Starlink Will Transform Internet on Cruises, But Not Everywhere

Elon Musk's Starlink Maritime could be set to transform the internet on cruises, but there are still limitations.

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There is no denying that many of the things we do and experience in daily life have been transformed by Elon Musk and his many companies, such as Tesla and SpaceX. Now Starlink is set to force some significant changes in the cruise industry. 

SpaceX launched Starlink Maritime in July of this year. Now, all the necessary permits are in place for the company to offer internet speeds never seen before onboard ships. The system covers many popular cruise destinations but won’t be available worldwide for years. 

Only days ago, Carnival Cruise Line reported that internet access onboard Carnival Legend and Carnival Magic would be limited due to satellite coverage issues. And over the last months, we’ve seen that traditional maritime satellite internet companies are having more and more problems providing ships with stable connections. 

Those issues have even gone as far as cruise companies limiting internet access onboard. Besides the known issues, these traditional internet connections are notoriously slow and unreliable in certain areas. 

And this is where Elon Musk comes in. Just a few weeks ago, SpaceX launched its new Starlink Maritime program. The installation and running costs won’t come cheap. Monthly costs are around $5,000 a month for two terminals, with a $10,000 one-off installation and equipment fee. 

While those amounts might seem excessive, traditional satellite connections for at-sea internet can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each month, up to several million in some cases. Starlink will not just be a welcome improvement in speed; potentially, the cost of internet onboard will also be dropping in the coming months and years.

For the money you pay for a Starlink connection on your cruise, you get high-speed, low-latency internet access with speeds of up to 350 Mbps. Rates that are unheard of onboard ships and which are even faster than what some currently have in their homes.

Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas employed at least six satellite terminals when it was shown to be testing the Starlink system. This would mean comfortably streaming videos and sports and keeping up to date with those at home for thousands of guests onboard.

Royal Caribbean stated in June: “We believe our work with SpaceX, the first of its kind in the cruise industry will set the standard for other cruise operators and will mean a leap in terms of guest experience and business operations while at sea.”

Not Available Everywhere

The issue that is currently at play with Starlink is that many cruise companies still have contracts with satellite internet companies and will likely need to keep those going for now. 

This is because Starlink Maritime is by no means available worldwide. Currently, the connectivity is restricted to the coastal areas of the United States but does not include Alaska. In Europe, the majority of the Mediterranean and Western Europe are covered, but Sweden, Finland, and Norway are not.

Maritime Coverage Map
Maritime Coverage Map (Credit: Starlink)

The service does cover Southern Australia and New Zealand, but the entire Asian region is not covered. 

While plans are in place to expand connectivity in 2022, 2023, and beyond, until that does happen on a much broader scale, chances are slim that you will see 350 Mbps on your cruise, especially if you sail on a voyage to the Norwegian Fjords, Alaska, Asia, or an expedition cruise to the Arctic or Antarctic.

The cost factor will likely not be solved until Starlink can fix these coverage issues. Switching between high-speed internet and the current low-speed connection when changing covered areas will also be more of a hindrance than a solution. 

That being said, the arrival of Musk’s Starlink Maritime does show that fast internet onboard a cruise ship is possible. While we may have to wait sometime before systems are available everywhere, we can be sure that the slow connections that we see now will soon be a thing of the past.

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