Tourism & Cruises

Carnival Corp. launching faster Wi-Fi

In this Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, file photo, the cruise ship Carnival Imagination passes the southern most point of Miami Beach, Fla. Carnival announced Monday a new wireless network that will deliver faster Wi-Fi to passengers.
In this Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, file photo, the cruise ship Carnival Imagination passes the southern most point of Miami Beach, Fla. Carnival announced Monday a new wireless network that will deliver faster Wi-Fi to passengers. AP

Carnival Corp. on Monday announced it has developed a new wireless network that will deliver faster Wi-Fi to passengers and crew.

The world’s largest cruise company said its entire 101-ship fleet, spread across nine global brands, will eventually use the technology. Doral-based Carnival expects its total investment to be about $10 million for the hybrid network that combines satellite and land-based technologies.

Ramon Millan, global chief information officer for Carnival Corp., said in an interview that the hybrid model allows the company to add new technologies as they become available.

“When we realized that the demand for more bandwidth was just going up and up and up, we started saying, ‘What is our plan for the next coming years?’” he said. “We need to have a model, a strategy to allow us to evolve as needed.”

The solution was WiFi@Sea, a network that will tap into satellites, Wi-Fi from port connections and land-based antennas along voyage routes. An algorithm will evaluate the quality of bandwidth available, capacity and strength of signal and automatically connect passengers’ devices to the best option. The company is using more than one satellite vendor, but would not disclose who those partners are.

Carnival said it expects the new model to result in Wi-Fi that is about 10 times faster than the current speed on most of its ships.

A pilot program started about a year and a half ago. Now, about 10 ships are using the model. The company said it is launching the technology in the Caribbean this year and then rolling it out to Alaska in the summer, followed by the Mediterranean, Baltic, Western Europe and Asia in 2015 and 2016.

Carnival’s brands include Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises.

Pricing has not been set, but the company said the cost will be determined by brand and is expected to be comparable to current prices.

Carnival isn’t the only company working to improve its Internet service at sea. In recent years, competitor Royal Caribbean International has invested in increasing bandwidth on some ships with plans to eventually roll out the faster service fleetwide.

In a press release, Carnival said the new network is expected to drum up more interest in cruise vacations, “especially among the tech-savvy millennial generation.” But Millan said he believes the prospect of faster Internet service will appeal to a wide range of potential cruisegoers.

“We need to understand the different generations’ expectations and make sure we have the service and products on board to be aligned with that they’re expecting,” he said. “I don’t believe that access to the Internet is limited to that generation.”

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