Ubiquitous Connectivity & Time-based Internet Billing

I am currently sitting on board the Dawn Princess with anchors down in Akaroa. I am half way through a two week cruise around New Zealand with my family. It’s a good break from our busy lifestyle back in Melbourne.

The timing of our family holiday is a little awkward because I am missing the excitement around the announcements made at BUILD 2014 last week. Or I would be if I wasn’t able to connect from the Internet from the ship as the details unfold.

Aboard the Dawn Princess is a ubiquitous Wi-Fi network which is available in all the staterooms and most of the common areas. The Wi-Fi network routes through a satellite connection backed by MTN Satellite Communications. When using the Internet I pay at a rate of approximately $0.30 to $0.80 per minute depending on the package.

Having cruised before I was aware of these pretty steep charges so we organised a local SIM card for mobile data access when ashore. The mobile data plan is of course tied to data volume usage rather than time. Time-based billing for Internet access to be strange in this era of mobile computing. The thing that I miss most about not being connected all the time is the absence of casual interaction with my information sources (e-mail, social media, news headlines, browsing etc).

I certainly can’t afford to be online all the time to receive these notifications, so for BUILD 2014 content, I logged in to get a quick synopsis of what is being discussed and disconnect. When I was ashore I set my various mobile devices to download content (such as the keynote videos).

The whole experience has left me pondering why satellite access (at least in this instance) is charged on a time based model. Surely the ship maintains a constant satellite connection so why not allow passengers to be constantly connected and then bill a lower rate for actual usage. The administrator of the ship-based network could apply QoS to the traffic to ensure essential traffic is given preference.

Another curious aspect of the setup here is that I can’t access OneDrive or OneNote (which is backed by OneDrive). I can understand that the ship might not want passengers syncing their local content across the link (especially with all the high resolution photos captured) but it sure is a pain when I want to access one of my Notebooks from OneNote. This makes me think that the critical resource is indeed bandwidth, but by charging for time the ship ensures that passengers don’t accidentally set their devices syncing constantly.

Overall I have been pretty impressed with the strength of Wi-Fi connectivity on the ship (kudos to Princess Cruises for that). I just wish that the route to the Internet didn’t have such a big toll gate in front of it. Is there a cruise ship out there that caters to geeks wanting to be constantly connected?

Maybe someone from MTN Satellite Communications could explain why satellite communications might be billed on a time basis.

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