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Royal Caribbean International advertise that they have the fastest Wi-Fi on the water – but are the other cruise lines catching up?

At the recent Cruise360 travel industry pow-wow in Sydney, some of cruising’s biggest names sat together and talked candidly about the issue of Wi-Fi on their ships and the constant need to update their technology. It is clear that many cruise lines are pouring huge resources into getting it right so guests can stay connected.

Royal Caribbean’s managing director Adam Armstrong got into some playful banter with Harry Sommer, an executive vice president from Norwegian Cruise Line, that shed some light about the direction Wi-Fi is taking on ships – and why it’s all good news for passengers that don’t want to unplug completely on holiday.

“You can access the internet anywhere on our ships,” said Armstrong as an opening shot on the subject, speaking about RCI’s Voom internet service. “From the restaurants, from the pool, from the elevator, anywhere.”

Sommer from NCL replied: “I think the technology that gets the most attention from guests once they’re on the ship is indeed Wi-Fi, and I will give a nod to Royal Caribbean that they are one of the leaders in enhancing Wi-Fi technology, but now that technology basically exists that the other cruise lines are perhaps having to invest less money – so we thank you for that!”

So which line is investing the most in their technology? Royal Caribbean’s benchmark Voom service uses a fresh kind of satellite internet technology targeting each ship individually, instead of needing to cover the whole area of ocean. This results in data ‘travelling’ far less distance, which means that passengers can benefit from a latency of only 120ms. That’s enough to stream music and movies, use video chat, upload pictures to social media or Cloud storage and use a VPN to work remotely. Royal Caribbean claim that anything you can do back at home, you should be able to do anywhere on the ship.

On Norwegian Cruise Line ships, as well as Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas ships, guest feedback has driven big improvements over the last couple of years, helping the cruise line ‘catch up’. “We doubled our bandwidth last year and the guests said that wasn’t enough,” Sommer admitted, “so then this year we increased it four-fold. So our Wi-Fi this year is actually eight times faster than the Wi-Fi that existed in 2014, and our guests finally say that’s fine, but my guess is, in a year or two, that won’t be sufficient either.”

To back up their Wi-Fi capabilities, this year NCL added new state-of-the-art satellite dishes, high-speed shoreside connectivity in key ports of call, and implementing a patented SpeedNet program from EMC. SpeedNet is built to deliver popular websites in particular at the same high speed that passengers would experience at home.