It's a pricey proposition to connect a commercial ship to the Internet. A new device capsizes the business model, lifting sailors' spirits.
When the phone rang aboard the Hellespont Progress, a tanker ship bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean, Captain Amo Antonio picked it up. The voice on the other end was strong and crisp. This was no small feat. A call to a commercial ship 1,000 miles from land usually sounds garbled. Worse, it can cost several dollars a minute. This call was as clear as day. And it was dirt cheap.
Antonio was able to do this because his ship is outfitted with a C-Bird antenna. The device, which is designed by a Brooklyn-based company called Maritime Broadband, gives commercial vessels high-speed Internet access at a relatively low fixed cost. Antonio, who has been working on ships since 1974, said the old phone technology made it hard to communicate. With VoIP, "it seems like you are working on the land," he says.
The C-Bird is the brainchild of Zevi Kramer, a telecommunications engineer who learned that commercial shippers faced a lack of affordable Internet access. After years of work, he developed a very small aperture terminal antenna that worked on the so-called C band of frequencies, often used for satellite communication and considered reliable in rainy conditions.
Internet access on ships has been available since the 1990s but at a steep per-kilobyte cost. Ships had to be careful about how much data they used, lest they run up the bill. With the C-Bird antenna, Maritime Broadband upended the business model, offering a flat rate for unlimited data usage starting at $400 a month with a $900 monthly equipment lease.
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