Cruise operator Royal Caribbean plans to add Starlink’s satellite Internet service to all its cruise ships. It recently ran a pilot program on one of its cruise ships, “Freedom of the Seas,” and received good feedback from both passengers and crew.
Royal Caribbean is one of the biggest cruise companies in the world and operates three brands, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea Cruises. It plans to complete installation of equipment by early 2023.
Royal Caribbean is the first major cruise company to sign a deal with SpaceX for Starlink Internet service. Although it has not said whether the deal would improve Internet speeds during a cruise, Starlink can already provide Internet speeds that are nearly comparable to “land line” broadband to individual customers – even ones who live in areas that usually don’t have very many good Internet service options.
Despite Royal Caribbean being closed-mouthed about the terms of the deal, SpaceX released Internet access plans for businesses in February 2022 and added plans for seabound assets like ships and oil rigs in August 2022. Starlink’s maritime plans typically run $5,000 per month with a one-time fee of $10,000 for two terminals with enhancements that can survive harsher sea conditions.
In June 2022, the FCC approved Starlink’s use for large vehicles. SpaceX was quick to announce discussions with major airlines to provide in-flight Internet access and has signed deals with some airlines like the charter flight service JSX since then.
Most cruise lines rely on satellite Internet service using satellites that are in geosynchronous orbit. These satellites can provide access to a specific region on Earth’s surface, but perform poorly on latency, or the amount of time it takes for a device to send a request for data over the Internet and get a response. This happens due to satellites residing in an orbit that is more distant than the Moon, so it can take several seconds to get a response.
Because Starlink satellites operate in low Earth orbit with an altitude of only a few hundred kilometers, latency is much faster. Internet access at sea hasn’t been as fast as “land line” broadband access, but Royal Caribbean has boasted that it has the fastest Internet of any cruise company even before it signed its deal with SpaceX.
However, SpaceX’s launching of thousands of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit has already come with concerns about possible collisions between orbiting assets owned by different businesses and organizations. SpaceX signed a memorandum of understanding to share data about its satellites’ orbits with NASA to help reduce this problem.
Royal Caribbean previously used a competing satellite Internet service provided by the satellite operating company SES. SES operates an Internet-providing satellite constellation that it acquired from OB3. These satellites operate in an Earth orbit that is higher than Starlink’s but still much lower than a geosynchronous orbit. SES says that Royal Caribbean remains a customer and it welcomes competition, since it drives innovation and better service for customers.