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SeaMobile Brings Voice, Data to the High Seas

In a mixed blessing for vacationers looking to "get away from it all," it'll soon be easier to get online or on the phone to home or office from the high seas.

The goal of SeaMobile is to provide wireless voice, data and Internet services to cruise lines, yachts, ferries, container ships and off-shore platforms. The company is headed by William Marks (a founder of DSS Direct/Direct TV), ex-McCaw Cellular executive Jack Donohue and cable television entrepreneur William Marks.

SeaMobile said its proprietary technology includes a sophisticated IP/software-based solution that is "agnostic" to the type of phone (GSM, GPRS or CDMA) used by the wireless customer when accessing the SeaMobile network at sea. Vessels equipped with SeaMobile technology will allow almost anyone aboard to use voice and data services available through their wireless home carriers, just as they would on land, the company said. In addition, SeaMobile's solution can work with any satellite provider, including those currently offering services to the maritime industry.

The new venture is funded by SeaMobile's founders, other private investors and Ignition Partners, the venture capital firm started by former Microsoft and McCaw Cellular executives. In addition, the company said it has more than 200 roaming agreements with wireless carriers around the world for transparent connectivity to wireless services.

Customers using their personal cell phones or notebooks while at sea, for example, will be billed by their home carriers, not the cruise line. The bill will reflect an "At Sea" or some designation similar to a roaming charge. The company said its aim is to keep those costs low, and that cruise ship passengers will get information upfront as to the charges.

"We're really excited about being able to give people the ability to walk around on a cruise ship with their own cell phone and check voicemail, check on the family, those sort of things you haven't been able to do before," Chere Heintzmann, chief operating officer of SeaMobile, told internetnews.com. Heintzmann said that SeaMobile has the ability to completely outfit a ship, all decks at all levels, for wireless access, but cruise lines will have different requirements and may restrict wireless to some areas of the vessel.

"This is a huge value-add for the cruise lines, because they compete with resorts, and this is one thing they haven't been able to offer," said Heintzmann, "Some business people simply can't afford to be away at sea for a week or ten days and not be able to make a phone call."

Analyst Roger Kay told internetnews.com that SeaMobile could quickly become a dominant supplier in the cruise ship/seagoing market if it executes quickly and effectively.

"The market isn't all that big, and if these guys cover it well in a big way, they just might have it to themselves," said Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

Heintzmann said partnership agreements are already in place, and that the company would be making exclusive announcements with major international cruise lines in the coming weeks. Ships outfitted with SeaMobile technology are slated to set sail in the first half of 2006.