The last thing any cruise ship passenger should be thinking about is checking e-mails and surfing the Web. After all, a cruise ship is meant to be a floating resort where one enjoys endless activities, countless pools, abundance of food, and frozen drinks. But even if you want to get on the Internet – miles out at sea – the experience has always been limited, slow, and frustrating – not to mention expensive. Realizing that today’s cruise-goers want to stay connected and upload their vacation pics in real time, Carnival Corporation is looking to change that. The world’s biggest operator of cruise ships has launched a new high-speed Wi-Fi service that uses a hybrid system of land-based antennas and satellites.

Called [email protected]™, Carnival plans to use a network that consists of land-based antennas that deliver long-range Wi-Fi along cruise routes (up to 40 miles); in-port Wi-Fi when docked; and satellite-based Wi-Fi when a ship is in open waters. The ship’s system will automatically switch between the available networks (Carnival says it should be as seamless as a cell phone switching between cell networks, depending on location).

This hybrid system will deliver speeds that are 10-times faster than the existing C-band satellite system, and it is also flexible, in that it can adapt as technology changes.

[su_quote]The ‘smart hybrid’ network is designed to provide passengers and crew with faster and more stable internet access throughout their voyage – a feature becoming increasingly important to travelers of all ages looking to stay connected and share their experiences through social media, Carnival says in its release.[/su_quote]

Carnival has been beta-testing the service, and has decided to inaugurate it after positive feedback from users. Carnival will launch the service during the fourth-quarter of 2014, onboard ships sailing in the Caribbean. The technology will then roll out across other regions, until completion in 2016. Besides Carnival-branded ships, the technology will also be implemented into Carnival’s other brands, which include AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises UK, P&O Cruises Australia, Princess Cruises, and Seabourn. Pricing has yet to be announced, and will be determined by each brand.

“[su_quote]We believe it will also help us attract new cruisers, especially millennials who have made connectivity and social media an everyday part of their lives,” said Carnival’s senior VP and global chief information officer, Ramon Millan. “In terms of the technology, the smart hybrid network represents an innovative solution designed for the unique circumstances of providing wireless Internet access on our cruise ships sailing around the world.”[/su_quote]

Carnival Corporation has developed this system and will eventually roll out to all 101 of its ships across all nine cruise brands.

Carnival Corporation Wifi route map Infographic How it will work.

Wi-Fi_RouteMap-579x750

This new network, [email protected]™ combines and relays three different means of wifi broadcasting; land-based antennas, portside wifi connections and satellite transmission. It will provide ships with a seamless way to connect and reconnect with their movement, whether in port, cruising between islands and near land or totally out to sea.

You can see from the infographic how this is meant to work.

There has been improvement in speed and reliability since the early days, but it’s still slow, drops off, live streaming is nearly impossible and downloading a movie or TV show will burn through purchased minutes in no time.

[su_quote]This is a major technology breakthrough designed to enhance the cruise experience for our passengers,” said Ramon Milan, senior vice president and global chief information officer for Carnival Corporation. “For those who want to stay connected while on vacation, our new network will help them do so, whether that means checking email or posting pictures to their social media sites.[/su_quote]

Following the initial launch in North America in fourth quarter of this year for ships sailing in the Caribbean, Carnival Corporation is scheduled to rollout the technology across the globe.

Under the current plan, the expansion will continue with Alaska in summer of 2015 and will extend to the Mediterranean, Baltic, Western European and Asian regions in 2015 and 2016.

The technology will eventually be available on all nine of the company’s leading global brands – AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises UK, P&O Cruises Australia, Princess Cruises and Seabourn.

Pricing will vary by brand upon service rollout.