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Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel
Author: Arlene Satchell
Internet service aboard the Oasis of the Seas will soon get a major reboot thanks to a multimillion-dollar deal between Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and global satellite service provider O3b Networks.
By summer 2013, passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship will be able to tap into high-speed satellite broadband service powered by O3b technology that promises connectivity similar to a home or office connection.
“It’s about time,” said CruiseCritic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown, noting the lack of any major improvement to Internet connection at sea in more than a decade.
“It’s ridiculously expensive and preposterously slow,” said Brown of the typical onboard Internet experience.
Miami-based Royal Caribbean is the first to utilize the O3b Maritime technology, company officials said in a statement Saturday.
“At O3b, we believe that affordable, high speed broadband should always be within reach — wherever you are in the world, on land and at sea,” CEO Steve Collar said.
Oasis, which sails year-round from Port Everglades, will be a testing ground for the O3b technology.
When launched, the new Internet platform will have “dramatically more Internet capacity, and at faster speeds,” said Bill Martin, Royal Caribbean’s vice president and chief information officer.
By testing the new service on the 5,400-passenger Oasis, it can gauge its benefits across a large audience traveling on a consistent Caribbean itinerary, he noted.
“[O3b Maritime] is a very different method for accessing satellite technology that still needs to be proven,” Martin noted.
While rates aren’t yet finalized, the cost of the O3b Internet should be less than the current service available to Oasis passengers, although the pricing model is likely to be different, he added.
Other industry specialists are eager for improvements.
“The one thing I’d like to see is faster, more reliable service,” said Stewart Chiron, President/CEO of Miami-based CruiseGuy.com.
Better pricing and accountability would be great as the clock starts ticking whether you’re actually connected or not, which can be frustrating to passengers, Chiron said.
Prices range from 50 cents to 75 cents per minute based on package purchased, and Wi-Fi service onboard can be spotty so moving about the cabin, the balcony or to outdoor areas of the ship can improve reception,” he added.
Oasis guests are charged 65 cents per minute or less if they purchase a package for Internet service, spokesman Harry Liu said. Depending on the package, prices range from $35 for 60 minutes to $150 for 500 minutes.
Miramar-based MTN Satellite Communications, a provider of Web access to many cruise lines, said Internet at sea is dependent on satellite technologies that travel great lengths and are reliant on several factors.
“MTN has been leading the satellite communications industry for the past three decades, always staying one step ahead of what passengers, crew and our customers are asking for,” said Brent Horwitz, senior vice president, general manager for its cruise and ferry services business.
MTN’s Internet Cafe platform has generated more than 150 million logins to date, he said.
Experts say demand for faster and reliable Internet access is growing as consumers increasingly rely on portable electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets.
“Bottomline, people want to be connected and still control their levels of connection,” said Chiron, who often shares photos with family, friends and Twitter followers when traveling. “It is very important for people to share their experiences as they occur.”
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