Beacons on Cruise Ships

There’s a new in-depth article at PC Mag on how Carnival use beacons, based on Bluetooth and NFC, on cruise ships. As the article says, “it provides an excellent case study in how to use technology to enhance your customer’s experience”.

The beacons are branded as ‘OceanMedallion’ and allow:

  • Guests to unlock their stateroom
  • Guests to pay for drinks or items in shops
  • Guests to play in the casino
  • Housekeeping staff to keep track of whether or not the stateroom is occupied

7,000 sensors throughout each ship detect the beacons and 4000 interactive portals provide information for guests. A mobile app can also be used that can help navigate about the ship and find fellow passengers.

Beacons provide a way to eliminate friction in the passenger experience. The software system uses edge devices to perform operations close to where the user has been detected so as to reduce latency and network traffic. Nevertheless, the system attempts to centralise data so as not to replicate information.

The system provides Carnival with lots of useful data on guest preferences, transactions (for billing) and preferred areas of the ship. Aggregated information might be used to determine heavily used areas (for maintenance), pinch points and redundant areas of the ship to feed into improvements to the ship.

Read about Beacons in Hospitality

Read about Beacons in Visitor Spaces

Beacons in the Hospitality Sector

Carnival Cruises has started to roll out ‘Ocean Medallion™, a beacon that allows you to board the ship, open your room door, navigate the ship, find your family and friends onboard, make reservations and order and pay for food and drinks.

This is a significant and well thought out rollout for many reasons:

  • Large undertaking – In order to use the system, each ship is being fitted with 75 miles (121km) of cables, more than 7,000 sensors and 4,000 digital screens.
  • Mass market promotion – it has even been mentioned on the BBC.
  • First large rollout to use beacons with NFC – As we previously mentioned, NFC can be used for, closer, security-related activities such as payment.
  • Used as a USP – The How It Works web page is using the added convenience as a unique selling point.
  • No battery life problems – The beacon only has to transmit and last as long as the holiday.
  • User Experience aware – The beacon has been designed to look like jewellery to gain acceptance. It’s engraved with the customer’s name and can be worn as a necklace, clip or on a keychain.

The clever part is that the gains aren’t just for Carnival cruise guests. The new system will also allow more personal location information to be gathered that can be used offer better targeted promotions and hence help increase revenue per customer.

NFC and Beacons

Now that some manufacturers have started including NFC in beacons, our customers have started asking about the differences between Beacons and NFC and why NFC is being included.

In proximity detection terms you can think of NFC as being an extension of ‘very near’ in iOS’s ‘near’, ‘far’ and ‘intermediate’ proxmity classifications. The range is in the order of cm rather than m. In most applications a ‘near’ beacon or higher value RSSI on Android can perform a similar function as NFC. However, NFC can be made more secure in that it can provide for secure proximity detection in scenarios such as payments. Unfortunately, only Google has made NFC detection open (in Android) and iOS can’t be used to detect and use NFC in beacons. NFC on iOS is locked down to only support ApplePay. So why have NFC in beacons?

The main reason is because it’s a feature that can be provided ‘for free’. The latest Nordic nRF52 series of SoC includes NFC so it’s a feature beacon vendors can include for no extra cost to themselves. At the moment it has very little use because universal iOS/Android solutions aren’t possible and ‘near’ Bluetooth advertising provides similar functionality anyway. However, NFC in beacons might one day become more useful, particularly for security related scenarios, should Apple ever open up NFC to third party solutions.