What Every Cruise Ship Passenger Should Know About Onboard Internet Connectivity – Part 1

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Cruise ship Internet connectivityMillions of people go on cruises each year, but while a vacation should be a time to relax and kick back, not everyone can afford to do so. These days, business professionals take their work wherever they go and that includes cruise ships. Most of this work can be done from a laptop and with the use of the Internet, which many ships provide. But how convenient is Web access at sea? And, more importantly, do the costs outweigh the benefits?

In this blog, our cruise ship lawyers will explore the pros and cons about Internet at sea and whether the multibillion-dollar industry that is the cruise industry is charging fair prices.

 

Cruise Ship Internet History

Once upon a time, a cruise vacation allowed you to really getaway. Now, well, not so much. For the work-a-holic, business can follow you on your cruise to the ends of the earth. These days, you can stay connected online as little or as much as you’d like to be. The very first cruise ship to provide guests with Internet options was the Norwegian Sky back in 1999. Sure, at first the average cruiser would only use a ship’s Internet Café to write back home and convey tales of extraordinary feats and adventures. Cruise passengers would get online for an average of 15 minutes, but now, guests use the Internet more than the actual onboard facilities. My how times have changed.

Yet, despite the fact that having Web access is so critical to the average cruise passenger, and despite the fact that we are living in the digital world, getting connected onboard a ship isn’t as easy as one might imagine. For the most part, it’s extremely expensive and extremely slow. But in a world that relies so heavily on technology, how is this even possible? Will onboard Internet communications ever be as reliable as while on land? Probably not. However, there are a few things guests can do to enjoy Internet connection as much as possible and get the most bang for their buck, and it starts with understanding the way connectivity works while at sea.

 

Why Internet at Sea is not as Fast as Land-based Connectivity

If you’ve ever tried to access the Internet while on a cruise ship, you may have noticed it’s a bit reminiscent of dial-up. That is, it’s extremely slow. The reason? Because Internet on cruise ships is accessed via satellite. Next time you board a ship, take a close look at it from ground-level. You may notice a large, round dome atop the ship. Inside lie satellite antennae that transmit signals from the ship to a satellite up in space, which in turn sends a signal back down to the ship.

At home, the distance required to submit that signal is fairly short. For example, if your home connection is a fiber optic one, there are only a few feet of distance from the points of connection, so access is nearly instant. But while on a ship, the signal has to travel thousands of feet into space and back. That’s why no matter how sophisticated the technology on a ship may be, at sea Internet access will never be as fast as on land.

 

Why Internet Access on a Cruise Ship is so Expensive

Naturally, since ships are sailing in the middle of the ocean and don’t have cool fiber optic cables that enable instant Web access, it’s going to cost a lot more for the cruise company to even be able to provide the satellite technology needed for connectivity on its ships. It costs a pretty penny to install those satellites, which means it’s going to cost cruise guests even more.

Moreover, satellites for cruise ships are pretty much controlled by one company, MTN Satellite. MTN rents the space on the required frequency that allows for onboard connectivity, and then provides that space to cruise companies. MTN makes a profit from cruise companies, cruise companies make a profit from their guests. So, the brunt of the cost is then placed on the guests.

So, exactly how much can a guest expect to pay for onboard Internet access? Check out Part 2 of this blog to find out.