges to be addressed remotely and instantly, most often before the issue is even noticed onboard and without the need to bother the onboard person responsible. This also serves as a backup for credit card validation, meaning in case of a communication failure, business never stops.

For further back up, Stena Line’s network is configured with redundant access to Eik Teleport, meaning in case the terrestrial headquarter’s MPLS ever went down, all traffic could be rerouted to an Internet VPN service. The system is also designed with additional telephone PSTN access for back-up and overflow, in addition to unlisted Direct Dial In (DDI) telephone numbers per ship, for instantaneous use in case of emergency.

A Continuous Preventative Maintenance Plan is also in place, committing Marlink to perform a full survey on board all ships annually, where an appointed Field Engineer will thoroughly examine the full onboard system and perform any necessary updates or repairs.

With 27,000 departures per year and a huge number of passengers embarking and disembarking every day, Stena Line undertake a tremendous logistic operation, handling huge amounts of data via their online systems for the restaurants and shops, as well as for online booking, tracking, navigation, maintenance and safety systems. As one of the most forward thinking ferry operators on the market, Marlink is delighted to work in partnership to support its continuous ambition to operate the most advanced network available.

KEY BENEFITS

  • Improved Passenger Satisfaction – with on board communications as a critical passenger satisfaction indicator, Stena Line is able to offer the best available technology and services for its customers.
  • Automation and digitalisation is supported for everything from online booking systems to onboard navigation and door locking systems.
  • High availability of constantly high bandwidth, accommodates passengers’ business and social needs, as well as crew and operational communications.
  • Infallible – business never stops since selected services are backed up through alternative connectivity channels, while back-door access facilitates the prompt repair of any issues onboard.
  • Enhanced green credentials are achieved through real-time, remote data monitoring of on board machinery, speed, fuel consumption, water depth, etc.
  • A dedicated Service Manager works daily from the MNOC to track the vessels’ networks and ensure business is constantly running smoothly.
  • Reduced IT costs since software updates, IT security and network updates can all be managed remotely and instantly from shore.
  • Happy, performing crew: benefiting from internet and email access via their own devices to stay in touch with friends and family whilst at sea – while Stena Line maintains full control of their communication costs.

STENA LINE’S FEEDBACK

“The passenger experience is a top priority for us and demand and expectation from our passengers for onboard connectivity is ever-growing.

With Marlink as a long-term partner we have been able to continually develop our communication services to keep pace with evolving demands. Marlink not only listens to our needs but has also made regular adaptations and improvements to their services over the years based on our feedback.

Marlink’s dedicated technicians are also very reliable and committed to delivering excellent quality of service.”

Raimo Warkki,
Commercial Ship Communications & Systems
Stena IT

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