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Cell Signals at Sea

These days, if you want to call someone from a cruise ship, you have to pay upwards of $8 a minute to use your cabin's satellite phone. Though costly, this technological limitation has the unintended effect of making a cruise one of the last remaining refuges from the cacophony of ringing cell phones.

Not for long.

Thanks to a joint venture between Maritime Telecommunications Network and AT&T Wireless, it is now possible to use your GSM cell phone from the middle of the ocean. Since March, AT&T Wireless customers have been able to use GSM phones on select Royal Caribbean ships positioned anywhere in the world that AT&T Wireless maintains roaming agreements. The service equips boats with receivers and transmitters that beam cell phone signals up to a satellite and then to the AT&T Wireless network. Now, says AT&T Wireless spokesman Mark Siegel, you can call from any place on the ship at a price that's the same as most international wireless calls (from $1 to $2 per minute). At press time, Royal Caribbean was testing the service and planning to take it fleet-wide over the next two years; Norwegian Cruise Line also was expected to introduce the service soon.

If having to endure endless chatter at sea makes you want to jump overboard, it may be time to invest in some noise-canceling headphones. Planes, too, are jumping on the cell phone bandwagon: companies like AirCell and Verizon Airfone are developing systems that will soon enable airline passengers to use their mobiles at 30,000 feet.

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