Quantum’s Satellite Technology: Surfing the Net As Well as the Waves
October 26, 2014
If you’re travelling on-board Royal Caribbean’s’ new ship Quantum of the Seas (or her sister ship Anthem of the Seas, which will be cruising from Southampton next year) then you won’t have to put up with chugging internet connection reminiscent of the not-so-good old dial-up days, when you had to wait an age for a website to load (and had enough time to make a brew during the waiting time) because your browser couldn’t hack it.
Instead, you’ll be fortunate enough to enjoy bandwidth by the boatload (pun intended) – at speeds to rival on-land connections – so that not only can you post envy-inducing photos to Facebook and update your status with what you’ve been up to but you’ll also be able to stream videos via Netflix and the like; something that has been unheard of previously!
In 2013, the new partnership between Royal Caribbean and satellite provider O3B was piloted on-board the Oasis and the Allure, before getting a proper launch on Quantum of the Seas ‘SMARTship’, which doesn’t just boast super-fast Internet but also has an arsenal of gadgets and hi-tech gizmos to use it with.
The satellite technology used is ground-breaking and hugely exciting – and not just to the cruise or tech obsessed (who, us?).
The www.CRUISE.co.uk dug deeper into understanding Quantum’s seemingly magical connectivity, so that when you surf Quantum’s net and browse their techy facilities you’ll understand a bit more about the nuts and bolts that have helped it to put it together.
It will definitely give you something to talk about if the conversation dries up over dinner!
What Is It?
Royal Caribbean have teamed up with O3B Satellite Communications, who are a satellite technology provider aiming to provide emerging and isolated countries with the ability to connect to the rest of the world.
Although not quite an emerging or isolated country, the principle is the same on Quantum of the Seas.
The super-fast fibre-optic lines that we may be used to in the UK and other developed countries aren’t as feasible in the middle of nowhere, nor are they possible to utilise when you’re sailing on the ocean, which is why O3B had to come up with a solution that combined the speed of fibre with the accessibility of satellite technology.
In 2010, they became a fully financed organisation, which aims to provide up to 70% of the world’s population with fibre-quality connectivity, including people in the middle of the ocean – i.e. cruisers. We really like these guys!
As part of their partnership, RCI are fitting their Quantum-class ships with sophisticated antenna arrays, which will communicate with a new generation of Medium-Earth-Orbit (MEO) satellites that were launched from Russia in July 2014 and previously June 2013.
For now, there are eight satellites whizzing around in space; one of which will connect directly with the Quantum of the Seas to provide unprecedented bandwidth for her passengers to use.
That’s means you by the way, trying to download episode seven of Breaking Bad whilst in the middle of the ocean.
RCI have also been having further chats with Harris CapRock Communications Company who they have collaborated with before.
Back in the day, the RCI fleet had a download speed that was a measly 4mb/s but the Harris CapRock system helped to up this to 22mb/s.
However, this still wasn’t good enough for RCI, who envisaged a faster connection for their passengers, no matter where they were in the world.
With the help of these super-souped up MEO satellites, pilot tests on the Oasis and Allure back in March found that this 22mb/s was multiplied to a massive, lightning speed of 500mb/s – now that’s faster than dad gets to the bar at happy hour i.e. FAST!
Or should that be ‘wave-breaking’?
What is it about these new-fangled O3B satellites that makes them so much better than what we’re used to?
It’s largely down to where they’re placed.
The reason for slow internet at sea is down to the technology being used and Quantum assure you that their technology is brand-spanking new.
Not only do the satellites maintain geosynchronous orbit (a posh way of saying an orbit period that’s the same as the Earth’s rotation) but whilst typical satellites are positioned at around 36,000km (or in imperial terms, 22,400 miles) away from Earth, the O3B position theirs much, much closer, at 8,062km (5009miles) away.
Not quite touching distance from the onboard North Star observatory but considerably closer than previously and because of this, the distance that the transmission has to travel between satellite and ship is much, much less than usual.
The distance also helps when it comes to the latency – that’s tech-speak for the time we have to wait for the signal to travel between satellite and Earth.
Geostationary satellite alternatives have been known to provide 500m/s delays but O3B guarantee low-latency of less than 150m/s.
In fact, Quantum of the Seas suggests a low-latency of 140m/s for the ship, which is barely even worth mentioning.
This means that there’ll be no stop-starting or hanging around for your family’s faces to catch up with their voices on a Skype call.
This kind of connectivity has never been seen before on a cruise ship and the CEO of RCI says that their ships (Quantum, Oasis and Allure) will have more bandwidth than all of the other cruise vessels in the world combined.
That seems like a pretty impressive promise but when you think back to the 500mb/s speeds, you can see why he’s so confident.
The uses onboard don’t stop at staying in touch with your family back home and keeping your friends list up to date with your antics on social media (probably making yourself pretty unpopular as you go).
With speeds that will match the fast broadband you may be used to onshore – either at work or at home – guests can enjoy a multitude of facilities whilst onboard.
You can check emails, work (if you have to – try and avoid it, although it is more palatable when done around the pool), stream video and play games – even in the middle of the sea.
There’s no need to leave the iPad at home because it’ll connect with ease and the signal will be superb, no matter where you are onboard – Candy Crush and Flappy Bird addicts rejoice!
Plus, there are USB charging points in the rooms, too. Always handy, as all the Wi-Fi in the world isn’t much use on a dead device.
ET may be able to phone home but with these unprecedented internet speeds, you’ll be able to Skype home…with video enabled, too!
In fact, you could watch the little alien on Netflix, as well, if you felt like it.
The ship’s connectivity also means that one of the SeaPods in the SeaPlex can be used as a live global video gaming area, where you can connect to your Xbox Live account and while away a few hours with some co-operative play – perfect when the sun is hiding and you need to kill a couple of hours (and some baddies) during an at-sea day. Best not to tell your teenager though – unless you want to lose them for the entire cruise.
Apps, such as the Cruise Planner and Royal iQ can be accessed using the ship’s internet too.
Whilst the Cruise Planner is predominantly used before you board – to reserve tables, book spa treatments and plan shore excursions, it’s the Royal iQ app that can really help passengers once they’re onboard.
The Royal iQ app will help you to manage your hectic schedule (and plan your days with other members in your group), as well as keep in touch with other passengers whilst onboard.
You can download the app to your iPad, tablet or smartphone or you can use one of the freestanding iQ stations that are scattered around the ship.
So, if you want to know if the kids are OK when they’re doing something suitably young and playful with the DreamWorks team or you could do with finding your in-laws who have wandered off without a word but you don’t want to give up your spot by the pool, you can.
And of course how can we forget the app which allows you to order your drinks from a mixologist robot arm in the Bionic Bar?! It’s the future, cruise fans!
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) will also ensure that you won’t lose your suitcase (and don’t have to keep nipping back from your bevvie to see if your luggage is in your room yet), and you won’t lose yourself either – not if you wear one of the WOWbands that act as a room key as well as a tracker just in case your post-cocktail stumbling means you end up at the wrong end of the ship!
It doesn’t stop with the passengers, either.
The new and improved internet will be a massive help to the crew, too.
Royal Caribbean are providing every crewmember onboard the Quantum with their own, personal Microsoft tablet which they can keep. Whilst this will help them to stay in touch with their loved ones waiting for them on dry land, it also means that they can easily keep track of guest preferences. So, if one of their guests like their martinis shaken and not stirred or has any dietary requirements, the crewmember’s tablet can keep them in the loop and ensure top notch service.
As they say, this time, it’s personal!
Internet charges are still being discussed by the Royal Caribbean bigwigs but guests should be able to register for their internet packages from their in-stateroom TV like they can at the moment.
As a guide however, unlimited seven day access for one device at a time costs $149.95 (approx £94) on the Oasis of the Seas, with daily and multi-device packages also available.
If you’re sailing on the Quantum for the ‘global odyssey’ 53-night repositioning cruise between New York and Shanghai though (lucky you!), please be aware that this super-duper connectivity will be unavailable due to satellite positioning.
Which is a shame but there’s so much more to do onboard without worrying about whether you can stream an episode of Corrie.
Is there room for a little one (ahem) in your suitcase?
You may be sailing the seven seas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch with everyone back on dry land; not now Royal Caribbean have said ‘Ahoy There!’ to internet speeds that are actually worth connecting for!
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