Following what seems to be a never-ending series of maritime accidents, the cruise ship industry is finally doing something in favor of passenger safety. The industry is working on improving communication technology fleet wide so passengers have a better and more reliable experience with cell phones and Internet service.
Communication technology isn’t the best while at sea, but that’s all about to change. While having the ability to make a phone call or use the Internet while sailing has only been possible for the past ten years or so, the technology is wrought with complications and is extremely costly for cruise lines. But as more accidents continue to be reported, companies are seeing a dramatic increase in the demand for improved communications services.
Limited bandwidth is the main issue reported with onboard cruise ship communication technology, which affects the quality of service and data rates at sea. Sure, cruise ships provide their own access to Wi-Fi, but this can cost guests an arm and a leg and to top it off, is extremely slow. Additionally, there are limitations to what can be accessed. There are certain types of files that are too large to be downloaded using the Internet on cruise ships, which can prove to be a nuisance, especially if the cruise traveler needs to use the Internet for work-related purposes. Internet access costs between $.25 and $.75 per minute, depending on the selected plan and the cruise ship. Passengers can also choose to purchase air cards for their personal laptops, but this too can be extremely expensive and some cruise lines will also impose a surcharge for laptop users.
As far as voice communication goes, it is extremely expensive to make a phone call while at sea or in a foreign port – that is, if the guest even has service available. Although outgoing calls are more expensive, incoming calls can also cost the user a pretty penny. And if cell phone users do not turn off their “push” features on their smartphones, they can also be charged roaming rates for both voice AND data usage, even if the phone itself is not being used.
But fear not cruisers, it seems as though the cruise industry has finally heard your plight for improved communication services. The industry is working with technology providers to improve connectivity while at sea. The next-generation platform for communication is set to launch in the near future, and will completely change the way passengers can communicate with the rest of the world.
MTN Communications, one of the largest sellers of telecom equipment to the cruise ship industry, is launching a new platform called NEXUS that will drastically enhance the connectivity across vessels. MTN is building a seamless network that will combine onboard and on-shore systems to enhance connectivity for both voice and data usage.
In order for the improvements to be possible, MTN has designed a series of special-purpose satellite payloads that will ride on the next generation Intelsat EPIC platform and offer at-sea communications, which is currently not possible to achieve. This technology will simplify network services and allow for the transfer of large amounts of data while onboard. All applications, including the passengers’ own devices and the cruise ships’, will be merged to create a seamless communications experience for passengers.
The next generation system will also offer a unique application called Connect at Sea, which will improve ship-to-shore communications and also allow loved ones on land to communicate with cruise ship guests without the added costs. The Wi-Fi-based technology will allow voice and data communications between smartphones, similar to the way Skype allows for land-based communication between smartphones.
Soon enough, cruise ship passengers will be able to use their personal communications device with the same reliability and connectivity they can find at home, minus the extra international roaming costs. However, the question still remains: Will cruise lines still impose higher rates for passengers to use cruise-provided communications technologies or will they cut passengers a break?
Photo Credit: telegraph.co.uk