Better Surfing on a Wireless Cruise

By Adam Stone

January 19, 2007

Insystcom wants to break into the on-boat ISP business with tech to bring Wi-Fi to every cabin on a cruise ship.

There are some things Wil Riner doesn't want to see on a cruise ship. He doesn't want to see hotspots. He doesn't want to see wireless signals that fade, or tourists bumping elbows as they compose personal e-mails in the cafe.

And as CEO of Insystcom, Riner is in a position to do something about it.

Founded in 2000, the company has carved out a niche delivering connectivity in the hotel and resort industries. Now the company says it has a Wi-Fi scheme that can bring wireless Internet access to cruise ships with minimal fuss and maximum privacy.

The SeaLynx WiFi System promises to bring Wi-Fi to literally every cabin in a cruise ship. That means wireless won't be relegated to only the cafes and common areas — the mainstay of the cruise industry's previous wireless offerings.

The system uses existing telephone cabling to deliver DSL signals to a tiny access point mounted on the wall of each cabin, at a cost to the cruise line of $100 to $200 per room. Riner says the offering fulfills a growing demand for ready Internet access.

"What we are talking about is communication," he says. "No one has a stateroom without a phone, and this is today's phone."

Given his firm's background in resorts and other land-bound establishments, Riner has long viewed the cruise market with skepticism, particularly when it comes to in-room Internet. "At sea, the ships really are concerned about getting people out of the cabin, into the casinos and the bar and the shows," he says.

These days, though, the absolute ubiquity of Internet access is pushing cruise lines to give up their get-up-and-go philosophy in deference to their customers' desire to surf not only the waves but the Web.

As the cruise lines ride this changing tide, they also are coming to see in-room access as a potential revenue source. "You can bring down pay-per-view or music, you can shop, you can access ship information -- anything you can do with interactive TV, you can do with Wi-Fi," Riner says.

Behind all this content is technological simplicity. Cruise lines can simply store materials on their home sites, inviting clients to dip in as desired. Or they can license video content from third-party providers.

Fees are then charged for the use of Wi-Fi itself, by the hour, the day or even the length of the cruise.

"The revenue possibilities on this are better than anything they do today, except the casino," Riner says.

Insystcom touts a number of advantages that its system holds over hotspot-based cruise ship Wi-Fi. Because it reaches every cabin, no one is left waiting for a terminal at the Internet café, thus squandering potential revenue. Likewise, passengers enjoy their accustomed level of privacy while handling their online business.

Even as it rolls out its cruise ship solution, Alpharetta, Georgia-based Insystcom is unveiling a new product that it hopes will open doors in the college and university market.

The company says its EduView product will overcome the "stone building" problem: impenetrable structures are densely packed onto existing campuses, and signals struggle to find a way through. Here again, the solution relies not on new cabling, but upon the exploitation of existing telephone cable in dorm rooms and public areas.

Back on the high seas, Riner admits that despite what he sees as the high revenue opportunities inherent in in-room Wi-Fi, his company still has an uphill battle to fight. The cruise industry is fragmented among diverse cruise lines, each with its own business ideas, and Wi-Fi remains a fairly new and uncertain proposition.

"It is quite difficult" to break in, he says. "The various operators move quite slowly. Any of these changes takes a long time for them to be able to assimilate and move on."

More than anything else, Wi-Fi requires a change in mindset. "They make their money off what you can eat, drink and see," he says. "That is where they feel they do the best job of satisfying the passengers." But with rising demand and falling costs, he says, "I think they will be moving more rapidly."



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