Norwegian Cruise Line has teamed up with Wireless Maritime Services -- a new joint venture between AT&T Wireless and the Maritime Telecommunications Network -- to offer passengers on North American cruises the ability to use their cell phones at sea.
On most ships, the general rule is if you can see land, you can make and receive cellular calls. With NCL's new service, however, passengers will be able to use their cell phones even when communications towers are literally an ocean away. Because the system combines satellite and wireless services, cruisers can chat away in international waters -- on their own cell phones, using their own phone numbers.
Who can use this service? Just about anyone with a GSM phone that operates at 900 MHz and 1900 MHz (these phones are fairly common in the U.S.; AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile use GSM technology). Plus, passengers with data-capable GSM/GPRS handhelds will also be able to access e-mail and use picture messaging services. The technology will be rolled out on Norwegian Sun as early as next month, and could be extended fleet-wide within a year.
Passengers will be billed by their regular cell carrier at rates (set by that carrier) similar to on-land roaming charges. And while most cell users shudder when they hear the word "roaming," keep in mind that this is still substantially cheaper than making calls from your cabin phone -- connections can run as much as $5 or $10 per minute!
NCL is not a rookie in the technology game -- the line was the first to provide wireless internet access (WiFi) to passengers in 2002, and unveiled the first at-sea internet cafe in 1999. However, this cellular concept is not entirely new. Italian-based Costa Cruises was the first line to offer at-sea cell phone service. In 2003, Costa signed a similar deal with Telecom Italia Communication (TIM), offering TIM customers (and foreign customers of the company's roaming partners) the ability to make calls and send data via capable devices.