WiFi is coming!

Navy News / August 4, 2017

By Darlene Blakeley

In an effort to minimize the hardships facing sailors when they head off to work at sea, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is working towards having WiFi available across the fleet of Halifax-class frigates and maritime coastal defence vessels.

“If having WiFi allows sailors to stay better connected with family and friends while away from home, then this is a positive step forward in reducing the hardships that often disconnect them from the normal world,” says Commodore Casper Donovan, Director General Naval Force Development, who is leading efforts to introduce the capability into the RCN.

Part of that effort also means staying in sync with technology given that new devices such as tablets and some laptops, and certainly cell phones, are being developed without an ability to connect to traditional network cables and jacks.

“Communicating is a huge priority for the RCN,” says Cmdre Donovan. “We want our sailors to be able to stay connected, not just with their loved ones, but also their social networks. The RCN is being innovative in how it communicates and social media is another means to allow us to communicate on various fronts, both externally and internally, from the top down. If this means Commander RCN can connect broadly and meaningfully with sailors through social media while they are at sea, then it is beneficial to all of us.”

In the longer-term, developing a WiFi capability in ships will help recruit and retain new sailors who will see that the RCN understands that staying connected is an important consideration, according to Cmdre Donovan. “Young Canadians today can’t live without their phones; why would we think they can just because they are in a ship?”

The first step is to have WiFi available in the ships’ three messes (eating quarters) and the captain’s cabin. Sailors in ships that are alongside or close to shore will then be able to connect using their personal devices because the ship is connected to cellular networks. Eventually, new satellite communications terminals in ships will enable them to connect anywhere in the ocean.

“Eventually, we hope to expand the WiFi footprint beyond the messes and into sleeping quarters,” Cmdre Donovan says. “It will be a kind of crawl, walk, run approach.”

To begin the trial, WiFi was introduced in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Toronto while the frigate was alongside in Québec City during Rendez-vous 2017 in mid-July.

It was an instant hit with the crew. One sailor immediately tweeted out: “Having WiFi in the C&POs [Chief’s and Petty Officer’s Mess] is pretty cool!”

“When we have figured out the equipment and finalized the engineering specifications, another ship will have WiFi installed in the messes, hopefully in September,” says Cmdre Donovan. “Once we ensure it all works well, we will roll out WiFi in all the ships’ messes, and then begin to move forward with satellite communications technology so that sailors can connect from anywhere. This will mean one less hardship to endure as they head to sea, away from family and friends.”