‘Revolutionary’ Satellite Belt Brings Fiber-Like Internet Service To Largest RCL Ships

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When Quantum of the Seas launched in November 2014, about 5,000 people on board simultaneously used its Internet service.

That might be remarkable simply because most cruise ships can’t hold that many people – guests and crew.

Most remarkable, though, is that 5,000 people on a cruise ship went online at the same time and did it without a hitch.

They were served by a satellite Internet provider, which is enough the startle anyone who’s ever suffered through slowdowns due to busy online traffic or heavy weather or any of the other vexing vagaries that beset conventional satellite providers and their customers.

O3b Networks, the satellite Internet provider that serves RCL’s Quantum of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and the newly launched Anthem of the Seas – the four biggest cruise ships on the planet – is anything but conventional.

Instead of using a single high-orbit satellite like other wireless Internet providers, O3b maintains a constellation of 12 communications satellites that orbit the earth at comparatively low altitudes over the Equator.

That geographic belt, says Bill Martin, chief information officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., is where RCL does most of its cruising.

So it took a gamble several years ago by working with O3b after RCL officials were convinced that this satellite company could solve the all-too-common frustrations of onboard Internet users who wanted or needed to stay connected. The gamble paid off.

O3b connectivity rivals that of lightning-fast terrestrial Internet service through fiber optic cables, the current gold standard for going online at-home or in the office to stream movies, send and receive large electronic files or any other tasks that require moving lots of data between two or more points.

O3b, Martin says, “is like fiber from the sky.”

The most common pricing practice in the cruise industry is to charge so much – usually per minute – for onboard Internet service that guests will be deterred from using it and crowding capacity.

“O3b allows us to flip that business model,” Martin explains. “We want as many people as possible to use it” at the current $10 a day per device for a weeklong package.

O3b’s medium-orbit satellite string can easily handle 14 terabytes per month, the equivalent of sending or receiving two million digital photographs every week.

Those who measure, and are limited to, five or 10 gigabytes of data per month under a standard satellite Internet plan can instantly understand and appreciate what that means, especially if they know that just one terabyte is equal to 1,024 gigabytes.

Better still, O3b claims network latency four times lower than others. Unlike capacity, latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel from sender to recipient and back again. High latency is responsible for the delays and time lags that sometimes interrupt a video stream, for example.

O3b (“Other 3 billion”) started as a way to bring affordable, reliable Internet connectivity to people in emerging markets. By recognizing the blazing fast internet connection it could also offer guests at sea, RCL became its biggest customer.