News reached land last week that Royal Caribbean Cruises had placed an order for a whopping 40,000 Windows 8.1 tablets, for staff on its latest liner to use while they work at sea.
Microsoft touted the deal as proof that its operating system is fit for the needs of all kinds of businesses, as it looks to wrestle control of the tablet space away from Apple and numerous Android rivals.
Keen to find out more, V3 tracked down the chief information officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Bill Martin to find out more about the decision to back Microsoft's operating system in such a unique environment.
A PC on a tablet
For Martin, Windows 8.1 was a clear choice over rivals Android and iOS because it is "a full version of Windows, that allows you do everything you would do on a PC, but on a tablet.”
Martin also cited Microsoft’s efforts to woo the company with extra services bundled with the tablets.
“Microsoft offered a level of service that was complementary to the crew with Office 365 subscriptions and one terabyte of cloud data, for both these work devices and a second home device used by crew.”
While staff are being offered the tablets, built by a third party called Hexa (pictured), Martin noted that those on board are not obliged to use them, and an open bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy is in place.
However, while Windows is the operating system of choice for Martin – and the company as a whole, with Windows 7 used in all on-shore locations – there are still Android and iPad devices in use at sea. “We have some applications we use that are not available on Windows yet,” Martin explained.
This means an iPad Mini is used for a property management system app while an Android device is used for scanning show tickets, as the OS has the smallest form factor units available, which are easier for staff to carry around.
High speed on the high seas
Of course, making the most of systems in the cloud, such as email, storage and Skype, requires internet access, and when cruising the Caribbean waters, this is easier said than done.
“I remember once we went through a cruise terminal in Barbados and there was literally nowhere to sit – on benches or on the floor – because everyone, crew and guests alike, were taking advantage of the WiFi,” Martin recalls.
While cruise ships have offered WiFi, this has been from older satellite broadband services running at speeds of 1-2Mbps and often at high prices, because the limited bandwidth available means cruise firms charged a premium rate.
However, the Quantum of the Seas will be one of the first new ships in the company’s line to move to a new system from a company called O3b Networks, which will radically improve this.
The O3b system improves both capacity and speeds because its satellites are in low-earth orbit, at 8,062km, so the latency is reduced from around 800m/s to 140m/s. Capacity is boosted too, with its website offering up to 1.2Gbps, 600Mbps per beam, which should remove any issues of capacity.
This will allow far more people to get online when at sea, for far cheaper prices. Martin explained: “We can lower the pricing dramatically to shore-like pricing as we don’t need to control demand."
These improvements should mean those on board are able to get online whenever they want, although of course some may bemoan the fact we're moving to a world where there's constant connectivity, even at sea.
For staff, though, spending weeks and months away from friends and family, the ability to get online, host video calls, access emails and social media services, from a company-issued tablet, will no doubt be a welcome boost to life on the high seas.
For more on enterprise mobility, visit the Intel IT Center.
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