Inmarsat, the global supplier of mobile satellite communications, is providing connectivity through Fleet Xpress for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic’s new adventure cruise ship, National Geographic Venture.
The expedition ship, designed to explore the coastal waters, shallow coves and fast-moving channels where wildlife congregates, completed its first cruise around the Galapagos Islands in December 2018 before moving to Baja California. It is also destined for the Pacific North West coast and Alaskan cruising in the next few months.
Built by US yard Nichols Brothers, the 73-metre length by 14-m beam Venture is one of a growing band of ice-strengthened expedition ships catering for more remote destinations. With a capacity for 100 guests supported by 50 crew, ship-to-shore connectivity is a central proof point that adventure cruising can deliver on comfort, safety and continuity of lifestyle, as well as get close-up to nature.
“Fleet Xpress is the right fit for our fleet of smaller expedition vessels due to the requirement of a smaller VSAT terminal and the ability to provide hi-speed, reliable, global coverage as these vessels sail to remote parts the globe where connectivity is limited and our guest expectation is always to be connected,” says Arthur Theodorou, Director of IT Lindblad Expeditions.
“Expedition cruising is creating a significant new market for Fleet Xpress,” says Christian Cordoba, Inmarsat Maritime Channel Manager for Yachting and Passenger. “Combining the high data speed of Ka-band and continuous L-band back-up with purpose-designed and easy to install 1m terminals allows Fleet Xpress achieves 24/7 coverage, stability and reliability, including high-speed IoT connectivity, whether the ship is in the Arctic or miles up an inland channel.”
Cordoba says that the new generation of expedition cruisers have especially high expectations for connectivity, which they consider a lifestyle entitlement. “For adventure cruisers today, connectivity is part of the package they are paying for; this is an audience which expects a highly educational vacation, but also to share experiences online instantaneously.” Service reliability and speed become hotel management issues that affect brand reputation, ratings and repeat business, he adds.
“From the owner’s perspective, Fleet Xpress is also the answer because these compact ships don’t have the real estate for the sizeable terminals larger cruise ships use to connect via C-band. Meanwhile, L-band alone falls short on data speeds and Ku-band services may work with compact shipboard terminals, but they can’t offer the benefit of a seamless global coverage the itineraries demand.”
Fleet Xpress is now installed on board six of the Lindblad Expeditions ships, including Venture’s sister ship National Geographic Quest, delivered in 2017, with retrofits made on Sea Bird, Sea Lion, Endeavour II and Islander. Fleet Xpress is fully integrated with the ship phone systems (PABX), and the internal communications platforms and local area networks used to optimise vessel operations.
The fully proven reliability of Fleet Xpress in service, and the robust and established I-5 and I-4 satellites supporting Ka-band and L-band respectively are also proving persuasive in attracting new types of vessels such as adventure cruise ships like National Geographic Venture to the high-speed data network, adds Cordoba.