Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cruise Connections

Remember when the only way to connect with friends and family at home was by using your very expensive cabin phone while on a cruise? Some of us remember not even having a phone (or television) in our cabins. That was ancient history in today's high tech vernacular. It's not uncommon to see many, if not the majority, of passengers using electronic devices to connect over the Internet on modern cruise ships today. However, using those devices on ships could be frustrating. That is, until recently.

MTN Communications (MTN), a major provider of communications services to cruise ships—and the first to provide satellite services to a cruise ship in 1991—has shared statistical results of its two-year transformation of connectivity at sea and they are pretty interesting for industry watchers and passengers alike.

The statistics are the result of a customer toolset MTN rolled out starting in 2012:
-- The industry's first hybrid satellite and terrestrial broadband network for improved bandwidth delivery.
-- An Internet billing method akin to land-based resorts for increased revenue growth.
-- An Internet Cafe solution delivering seamless access at sea through any device and offering shared plans with improved management of data consumption.
"The cruise industry competes with the land-based resort industry," said Brent Horwitz, senior vice president and general manager, cruise and ferry services, MTN. "But when it came to communications, due to satellite technology limitations and costs, passengers and crew got slow Internet that was expensive compared to what they were used to at home."

MTN also saw a dramatic shift in devices used for connectivity on its customer ships. In 2010, the breakout of devices used to purchase and access the Internet were as follows:
-- 94% desktops or laptops
-- 5% tablets
-- 1% mobile phones
In 2014, the device split changed dramatically to:
-- 60% of those connected were on mobile phones
-- 20% on tablets
-- 20% on desktops or laptops
The industry's response to this and the exploding demand for data was to "increase the pipe" by adding bandwidth to ship service plans.

"Cruise passengers and crew have reported back that their connectivity experience at sea has improved significantly over the past two years," Horwitz added. "The cost of connectivity may never fully come down to where it is on land, but passengers demand—and deserve—more value for the amount of money they pay."

On our last cruise aboard Princess Cruises' Regal Princess we found the speed vastly improved while connecting with laptops as well as cell phones. Communicating from sea has come a long way from utilizing ship-to-shore telephones during our cruises nearly three decades ago, as well as the time we used the first Internet Cafe at sea while cruising aboard Norwegian Sky.

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