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I thought the man next to me in the Internet cafe was going to break the monitor on his computer. His reaction to the connection he had just lost would be #@**! in comic books. I really did sympathize. We all complain about the high rates for the satellite Internet connection on cruise ships, which is often very slow by land standards and has been known to freeze or drop service in the midst of communication — as it did on my cruise.
But this summer, Royal Caribbean International is rolling out what Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, calls transformational service, which will reportedly supply more bandwidth than all the other cruise ships in the world combined. And they are essentially offering this at resort rates: The company's current plan for unlimited access on a seven-day cruise is priced at $189, compared to traditional cruise line packages in which a minute — usually costing from 25 cents to $1 — typically denotes about half a minute after factoring in the connection speed. Since this kind of service is unprecedented, pricing may be adjusted once Royal Caribbean finds the right amount to balance demand and availability.
Royal is collaborating with Harris CapRock, a global provider of satellite communications for the government and military, and as a result, has gained an eightfold increase in speed, according to Royal Caribbean vice president and chief information officer Bill Martin.
Royal has also teamed up with a company called O3b, which stands for "Other 3 billion" people - the collective population of emerging and insufficiently connected markets in between plus-and-minus 45 degrees latitude in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific. The company has launched four initial satellites, each orbiting at less than a quarter of the altitude of geostationary satellites, enabling fast, high bandwidth connectivity, with speed cut from 750 milliseconds to 140. Passengers in the Baltic and other regions will have connectivity eight times the usual rate of speed.
Recently, the cruise line gave young adult passengers in the teen club use of the system for two hours, and within 20 minutes, Royal already had 500 people streaming more capacity than almost all of the other cruise lines in the world. The service is set up via a cloud computing network, so it can be connected to any device that is Internet-ready.
Fain believes that high-speed Internet will be particularly attractive to millennial guests, which is clear by the widespread use mentioned above. But judging by the displeasure of my non-millennial neighbor, this will likely be a huge step for passengers of all ages.
Royal will benefit directly from a promotional standpoint: Some of the best third-party endorsement in the industry results from social media posted by cruisers who chronicle the food, rooms and activities. Now, guests can send Tweets and post on Instagram to their hearts' content without becoming frustrated about slow connectivity. What's more, Martin predicts that the improved Internet will open new markets, particularly for those who cannot be disconnected from their work — among whom are travel agents, who can actually do business as usual when on a cruise.
The Harris CapRock system is already in place, while the O3b system is being tested on Oasis of the Seas and will be offered on the ship early this summer. Allure of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas will be next.