CalMac Ferries

Published: November 14, 2017

The Wi-Fi solution provides a single login process and supports differing user “journeys” dependent upon whether it is a first time user or a returning user to the service. Passengers are now able to access all the social media, email and app data they need.
– CalMac Ferries

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.

As passenger numbers increase, so does demand for a reliable and robust internet and Wi-Fi service. Prior to implementing our 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 book their tickets by telephone. 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 operations systems were not running as efficiently as they could.

Horsebridge Networks was selected to become the Managed Service Provider of the design, build, operation, 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 we merged multiple technologies (already proven in other Transport Solutions such as rail and 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 us to design and build a bespoke, state of the art, 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
  • Ongoing remote telephone support
  • Training services
  • Provide maintenance and a spares/repairs services

The Wi-Fi solution provides a single login process and supports differing user “journeys” dependent upon whether it is a first time user or a 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, and also had to be capable of robust interference mitigation. Some sections of the LAN and WAN have to be delivered by a wireless system, this incorporated features like OFDM, MIMO 2×2, and space diversity to assure 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 to allow the client to cost-effectively communicate to remote sites.

Low latency

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

Enhanced Networking for Multicast Transmission

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

Zero Downtime of Mission Critical Applications

  • Backup and redundancy features were included in the system 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 of the System

  • We also provide a high level of technical support and maintenance services to CalMac. Supporting CalMac’s IT team with remote technical support from our in-house Network Operations Centre.