TAMPA, Fla. — Royal Caribbean Group said Aug. 30 it has become the first cruise liner to adopt SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband services.
The company plans to install Starlink by the end of March on some 50 ships operated under its Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea Cruises brands.
Future vessels operated under these brands will also be connected to Starlink. TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, which Royal Caribbean Group operates via joint ventures, are not part of the agreement.
Jason Liberty, Royal Caribbean Group’s president and CEO, said its deal with SpaceX marks “the biggest public deployment of Starlink’s high-speed internet in the travel industry” to date.
It follows trials of Starlink’s network onboard Royal Caribbean Group’s Freedom of the Seas, which at more than 156,000 tons was the world’s largest cruise ship when it was unveiled 2006.
SpaceX received permission from the Federal Communications Commission on June 30 to provide Starlink services to boats, aircraft, and vehicles on the move.
The Royal Caribbean Group had urged the FCC to move quickly to give SpaceX this approval.
In a June 10 letter to the regulator, Royal Caribbean Group vice president of operational excellence John Maya wrote that “the satellite provider landscape has been largely static both in terms of capacity and innovation” during the previous two years, as pandemic-related travel restrictions negatively impacted the cruise industry.
“As we return our fleet to full strength and look to grow our business through new and more innovative ships with larger and more reliable bandwidth demands, we are eager for more innovative competition in what is largely a stagnant internet service provider market.”
While Royal Caribbean Group’s Aug. 30 Starlink announcement did not disclose anticipated broadband performance, Liberty said the service would “enable more high-bandwidth activities” for its customers and crew, including video streaming and video calls.
SES said an agreement it has to provide connectivity to an unspecified number of Royal Caribbean International ships is unaffected by Starlink’s agreement.
“While it has been an incredibly fruitful partnership, it has never been an exclusive one,” SES spokesperson Suzanne Ong said.
SES has been connecting Royal Caribbean International ships since 2013 with its O3b Networks constellation in medium Earth orbit (MEO).
Royal Caribbean International also has an agreement to use O3b mPower, SES’ upgraded MEO constellation that the operator expects to bring into service in the second quarter of 2023.
Ong said the company has “signed extended framework agreements” for O3b mPower, and expects to “grow and evolve” its partnership in the coming years.
SES is currently serving five out of the six major cruise operators, she added, including ships that also provide connectivity from other operators operating in geostationary orbit.
In the aviation market, private jet charter company JSX plans to be the first air carrier to offer Starlink this year for flights in the United States.
Hawaiian Airlines also has a deal to offer Starlink services on transpacific flights to and from Hawaii in 2023.
This article was updated Aug. 31 to include details about SES’ Royal Caribbean International partnership.