November 3, 2014 / 8:09 PM / in 3 years

Carnival launches first fast wireless network for cruise ships

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - Carnival Corp said on Monday it is outfitting its cruise ships with a hybrid wireless network that will provide guests more reliable and faster connectivity at sea, one of the trickiest places on earth to obtain Internet access.

The Wi-Fi service, a $10 million investment across Carnival’s fleet of 101 ships, is expected to boost revenue for the world’s largest cruise operator, though the company declined to elaborate.

Called WiFi@sea, Carnival says the system is the first of its kind in the cruise industry and that it will work in all locations including mid-ocean. The system uses satellites and land-based antennas installed along the company’s cruise routes.

“What we have developed more than the antennas and the satellites is the capability to be able to switch from one technology to another smoothly,” Ramon Millan, Carnival’s global chief information officer, said in an interview.

Jamie Cash, senior vice president of technology for World Travel Holdings, a large cruise travel agency, said improved connectivity at sea, where Internet service has been provided through satellites, can be a big marketing tool.

“When you look at consumers today there is an expectation that they’re going to be always connected ... whether that is sharing photos with friends or keeping tabs on colleagues while they’re on vacation,” Cash said.

In tests, Internet speed was 10 times faster than the cruise line’s former satellite service and on par with speeds guests are accustomed to at home, Millan said.

The software chooses the best option between Wi-Fi antennas at port, long-range antennas on shore between ports, and a fleet of advanced satellite systems over multiple frequency bands, according to the company news release.

After a two-year pilot, the system, which includes new shipboard antennas and hardware, was installed in the last few weeks on the 10 ships the company sails in the Caribbean, Millan said.

The system will be in place for ships on Alaskan voyages next summer, and completed in the Mediterranean, Baltic, Western European and Asian regions by 2016, the company said.

The pricing to guests will depend on the ship.

Prior to the new system, guests experienced interruptions of Internet service from satellites while at sea, and difficulty uploading video and high-quality images. Millan said passengers increasingly want to share their experiences in real time using social media and email, which the new system can accommodate.

Editing by David Adams and Matthew Lewis

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