I work in communications, primarily marine communications lately (5 years). I work with sail and motor yachts, but the same ideals work for most vessels big enough for persons or crews to live onboard for extended periods of time.
There are multiple methods of Internet Access around for marine vessels. Many of them are very recent as far as how long they have been available.
What kind of Internet Communications a vessel uses depends on a couple of things… Their Budget (or companies budget) … and How much time they spend on the “Deep Blue Sea” where no land-based (terrestrial) Internet Connections can be used.
There is also something called Sail Mail (and others?) that work via MF-HF SSB Radio and for low volume / low content text only emails and some weather content uses.
Inmarsat has been around for a long time - and it seems to me was the “gold standard” until less than half a dozen years ago or less. Mini-M’s and Fleet (33, 55, or 77) systems as well as the old Saturn B - were, and in some cases still used.
Starting in the 2000’s (I came into this in early 2004) vessels started using Cellular by installing gear that did GSM for voice but also included GPRS Internet. It wasn’t the easiest thing to install because typically it took a 9-pin modem cable connection to a PC and knowing how to set that up to make it work.
Also WiFi Hotspots … crews were already getting that on laptops - so companies started making gear to share the wifi onto the boat without having everyone connect independantly - and to bring better signal and connection into the vessel.
Cellular is also going into 3G - so there are things like GSM’s outgrowth to UMTS - with HSPA - High Speed Packet Access - now available to individuals - so thusly vessels could take advantage of this as well by using router boxes designed to share such connections. They made it a bit easier to connect since the old modem cable thing went away.
Back on Satellite… newer VSAT systems came out from SeaTel and Nera (Nera later dropped out of satellite?) and KVH. Even more recent the Fleet Broadband - which is basically BGAN at Sea, and KVH’s Mini-VSAT or Tracphone V7 have come out. I didn’t say they were cheap - but the do work in a lot of places (Deep Blue Sea) where the other stuff just won’t work.
I usually recommend that vessels implement at least 2 or more of these things - so that they can choose a least-cost system to use depending on their geographic location and wether or not they are near land or in dock or not.
I also have a longer article on Cellular Internet as it pertains to marine vessels… if anyone’s interested. I’d have to figure out how to post it on here with the pictures that come with it. But I’ll do it if there is enough interest.
I’m also interested in other uses for computers and computing devices, including newer hand held cellular and such gear - as well as Navigation and Piloting uses of all sorts of Methods and Communications that touch computer and computer-like gear. A lot of things are bumping together even entertainment stuff is having networking these days. Nobeltec Radar goes over a CAT5 cable and is picked up by the computer using TCP/IP just like the Internet and Local Network stuff works.
It’s cool stuff … but always it’s nicer when technology helps to make a captain and crews life easier on marine vessels.