Royal Caribbean to offer internet service from SpaceX
By Jackie Wattles, CNN Business
(CNN) -- Cruise operator Royal Caribbean is bringing SpaceX's satellite-based internet service to its cruise ships in what it's billing as "the biggest public deployment of Starlink's high-speed internet in the travel industry so far."
The rollout will begin immediately across all three brands the company operates: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises, with the installation expected to be finished by early 2023, according to a press release. Royal Caribbean said the decision comes after it ran a pilot on one of its ships, "Freedom of the Seas," and "received tremendous positive feedback from guests and crew."
The company also shared in its announcement on Twitter of a rendering of Starlink terminals, the small dishes required to set up a connection with SpaceX's orbiting satellites, lining the railing of one of its cruise decks.
"It will improve and enable more high-bandwidth activities like video streaming as well as activities like video calls," Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty said in a statement.
This also marks the first cruiseline partnership for SpaceX's Starlink, coming on the heels of a similar partnership announced with Hawaiian Airlines and a recent declaration that SpaceX will roll out a new service — using yet-to-be-launched satellites — to expand T-Mobile's wireless service across dead zones.
Several online reviews say that Royal Caribbean's current internet offerings — which the company has for years said is "fastest internet at sea" — are already quite speedy, though not as quick as most home internet connections. It's not yet clear exactly how or if speed or service quality will change after Royal Caribbean introduces Starlink, but Liberty said in a statement that he believes it will be a "game-changer."
Deals such as the one SpaceX has inked with Royal Caribbean have begun popping up after the US Federal Communications Commission gave SpaceX permission in July to expand its service to planes, ships, automobiles, RVs and other mobile vehicles. Prior to that, SpaceX was permitted only to provide service to single homes or businesses on the ground.
The company said earlier this year that it has more than 400,000 subscribers around the world. Residential services ring up at $110 per month with a one-time hardware cost of $600.
Its maritime business service is pricier at $5,000 per month with a $10,000 one-time hardware cost for two terminals, according to its website. It's not clear if that advertised price aligns with the financial terms of its deal with Royal Caribbean. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Traditionally, airlines and cruise ships have relied on satellites in far-distant areas of Earth's orbit — a place called geosynchronous orbit, where objects orbit at the same speed the Earth turns, allowing one satellite to blanket a specific area with connectivity. The problem is because the satellites are so far away, those services have high latencies, which translates into frustrating lag times.
SpaceX's service is different, relying on thousands of satellites orbiting much closer to Earth that all work in tandem to beam internet to the ground. Eventually, SpaceX hopes to blanket the entire planet in connectivity using as many as 30,000 satellites. Nearly 3,000 are already working in orbit.
But Royal Caribbean International has relied on a different internet service with satellites orbiting closer to the ground than geosynchronous satellites but still higher than SpaceX's. The prior deal was with a company called O3b, a Starlink competitor that began launching its satellites in 2013. (O3b has since been acquired by geosynchronous satellite operator SES.)
"Royal Caribbean International remains a customer of ours, and we look forward to continuing to grow and evolve our partnership in the coming years," SES told CNN Business via email, adding that their contract with Royal Caribbean has never been exclusive and "competition is good as it drives the industry to develop innovative experiences."
SpaceX's service so far has gained its fans and critics. While many have hailed the expansion of high-speed connectivity, the sheer number of satellites required to make the service operational has raised concerns about the impact on astronomy and debris in outer space.
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