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FAA decision just a sign of the satellite times

This weekend, the FAA — Federal Aviation Agency — declared that airline passengers will be able to use their electronic devices during take-offs and landings because they don't interfere with communications from the cockpit after all. Resisted was the urge to say passengers will be left to their own devices.

The message goes far beyond flight non-interference. The message is that we have all become so dependent on "devices" that Peter Public is demanding the removal of unnecessary firewalls. Where the philosophy applies to the cruise business is the unprecedented demand to be "connected" no matter where in the world the ship happens to be.

Connectivity from cruise ships has been both problematic and expensive. Times are a-changin'. Last month, several reports surfaced about how cruise lines are getting more bandwidth, presumably from the Great Bandwidth MTN-2 copyDistributor in the sky. The company that has dominated satellite communications, MTN, has slipped into second place behind the new kid on the block, Harris CapRock, which now has the contract for more than 100 ships from Carnival's family of cruise lines, along with Royal Caribbean's more modest collection of offspring.

The two satellite giants are duking it out to see who is fastest and most reliable. MTN's main strategy is to speed up the Internet by utilizing land-based carrier networks. CapRock's main strategy is to have more than one antenna on a ship (presumably MTN could easily do this, too) and, perhaps more significantly, to use satellites in lower orbits…i.e., closer to earth.

For those of us who are technologically challenged, it may sound as bit like VHS versus Beta in the old days of video tapes, but the bottom line is that Internet connections at sea are bound to get better.

The people insist. They also insist that it become more affordable and if you don't think that will happen…remember when that 40-inch flatscreen TV cost $2,800? The one that you can buy now for less than $500.

In the meantime, enjoy reading your e-book on the airplane!

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
November 17, 2013
Jacksonville (return): NassauCocoCay
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $37

Internet Issue Bound To Change

Remember when…

Every time you checked into a hotel and asked about getting on the Internet, the hotel was happy to provide you with an ethernet cable to connect, for a price?

Remember when…

WiFi was available at airports, at a cost that bordered on the ridiculous?

Today, almost every hotel provides free WiFi, if not in the rooms then in the lobby. Today, the diminishing number of airports that charge to let you go online do so for what seems to be a more reasonable fee.

What about cruise ships?

Often vilified for charging an average around 75 cents a minute — cell phones are more (up to $6 a minute) — and that's almost always for slow and often interrupted connections, cruise lines are surely going to have to get with the program. For too long, they have justified what could be described as gouging their customers by pointing out the exorbitant infrastructure required to connect their moving objects with the satellites.

There's a story making the rounds this month about a service  that will result in phone calls from cruise ships for about $1 a minute. It's called Connect At Sea, from MTN, the company that provides most cruise ships with satellite transmission, and AT&T. The partnership is called Wireless Maritime Services.

A lot of tekkie talk is involved in the story. The bottom line is you'll have a better connection on your phone from a cruise ship, and it will cost about the same as roaming does on land. Anybody who uses Vonage (as we do) or some other VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) connection will be familiar with the quality.

Meanwhile, will realistic Internet prices be next?

The appetite for it is ravenous. Last week, our colleague Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows attended a press briefing about the first ocean ship for Viking River Cruises and when company owner Torstein Hagen said there would be no charge for Internet on his Viking Star, the applause was deafening.

It seems to be such a sore point with passengers that cruise lines would be better off to build their Internet profits into the price of a ticket. Unless, of course, their profits are even bigger than what we all imagine.

Holland America Zaandam
7 nights
June 16, 2013
Anchorage, Glacier Bay, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

When 'That Call' has to be made…

Given the number of people on cruise ships at any given time, it's reasonable to expect there is a need to reach a passenger when they're at sea.

Such emergencies can be dealt with by calling the cruise line and finding out how to reach somebody on a specific ship, assuming you know the specific ship.

But if nobody is answering the cruise line's phone in the middle of the night when you need to call, here's what you do:

Go to www.dialaship.com.

This service, which is not free, is operated by MTN. That's the company that provides satellite communications to cruise ships around the world. Also not free — as you know if you've used the Internet while on a cruise.

The first click takes you to a lengthy list of cruise ships, categorized by cruise line. There is a 1-800 number to call for that ship (so far, it's still free). Then a computerized voice will prompt you to enter the ship's name and, before the connection is made, you also have to enter a credit card number (this is where it stops being free). The meter begins to run once an automatic system or live operator answers, presumably on the ship you're calling.

What's the cost?

If it's an emergency, does it really matter?

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
3 nights
January 4, 2013
Miami (return): Coco Cay, Nassau
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $73



Batter Up, Pay Ball with MTN?


Sometimes, press releases are funny. Not funny ha-ha, but funny strange.

For example, one crossed our desk yesterday from MTN. You may not know what the acronym stands for but if you've been on a cruise ship you've been affected by MTN, by far the industry leader in transmitting TV service to ships.

It seems that because of MTN's expanding technology, we the passengers will now be able to watch TV shows, shore excursion promos and anything that's on your stateroom TV…from our portable "device."

In our case, that's our two-month-old iPad.

So, here's the strange part for those of us who are somewhat technology challenged…

How much?

According to MTN, we can now "access entertainment and news programming, and other content, from anywhere on the ship using personal mobile devices" to our "WiFi-enabled devices." In our technology-challenged world, using a WiFi enabled device means being connected to the Internet…and that means paying.

The financial impact on we the passengers is (conveniently) ignored in the press release, as is the fact that the world's best-known news channel, CNN, is not part of the package. What is part of the package are 770 sports events, CNBC, Fox News…

One of the sports events it includes is Major League Baseball playoffs. Can you just imagine, if you have to pay the ship's going connectivity rates, how much that baby would cost to watch from poolside…even if it doesn't go into extra innings?

Category: Cruise News, People, Ships, Stories  Tags: , , ,  Comments off
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