Caledonian Macbrayne Ferries Ltd, (CalMac) charters a fleet of 32 vessels providing passenger, vehicle and shipping services from the Scottish mainland to the Islands and Highlands including the islands of Mull, Lewis & Harris, Skye, North & South Uist.

There are currently 25 routes within Calmac’s network and in 2011, CalMac carried nearly 5 million passengers, 1.1 million cars, 93,000 commercial vehicles and 11,360 coaches. This was the fourth consecutive year that more than 4.5 million passengers and over one million accompanied cars were carried on Calmac’s services.

As passenger numbers increase, so does demand for a reliable and robust internet and Wi-Fi service. Prior to implementing its new solution, passengers and Calmac staff were only able to access the internet when ferries were docked in the larger ports, which had huge implications on operational efficiency and customer satisfaction levels.

Passenger ticket sales were managed through a customer contact centre which meant that customers had to make telephone calls to book tickets – this ticketing system had high operational running costs for Calmac and was not convenient for passengers who generally want to book tickets online. Not having connectivity to the ferries meant that the ferries operations systems were not running as efficiently as they could.

Horsebridge Network Systems were selected, through an open tender process, to become the Managed Service Provider of the design, implementation and ongoing management and support of the WAN (Wide Area Network), LAN (Local Area Network), IPT (IP Telephony) and Internet Services.

The System and the Challenge

The geographic location and terrain of the Scottish Islands and Highlands make it a notoriously difficult to serve area in terms of providing connectivity. The locations include long-range links which can be challenging to work with. . There is no “one size fits all” Communications solution so to cater for this Horsebridge have merged multiple technologies (already proven in other Transport Solutions such as Rail/Bus) to create a seamless Managed Service. Providing services to moving vessels also requires skilled design and meticulous planning. There was limited existing infrastructure in place for CalMac to use as a bearer network but this meant that there was an opportunity for Horsebridge to design and build a bespoke, state of the artwork back-bone network specifically to meet their needs.

Key deliverables of the solution were:

-          LAN, WAN, Wi-Fi and Mobility Network Design

-          Sourcing best of breed technology to meet requirements

-          Delivery of the wireless network backbone

-          High traffic capacity & availability

-          Data Network Policy & Design

-          Migrate existing communications services from legacy services

-          Design, supply and installation of all physical infrastructure

-          Provide ongoing remote telephone support

-          Provide training services

-          Provide maintenance and a spares/repairs services

The project is due to roll-out over summer 2015.

The Wi-Fi solution provides a single login process and supports differing user “journeys” dependent upon first time user or returning user to the service. Passengers are now able to access all the social media, email and app data they need. The Wi-Fi solution also has user authentication, marketing and data cleansing functions, creating revenue generation opportunities for Calmac.

A challenging geographical terrain with high Quality of Service requirements

The System provided advanced technologies for superior operation in harsh environments The System must not only to work in a harsh environment but also should be capable of robust interference mitigation.

Some sections of the LAN and WAN have to be delivered by a wireless System, this incorporated advanced features like OFDM, MIMO 2×2 and space diversity assures error-free transmission in nLOS deployments, allowing installations in virtually any location and environment.

Long Range WAN Locations

The system had to deliver high capacity over long ranges, thus enabling greater coverage with fewer bearer paths allowing the client to cost-effectively communicate to remote sites.

Low latency

Minimum latency solution to assure high quality video transmission and streamlines effective operation of high-end security applications such as Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) cameras, secure VoIP (Voice over IP solutions.

Enhanced Networking for Multicast Transmission

Network to support multicast transmission from various remote locations as and when required hence to support VLAN networking for efficient transmission at the all the times.

Zero Downtime of Mission Critical Applications

The system delivered backup and redundancy features to ensure maximum service availability of mission critical applications. Features include SECUR technology (Self-healing Ethernet Connectivity Using Ring) as well as TDM and Ethernet 1+1 service protection.

Ongoing Support and Sustainment of the System

Horsebridge provide a high level of technical support and maintenance services to CalMac. We provide remote technical support to CalMac’s IT team on a 24 x 7 x 365 basis from its in-house Network Operations Centre at secure Headquarters in Cheltenham, UK.

Customer Reference

With the implementation of the new network, ticketing can now be managed online. Scottish Government Transport Minister, Keith Brown MSP, said:

“The award of this contract is excellent news, as it brings CalMac another step closer to delivering a state-of-the-art ticketing and booking system that will provide real benefits to ferry passengers. The system will make it quicker and easier for travellers to make bookings and reservations, and will allow smart ticketing technology to be rolled out in the future. I want ferry travel in Scotland to remain an attractive option, and this new system will help enhance the customer experience on board CalMac services.”