WiFi At Sea: The War Of Superlatives Begins

Cruise Week

It used to be that the cruise industry’s largest brands competed over whose ship was the biggest. Now, in a sign of what really matters to attracting more customers, there’s a new emphasis on which line offers the best Internet connection and speed.

As Royal Caribbean is creating a buzz with its touting of VOOM, Carnival Corp. is stepping up its messaging about the scope and quality of its Wi-Fi@Sea. The headline of their recent press release? “Carnival Corp. Expands Industry’s Largest Wi-Fi Network.”
    
“We’re not just focusing on a few ships, waiting for a provider to bring on more capacity,” said Reza Rasoulian, Carnival Corp’s V.P. of Global Connectivity and Shipboard Tech Ops, in an apparent shot across the bow at RCCL’s capacity.
    
Rasoulian explained to Cruise Week: “The fundamental thing that we’ve discovered is it’s really important to give the connectivity experience to as many guests as possible.” Nearly 1/3 of Carnival Corp.’s 100 ships are already connected, and it plans to expand the system to the majority by the end of 2016.
    
In the meantime, availability varies tremendously by brand. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, has high-speed Wi-Fi deployed on 19 out of 24 ships. In contrast, Holland America Line has only 1.
    
“We’ll make an announcement soon on Princess as we have a very significant hardware infrastructure activity underway as we speak,” Rasoulian promises.

Are customers responding positively?
    
Rasoulian uses the Westerdam to illustrate, as last year it had no Wi-fi@Sea and this year it did. “There was a significant increase in guest satisfaction on the Westerdam in Alaska this summer from the same voyages the previous year,” he reports. “Usage is going up majorly. Historically the number of users on at the same time was often under 100. After deploying these plans we’ve seen up to 1000 users on some ships at any given time. It doesn’t mean everyone is browsing at the same time necessarily, but they’re connected.”
    

One thing they have in common is a tiered system. Facebook and Twitter are available on the “value plan,” which Rasoulian says meets the needs of many people. For others he points to a premium plan that provides “3 times more performance, and you can do Skype and have unrestricted access.”
    
This tiered system is in contrast to Voom, which gives all buyers the same speeds and access. Whether this is in part due to Carnival worrying about overtaxing its system is unclear, but Rasoulian says the main purpose is to get more people signing up, a by-product of which is free promotion for the brand on social media.
    
“For us that’s a benefit because we can price those packages more aggressively to drive the usage. What that’s doing is creating organized sharing for the company, which we like. Now folks are able to share their experiences pretty much real-time.”
    
Another cross-brand commonality is that guests will not be on the clock when they connect to the Internet. “We’re not constraining them on time - here’s 30 minutes of air time, 100 minutes of air time,” says Rasoulian.  “In most cases that is not a great service, so we’ve taken the time-based element out of the picture.”
    

Given the successful feedback, why hasn’t this been promoted earlier?
     
“The brands haven’t kicked into marketing yet because it’s so new,” he says, “especially for the Holland America Group brands as we deploy more infrastructure. We were a bit cautious at the beginning because we wanted to make sure we were onto something.”
    
Now that Carnival is kicking its WiFi marketing into gear, expect a war of superlatives with Royal Caribbean. It’s already starting to happen: Royal is touting Voom as the “fastest” WiFi at sea, while Carnival says its product has the “largest network.”

 

As the companies expand their new systems fleet-wide, more subjective impressions from pax will become available - the true test of which company’s Wi-Fi program is truly better.





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