Royal Caribbean tests Internet capability by offering free WiFi

Royal Caribbean International has given away Internet access for the past couple of weeks on its newest ship, Quantum of the Seas.

The ship is one of three to be rigged for communications with the O3b mid-level satellite network, that provides for greater bandwidth and communications speeds.

The debut of a new, faster Internet service on Royal Caribbean International ships is only weeks away.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman Richard Fain said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts on Thursday that the system is now in testing on Oasis of the Seas, and full rollout is expected in early summer.

Provider O3B is using a series of mid-orbit satellites for the service, rather than one geostationary satellite orbiting at 22,000 miles. That means signals travel shorter distances, increasing speeds.

Fain said that the change will give Oasis “more Internet bandwidth than every other cruise ship of every other cruise line in the world combined.”

The service is initially targeted for Oasis of the Seas and the upcoming Quantum-class ships.

Internet service with speeds closer to those on land will help Royal Caribbean attract Millennial generation cruisers (ages 14-34) in particular, Fain said.

Royal Caribbean President Michael Bayley said guests were encouraged to use as much Internet capacity as they wanted or needed at no charge during recent cruises.

“On Quantum, because we have so much bandwidth, over the past three weeks we’ve given out free WiFi. I mean free, free, free all the time,” Bayley told a group of travel agents on Freedom of the Seas over the weekend.

Royal Caribbean officials said the experiment was a kind of “stress test” to see just how much demand the system can handle.

“So we’ve been monitoring the consumption of bandwidth when we let everybody have free bandwidth — the crew, the guests, everybody — and we’ve only used a fraction of it,” Bayley said.

The standard charge on most Royal Caribbean ships for Internet access is 65 cents a minute.

Cruise line officials said it is unlikely that Internet access will become free on ships equipped with O3b. The current working model is to charge like many land resorts a fee of $10 to $15 a day for unlimited access, Royal Caribbean spokesman Harry Liu said.

There will be a premium package for large-bandwidth usage like streaming video, and Bayley said the line is exploring what it can do with such applications.

“Soon we’re going to start speaking more about this capability,” Bayley told the agents. “Because of the scale and size of this bandwidth, we could do streaming videos. It’s genuinely as good as being in a city somewhere in the United States. It is better than that.”