Kenneth V. Smith

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Wireless Internet on the French Riviera

Marinas now offer easy access for guests and crew

Yacht charterers can now enjoy the best of both worlds - traveling to distant ports while maintaining a close connection with home or office. There are many advantages for crew as well.

The motoryacht Thunder B was at anchor in Port Camille Rayon on the French Riviera, and the captain and crew were getting ready for the following day's large luncheon with special guests when the captain received word that the chef was ill in London and would not be flying to France.

 

After a few moments of quiet grumbling and cussing, the captain opened the lid of his laptop computer and was immediately and effortlessly logged on to the Internet with a high-speed wireless connection that had been recently installed at the port. He then clicked on his bookmarked site for BlueWaterCrew.com, an online listing of 10,000 qualified yacht employee candidates, and searched for a chef who spoke English and French. Within a few seconds, the names and private phone numbers of available chefs appeared on the screen, and within half an hour, the captain found and hired a chef who lived in nearby Cannes and was available for a new assignment.

This is just one example of how the fast-growing technology called Wi-Fi (for Wireless Fidelity) is being used by yacht vacationers and crew for access to the Internet while in, or even nearby, an increasing number of marinas around the world. Of course, one of the reasons to go on a yacht charter vacation is to get away from the always-connected world we now live in, but it can be comforting to know that you can stay in touch with your home and office if you choose to.

For the yacht captain and crew, Wi-Fi, which offers Internet connects up to 10 times faster than the old landline phone hookups (when and where they were available), makes it much easier to go online to get up-to-the-minute weather information, make restaurant reservations for guests, check on port availability, and as the captain of the M/Y Thunder B did recently, hire new crew members.

Since about three years ago, there has been a growing market demand for Wi-Fi in ports and marinas on the French Riviera, says Laurent Monsaingeon, head of port operations in Nice, Cannes, and Villefranche for the French Riviera Chamber of Commerce. Those wanting high-speed Internet access include not only yacht owners, but renters and vacationers. Monsaingeon says even though wireless technology is still fairly new, many vacationers now expect a broadband connection while in or close to port. "They are using the Wi-Fi connections for personal, financial, and tourism-related services, such as planning an evening ashore, reserving a time at a golf course, and staying in touch with the office back home."

In the ports of Cannes, Monaco, and Nice, where there are frequent major events such as the Cannes Film Festival, the superyachts are rented to major corporations where high-end sales presentations are made using the port's broadband Wi-Fi connection.

And, there are often "high-tech minded" people who love surfing the Net, and use complicated electronic equipment to update their navigation software and weather charts.

Monsaingeon says that the yacht businesses, brokers, and other professionals in the yacht ports are also big consumers of Wi-Fi broadband, especially for new services such as nomad invoicing, berth-boat and facility checks, security and safety, and webcams.

The port of Cannes is now fully equipped, and Nice will be ready soon, just like those of Mandelieu-La Napoule and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Monsaingeon said.

The big player in Wi-Fi on the French Riviera is Monaco-based Tekworld and its partner company, WeRoam, offering wireless Internet service at French airports, including Nice, and many marinas and harbors in southern France. The list of the added Wi-Fi hotspots includes premium locations like the harbor at Cannes, the Monaco Yacht Club, and the Monte Carlo Country Club as well as ESCOTA, the first Wi-Fi service along highways in the South of France.

In the past two years, we have seen more and more airports, hotels, coffee shops, and bookstores announce the availability of Wi-Fi Internet access. It was a logical move to extend this technology to yacht marinas, although there were a few additional problems to overcome. Technology is moving fast in this area, but all the yacht vacationer needs to know is that wireless Internet access is available on a particular yacht and that there will be a crew member who is tech-savvy to help with any problems involved in getting connected.

Wi-Fi is now available at nearly all yacht marinas on the French Riviera, which has a long and well-deserved history as a favorite port and tourist destination. Less well-known is that this area of southern France is also a high-tech center. From a modest start 30 years ago, technology companies on the Riviera have grown to an annual turnover of 4 billion euros, equal to the revenue from tourism.

"As one example of how new technologies are being used by the tourism industry on the French Riviera, look at the great number of Wi-Fi networks already installed and working from Cannes to Menton," said Laurent Garcia of the French Riviera Chamber of Commerce. "These wireless local area networks provide easy access to the Internet at all major hotels, the airport, the yacht harbors, and the convention centers. We believe that the Riviera has the largest and best wireless connectivity infrastructure of any tourist destination."

Another example of how technology is being used on the French Riviera is found at Port Camille Rayon, where visiting yachts can be connected to the Internet within minutes of arrival, using the port's Wi-Fi wireless network. The port is one of nearly 100 new Wi-Fi hotspots for visitors to the French Riviera at yacht harbors, the Nice airport, hotels, convention centers, and other points of activity for tourists, business people, and convention delegates.

Several years ago, Charles Flynn saw the potential for Wi-Fi in yacht marinas. He is an American living near Nice, France, and had been representing manufacturers of television broadcasting equipment. He formed a new company called Internet Marine SARL, and has since shifted his time and energy to the booming market of providing wireless Internet access to yachts and marinas.

"The Côte d'Azur is unique in a lot of ways, but something that most harbors here don't have is such a large itinerant group," Flynn said. "In most ports around the world, the majority of people can fold up their sails and drive home to a broadband Internet connection. Typically, these people will not be our clients. On the other hand, there are a lot of boats in this area of France that are from abroad, or whose owners are from abroad, or that are chartered by people who are from abroad and here only for short periods of time."

In the past, Internet access was thought of as a way to connect to the office, and these people could entertain the idea of being disconnected from the office for a period of time. But Flynn has found that the need for Internet access now goes beyond e-mail. Because security and privacy have improved, people are now comfortable using their trading accounts with it, for example.

Along with Wi-Fi, there's a trend toward the ubiquity of the constant connection. Whether it is the tail leading the dog, or vice-versa, people's habits have changed. They used to try to get away. Now they need to communicate even when on holiday.

Flynn advises his clients to have a number of choices for voice and data communications. Wi-Fi is just one mechanism for getting the input into their computer systems. It's a mistake for any Wi-Fi conversation to be limited to downloading e-mail. It will just be a frustrating toy. A couple of years ago computer network systems were so fragile, and the methods were so rigorous, and the cost was significant - the correct decision was to keep the computers separate and put up with the inconveniences.

Now, a complete network system can be built into the boat, with a backup and music delivery server and a camera system that can remotely monitor the boat, for less than $3,000. Certainly, there are security issues and it takes electricity and it isn't fail-safe. But it can be made quite secure if the most modern WPA (Wireless Protected Access) passwords are used consistently, and most boats are powered on batteries and inverters when they are not plugged into the docks.

"There was a time when a mobile phone gave guests the luxury of being on board all day," Flynn said. "But now, people are used to getting and sending e-mails. They also like to hear the news from their home country, and Web radio is perfect for that need."

More Stories By Kenneth V. Smith

Ken Smith is a writer and developer of Web sites. He is the founding editor of SmartTravelNews.com and m-Travel.com, both sites providing online news about technology, travel and tourism. For the past six years, he has been a key consultant to UniqueGlobalEstates.com, an online marketing service for luxury properties. Ken Smith lives in Nice, France.

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Most Recent Comments
Evita 09/21/07 03:35:17 PM EDT

I see that the contrapenuer has struck; and now fled back to the U.S? Oh no, he's in Canada. He's not American; he holds a British, Irish and Canadian passport.

Where will he strike next?