Just how good is Satellite Internet on a P&O cruise ship in the South Pacific?
By Don McKenzie April-2011
I’m writing this on P&O’s Pacific Jewel, which is currently anchored off Mystery Island in the South Pacific.
Before leaving home, I wanted to make sure that I had a reasonable internet connection when I went on this trip, as I needed to give customer support to my on line business at http://www.dontronics.com
From the information that was given to me in advance of the trip, and from the result of a phone call to P&O offices, I was lead to believe that I could take along my netbook, and have wireless access right in my cabin. Speeds will be slow, and connection won’t be cheap.
OK, I could live with that, as long as I can send and receive email for the twelve days I am at sea. That is all I will need.
Of course the truth is somewhat different. You can only get WiFi hotspots in designated Internet Cafe areas, however I was able to get a connection occasionally in my cabin. This actually caused more trouble than it was worth, as the signal strength varied so much, that I had to get to a WiFi spot to make sure I was logged out, every time the connection dropped before I completed the session.
When I arrived on board, and settled down long enough to check things out, I found four wireless networks listed:
- Pacific Jewel
I asked at reception for further information, and was told I should be able to use “Pacific Jewel”, as a network, however I was never able to connect with this. I was then told that the Internet Manager would be in attendance at 09:00 the next day, and will be able to get me started.
Rightio, I had to be patient and wait until the next day before I could get a connection.
Then I noticed a crew member using a notebook, and connected to the Internet. He was good enough to tell me what he knew about the system, which didn’t help a great deal, as the “mtndsicrew” network was a logical choice for him, and the log in details were very different to that of normal passengers.
After the wait for the Internet Manager, I then discovered that the secret to getting started with a notebook, was to create an account with one of the existing hardwired terminals in one of the Internet Cafe areas. If only there was some information on this, or instructions left at the reception, things would have been much easier for me, and other potential users I’m sure.
The network you must use is “mtndsi”. Looking in the book, I found a mention of using “Pacific Jewel” as a network, same as reception told me, but this doesn’t work.
Below is the six terminal Internet Cafe situated in the “Chocolate Culture Cafe” on the 12th deck of the Pacific Jewel. It is also a recent addition to the WiFi hotspots around the ship.
Even now, I think it is still workable from a notebook to create an account without the terminal, but as the Internet Manager insisted I use a terminal to create an account to get started, I’ll explain the process from that point of view.
First up, you move the mouse around on the terminal, to get the following splash screen. Well that’s what I was told by the IM. If you simply hit home on your browser, the P&O page below will load.
Then select New User:
Fill out the form, and select Continue. I wasn’t able to capture a screen after the event unless I signed up once again with valid details, but basically you are given the choice of several plans. I chose the $100 plan.
In the fine print, you will find out about the additional one time connection fee of $3.95. Later, I checked around and found a small mention of this one time connection fee on the list of instructions right next to each terminal, and eventually found it in the glossy catlogue.
You are then presented with the screen below:
Select “”No”, connect me to the internet. You will now have full access to the Internet.
When you are finished, you will have to type logout.com into your browser address URL box.
There is a logout popup, but as the Internet Manager asked me to use the URL “logout.com” method, I continued with that and didn’t have any problems logging out.
After a few days of use, I tried the pop up box log out, and this worked fine also.
After a few minutes, a summary of your usage is displayed.
This is what mine looked like after a few days of limited use.
Having created an account with the Internet Cafe terminal, then logging out, I was now in a position to give it a try with my ten inch Asus netbook.
Aha! It almost connected itself:
Having now found out the ropes, it was fairly easy to connect with the netbook.
I use Firefox, and Thunderbird, and I didn’t have to change any settings. I am using one of my domains as an email server.
As I am running a business, I don’t rely on local ISPs for my email, and I also have a backup system from a different ISP.
I also use a low cost paid news service “news. individual.net”. I dropped the last character of the news server name, so that I didn’t download any news during this slow comms period, and this seemed to do the trick. I ignored any and all web updates to everything.
I use the free MozBackup to move all of my Firefox and Thunderbird (includes news) settings and emails from one PC to another. This is simple and straight forward. I have tried many other methods over the years including a few of my own, but MozBackup beats them all hands down. You do backups and restores via a USB, or memory card drive.
This means I copy all of my files from my home PC to the netbook once before I leave, then I copy them all back when I return home. All of my emails and settings remain intact. I do carry a hard drive backup of all of my PCs with me when I travel, and I do regular backups from my netbook to the hard drive.
I decided to connect twice a day. Once each morning, and once at night. I found the best way of doing this was to connect, grab your email, log off, answer your email, then log back on, and send it.
I also had to send emails to a few friends. You know the ones that send cartoons and movies. 🙂 When you are on slow satellite, this is a must.
Certainly P&O satellite works, and it is faster than the 9600 baud dial up system that I first used when I was traveling with a Laptop. In fact, a lot faster, but it is very limited. If you don’t have some sort of spam protection system, you will be in strife.
Check out http://www.dontronics.com/spam for the successful approach I use.
Forget about trying to surf the web to any degree, as web pages are very slow. Do your Google research before you travel.
About two days into the trip, the system stopped working. I caught up with the Internet Manager at the Library-Cafe, and was told a server upgrade was taking place, and it could be several hours before this was completed. Didn’t worry me too much. I logged on the next day, and all was fine.
I checked the IP address, and found 22.214.171.124 comes up as Dover England. As this vessel is registered in London England, I guess Dover is where the ship’s ISP server is situated.
The speed isn’t exactly fast. I tried a speed test to my traditional Optus server in Australia.
Below is a TraceRoute I did on Dontronics Shop:
As you can see, I had some time out problems. Dontronics is set up on a virtual server in New York, New York, so I decided to try something closer to home, such as Dick Smith Electronics Australia. Mind you, with the satellite communications server in Dover England, New York could well be a closer option geographically.
Hmmmm……… Not any better, let’s try a DSE ping:
Well that doesn’t tell me a lot. I didn’t specifically bring any software with me to test satellite communications, so it is a matter of WYSIWYG for now. Make your own interpretation of the results.
The big difference with conventional slow comms and satellite comms from what I can see, it that a normally slow system will load a page of text first, then slowly update the graphics. In fact you can see them rolling down the screen. I’m sure every one has experienced this with slow comms.
With the slow satellite, you may wait 30 to 60 seconds for a page to update, then magically, it all updates in a split second. Then you click your mouse on the next selection you wish to make, and wait another 30 to 60 seconds for the next page to update.
Towards the end of the trip, I could see pages loading in 5 to 10 seconds. Perhaps all the iPhone geeks had finally seen what it was costing them, and dropped off satellite usage a little.
Needless to say, I didn’t even attempt an FTP of files (including this blog file), as I’m sure it can be achieved in seconds, as soon as I sight Sydney, and can use my USB wireless modem.
Towards the end of the journey when I had plenty of spare minutes to play with, I tried FTP several times, but was never able to connect.
You are tempted with a Disembark special price if you sign up on day one. This gave me 20 minutes of extra time on my account. Even though I wasn’t able to use the account until day two.
Then on day two, they extended the offer for another day, as it had been so popular. This is starting to sound familiar. Day three, and I think day four also, they then offered an extra thirty minutes. Another clever marketing ploy which I’m sure repeats with every voyage.
On the final few days, we were then presented with more closing special prices for the extension of internet services. I had plenty of time to burn, as I was very conservative with the way I fetched, and answered emails. Basically, don’t expect to surf the web to any degree, or FTP any files. Email is slow, but works.
I was told about, and expected plenty of Australian type 240VAC outlets. But it was one only Australian standard plug per cabin, plus a combination of various 115-220-230VAC odd International standards that I couldn’t jam a power plug into.
Of course the voltage doesn’t matter with most universal gadgets these days, but the plug pinout sure does. Mind you, if I had to, I’m sure with my box of bits and pieces I carry with me, and my basic kit of tools, nothing much would have stopped me getting the power I needed.
Just as well I had a small Australian double adapter. With my range of gadgets, and a wife who supports an iPod plus an Amazon Kindle, the double adapter just made the grade with our power requirements.
Hope this little write up helps someone.