August 23, 2012 Updated August 23, 2012
Forget the days when taking a cruise meant you were forcibly incommunicado; those have been long gone for many years now. But if the cruise lines are successful in several new endeavors, the days of slow, spotty Internet connections and super pricey phone calls may be numbered as well.
Carnival Cruise Lines is the first out of the gate, trialing new technology aboard Carnival Magic that dramatically increases connection speeds. The technology consists of "hardware changes," a spokesman told Cruise Critic, including more advanced modems and a new network configuration. Carnival also increased the ship's overall bandwidth -- the key to at-sea Web speed.
Cruise Critic first learned of the line's efforts from member Spaniel Lover, who e-mailed us from Magic to let us know about his discovery.
"I noticed something very different than what I'm used to on the Carnival Magic today," he wrote. "I'm talking about Internet speeds.... It's dramatically improved on the Carnival Magic."
In addition to a trial of the actual connectivity, Carnival is testing a new way of selling Internet access. During the six-week trial period, Carnival is offering two unlimited Internet options, as well as a per-minute option.
The prices are $29.95 for a full day of unlimited access, $119.95 for a full week of unlimited access or $0.75 per minute. No minute bundles are available during the trial.
Royal Caribbean also will begin testing new technology, though not until next summer when it will try out a new system from O3b Networks, a global satellite service provider, aboard Oasis of the Seas. The technology company claims the system will bring 'fiber optic-like' Internet speed to the ship.
Two maritime telecommunications companies also are putting their hats into the better onboard communications race. MTN Satellite Communications and Wireless Maritime Services have partnered to create a new smart phone app designed to make at-sea communications less painful.
The Connect at Sea app will enable 'cost-effective' ship-to-shore calling and texting service, as well as intra-ship calling/texting service. Pricing has not yet been revealed.
Though the smart phone app will be free to download (from both iTunes and the Android store), it will only be usable on partner cruise lines and select ships, though the companies are not yet releasing specific details on which cruise lines/ships.
"Right now we are working with one brand in particular to roll out in a few weeks to crew and passengers," a spokesperson for MTN Satellite Communications told Cruise Critic. "After that, other brands will follow."
Though the spokesperson would not reveal specific information as to how the app works, Cruise Critic did learn that the intra-ship calling plan is dependent on a ship's Wi-Fi network, while ship-to-shore calls rely on satellites.
Users will not have to purchase an Internet plan on their cruise to access the ship's Wi-Fi, however. 'We have developed this application to utilize existing technology onboard the vessels without having to pay for it to work.'
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor