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Old 20-08-2009, 08:49   #1
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Satellite Email / Internet / Phone

I was just shopping for a communication system that would let me continue working while on the boat. I looked at a bunch of products but settled on an Inmarsat BGAN Sabre 1. I hadn't heard of it before so I thought I'd share this with others who may be in the same situation.

It gives satellite based email/internet for about $5 to $6 /MB (depends on the plan you choose) and phone for about $0.99/min to the US or Canada. I'm told that works out to less than about $0.05 per email using the OCENS email compression service. Much cheaper than using an Inmarsat phone as a modem to get email. It's about half that size of a laptop and portable.

The downside is that it's not "marine". It is IP6 rated for waterproofness, so that's pretty good, but it use a directional antenna. So you have to keep it pointed at the satellite. I think it'll work great in any reasonable anchorage but not on the high seas. There is a specific marine one that's gyro-stabilized, etc but it's $2500 vs. $1250 and it takes up a lot of deck space on a small boat.

I have made a few test phone calls, but not used it in the field yet. I'll report bakc if anyone is interested.

Craig
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Old 20-08-2009, 10:05   #2
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Hi,

What you chose sounds like an option for a boat moored permanently alongside. In the anchorage I guess it may be problematic unless you have a quiet cove and you moor fore and aft - two anchors etc.. The directionality of the antena is an issue here.

Inshore and in range the Internet via the mobile seems to be the easiest and often most economical option. I do not know if you have it in America but it is very popular in Europe. It works great everywhere and out to 20 miles offshore. The cost is from 40 USD per month. The other option is wireless Internet (wi-fi), but the coverage is not that good - it is great in any marina, but in some anchorages there are no open networks and the remote anchorages are completely off range (same applies to mobile Internet to a lesser extent). In most places here the wi-fi is free.

For the offshore work you have the choice of the Inmarsat broadband, systems like Skymate (good work in the Atlantic but no worldwide coverage), Internet via Iridium, or Internet via SSB. I used all these systems and the Inmarsat is best and most expensive, the SSB is way outdated (only e-mail available, no browsing and it requires too much extra equipment), while the Internet via Iridium (or Globalstar, etc.) works but is not very fast.

I hope this gives you some ideas to test if you find at any point that you need something different from what you have.

Regards,
b.
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Old 22-08-2009, 23:53   #3
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Cellular/mobile aren't viable solutions for every coastal cruising location

Thanks for your reply. I agree with everything you said.

Unfortunately the cell phone option (and cell phone like options, i.e "aircard", etc) aren't a robust option in places like Mexico where there are large areas of the coast that have no mobile coverage. That's a major difference from Europe. But clearly where it is an option, cellular-base internet is usually the best option. I often even use mine at my house if I just need something quickly off the internet, rather than firing up a computer to connect to a wifi connection.

The directional antenna need of the BGAN is a major drawback, but for me the relatively inexpensive cost of the hardware comapred to the marine stabilized version and the inexpensive data transmission compared to an Inmarsat telephone mitigate that drawback. I may find that it is a major pain in backside, in which case someone will get my new hardware in ebay!

Part of my thinking was that because the BGAN I got is higly portable (battery powered, etc), if the anchorage is too rough I can hop in the dinghy and take my BGAN and laptop ashore. I do have two anchors and had figured that might be required. But mostly I have this equipment because I'm still working and I'll need to transfer fairly large amounts of data but I won't need to use it while I'm underway. For using the relatively small amounts of weather data, etc while actively sailing, the stabilized version or omni-directional telephone type would definitely win.

Craig
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Old 23-08-2009, 04:44   #4
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@Craig

This is something I'm interested in as well. I brought up the BGAN system a few weeks ago in the forums. http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f13/global-internet-satellite-numbers-perspective-no-hype-28560.html

There was quite a bit of discussion, but I'm interested to hear what you discover.
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Old 23-08-2009, 14:49   #5
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From my perspective there will never be a global Internet access at all. There are a few reasons. Like there are simply not enough clients to justify a global launch. Today some 85 percent of people (customers ;-)) are in range of a mobile net, so we will have very good mobile Internet, but not a global (I mean covering the oceans too) one.

And the professionals believe me they can pay 15k USD for Inmarsat plus 15 USD per Megabyte of transferred data (non-directional and broadband ...).

But do look up the SkyMate (and they are not the only one) for if you can do without browsing (it is e-mail only) then perhaps you will like what they have in offer (and their hardware is way cheaper than SSB plus the modem).

b.
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Old 23-08-2009, 16:23   #6
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I don't want to turn this into a speculative debate about the prediction of future technologies, but it's a bit frustrating to see how threads about global internet (usually satellite) are so often met with the suggestion to give up and settle for wi-fi, 3G, email-only SSB, or any other technology that ultimately doesn't solve the issue.

The internet as we know it has been around for about 14 years. If it were a human, it wouldn't even have had sex yet (paraphrased from Gary Vaynerchuck) and we're already predicting that what we have today is the end all be all?

Global Internet Facts
  • We already have 100% pole to pole global internet via BGAN
  • We have 100% pole to pole global internet via BGAN's marine specific cousin FleetBroadband by Inmarsat
  • Iridium is a strong competitor in the space (not 100% global coverage, but pretty close) with its OpenPort service.
  • Globalstar is off-track today, but could jump back in significantly if it gets its birds launched later this year.
  • Prices today are a significant limitation for widespread adoption.
As far as the argument that it's not cost effective to provide global service because most potential subscribers are concentrated in specific areas on land... This is only a valid barrier if we assume current infrastructure development practices are (and will continue to be) the most efficient.

Here's a rough breakdown of the number of cell towers in the U.S. in 2005:
  • Nextel: 20,000
  • Sprint: 25,000
  • Cingular: 44,000 (Other estimates show 50,000)
  • Verizon: 22,000
  • TMobile: 24,000
  • Alltel: 8,000 (I assume this is pre Western Wireless)
Total: 143,000 (via Cell Tower Info Blog: Total Cell Towers and Cell Sites by Carrier)

Factor in numbers from every other country and increases over time and we're talking huge numbers. Inmarsat has only 11 satellites while Iridium has 66 and unlike the individual cell companies listed above, every human on planet earth is a potential customer... not just those out on the high seas. How hard is it to upgrade 500,000 cell towers vs. 11 satellites as technology develops? Who really has an advantage moving forward?

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but the history of technological advancement is on my side and I think that makes me more of a realist. The faster we can generate interest in global internet, the faster it will become a viable option for the masses.

Anywho... Craig... I'm still really interested to hear about your BGAN experimentation. Because threads like this regularly pop up on these forums and elsewhere, I know I'm not the only one.
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Old 23-08-2009, 18:43   #7
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We HAVE HAD global satellite internet services for a while....

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailtotrail.com View Post
We already have 100% pole to pole global internet via BGAN

We have 100% pole to pole global internet via BGAN's marine specific cousin FleetBroadband by Inmarsat

Iridium is a strong competitor in the space (not 100% global coverage, but pretty close) with its OpenPort service.

Globalstar is off-track today, but could jump back in significantly if it gets its birds launched later this year.

sailtotrail,
Opinions abound, and I don't have much time at the moment, but I'd wish to correct a few "facts".....

1) Not too big of a deal.......but....
Unfortunately, you've mixed up the Iridium Open Port's "pole-to-pole" coverage, with INMARSAT's geostationary satellite coverage of up to 75* latitude......
Unless you're on a polar expedition, it's doubtful this is important....but just clearing up the facts....
It is Iridium that has the "pole-to-pole" global internet, using an Iridium Open Port terminal and their low-earth-orbiting satellites......

2) Also remember that Iridium DOES have satellite-delivered globally-available broadband internet services, using their Open Port system, which gives syncronous connections up to 128k, WITHOUT the need for a stabilized antenna......

See discussion on SSCA, where you'll find all the details....including pricing.....
SSCA Discussion Board • View topic - Satellite Internet Service?

3) There are BGAN users on board boats, and I got a message from one late last year, who was at anchor (anchored fore and aft) in the Med, and he found it worked well.....but, of course he found it did not work while at sea.....(that's what the Fleet series was for, and the new Fleet Broadband 150....)

I do hope this helps clear matters up....

Fair winds.

John
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Old 24-08-2009, 15:53   #8
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Interesting replies

I'm busy trying to get my boat, business and house ready for my departure in two weeks. Yikes! I'll report back in a month or so after I've had time to experiment in the field.

Craig
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Old 01-11-2009, 23:35   #9
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Field test as promised

As I promised a while ago, here is a field test on the BGAN. I am currently surfing the net and posting this message from the deck of my sailboat while motoring South off Baja, Mexico (25deg 14' N, 112 deg 45' W).

-Heading 134 deg T
-SOG 6.0 kn
-Rolling through about 20 deg (10 deg to each side)
-Wind 8 kn true
-seas minimal

This afternoon I made a phone call using the BGAN while sailing along the same course in more wind and about 3 to 5 foot swells.

It appears that its connection is robust enough to withstand a fair amount of roll motion at least. More yaw and pitch would no doubt be a harder test, but these are the conditions today.

The sails interfer with the signal as indicated by the signal strength meter on the unit. So I set it up on the windward aft deck while sailing.

I'm amazed that it works as well as it does while underway. But of course it's not a system to be RELIED upon for a connection underway, since the type of weather than would give rise to a need to communicate with the outside world would likely preclude its use. But as another communication option to add to the quiver, it's quite good.

Craig
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Old 01-11-2009, 23:49   #10
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Originally Posted by Cadence10m View Post
South off Baja, Mexico (25deg 14' N, 112 deg 45' W).

-Heading 134 deg T
-SOG 6.0 kn
Watch out!!!!!!! Theres a rock 35 miles in front of ya!!!!!!!!

It looks nice! San Carlos and Isla Santa Margarita! Did they name a drink after that place? Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
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Old 02-11-2009, 05:12   #11
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Using a Globalstar Satellite phone and my laptop, I've been able to access the internet from inland Canada to offshore in the Caribbean crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Satellite not cellular.
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Old 02-11-2009, 06:05   #12
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Nirvav, how have you linked your Globalstar and your laptop? Further, with current coverage limitations on Globalstar, how do you determine peak periods (seems to be something of a Catch 22 as the information is only available on the internet, requiring a connection before you find out the peak periods to connect from you location)?

Brad
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Old 02-11-2009, 07:10   #13
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Fleet Broadband

Another option I haven't seen mentioned here is the new Fleet Broadband 150, basically a BGAN with auto-tracking antenna and optimized for use at sea. Very inexpensive in comparison to the bigger brothers, 250 & 500. They even have a monthly airtime plan with no fees, just billing for usage. Might be worth a look if you haven't already invested in a system.
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Old 02-11-2009, 07:24   #14
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Globalstar has a download from thier site (softwarte)and a, I guess a special cable about 20$. Their site has a projected time table for best use, I just estimate times moving it out and at times it's hit or miss. But thier unlimited usage for I believe $23 a month is hard to beat. I have an EPIRB for emergencys, so the phone and computer is just a luxury toy. I try never to become dependent on electronics.
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Old 27-12-2009, 15:35   #15
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BGAN Rocks

I own and use a BGAN Nera 1000 unit (they call it 100 now I think). I have done serious web-based work from many a Bahamas anchorage as we swung 30+ degrees at anchor. If the bars drop off a little, I reach over and twist it a touch based on a land mark I noted during the initial pointing (the bird is just a few degrees left of that hill kind of thing).

It's really fast, takes about a minute, maybe two, to setup and if you are careful with your bandwidth not too costly.

For instance, I usually pre-write a set of text emails, then check email, blast off my written ones, answer a few more, hit my preferred weather bookmarks, upload a couple of changes to clients website (just text pages, no big files) and perhaps blast off a few small photos to friends. The typical session comes in at about 1 megabyte, sometimes 500k if it's a quiet day, sometimes 2-3 megs if I have some more serious work to do.

Total usage about 30 megs ($160) per month. Of course, if something heavy goes down, I dingy ashore and use a wi-fi network to upload large files to save the $$$.

Don't get me wrong, the BGAN will do it, and FAST. I sucked down a 6meg PDF attachement by mistake one time. That was an expensive mis-click.

I have worked with different providers, but Eric Talman of the satellite phone store has proved the most helpful. Their pricing is on-par with most other options out there. (I don't have any relation to them other than as a rather demanding, and satisfied, customer).
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