On our recent cruise to the Bahamas, we knew we weren’t going to have much Internet access, but we needed to check email at least twice, just to see if we had any customer support issues to answer. So, we splurged the $24 for one hour of online access at the ship’s Internet café. It was slower than dial-up. By the time we established the connection, Jim opened his Gmail and answered one or two messages, I opened my Gmail and did the same, our hour was up.
The picture at right is of the dome which covers the satellite dish on board the Norwegian Sky. When you get over the disappointment about how slow and expensive it is, you really must marvel at how magic it is that it works at all. I remember when we had the Datastorm Internet Satellite dish on the roof of our RV. It was what made our RV lifestyle possible back then. Making a satellite connection for Internet is a much greater feat than those for TV because, for TV, all you need is to Receive the signal. For Internet, you also must be able to Send. It’s a 2-way signal. Getting the dish on our RV to hit the correct satellite, 22,000 miles away, took some serious fine-tuning, and a stiff wind could knock it off signal. How the heck they get that technology to work on a ship at sea is beyond me!
Companies who provide Internet for cruise ships and large yachts are MTN, KVH, and Inmarsat. But even people on small sailboats, African safaris, and Himalayan treks can get Internet using Satellite phones from Iridium. The phones will set you back about $1,000, and you can also rent them by the week for about $100. It’s the service that is the expensive part - How long do you think it will take until we all have inexpensive ‘communicators’ (a la Star Trek) which work from anywhere?
Understand Data Roaming
While we were docked in Freeport, I thought I’d try getting email on my Droid smartphone. There was no Verizon 3G service, understandably, but I decided to see if there was a Roaming service available, surely they have cell towers in the Bahamas? My setting for Data Roaming is usually off. This is very important if you are in border areas. People in the US, but close to the Canadian border, for example, may find that their phone is connecting to a cell tower on the Canadian side of the border, and they don’t even know it. I’ve heard of cell phone bills in the thousands of dollars due to roaming fees.
Part of our job is to experiment with all the ways to stay connected while you travel, so I held my breath, turned on Data Roaming (settings, Wireless and Networks, Mobile Networks, Data Roaming), downloaded my email, and turned it off again. If the fees were based on time, it was less than a minute! But they’re not. The fees are based on the amount of data transmitted. My bill says that I used 1.4 Megabytes of data and the fee is $29. I don’t think I’ll do that again.
What about you? Have you ever had a substantial bill from your cellphone provider for data roaming?