About jeff_ocens

Chief Technical Officer


201412The following dialog between Jeff Thomassen of OCENS and the Editor of Latitude 38 was published under the title: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SATPHONE CONTINUITY?

Published November 2014
After reading letters about Iridium and other satellite communication services in recent Latitudes, I noticed some misconceptions in the letters and the answers that were provided by the satellite phone store. I hope I can clear some of it up.

Before anyone heads offshore, they should consult their airtime provider to verify the details of their account. They will want to confirm minute balances and expiration dates or terms of their airtime package, and/or confirm that their account is set up for automatic renewal if it runs low.

In the case of Iridium, there are two kinds of plans: post- paid and prepaid. With postpaid plans, you pay a monthly fee, plus minutes. There can be many different variations on this depending on how the dealer wants to market it. So pay attention to the details.

The other type of plan is prepaid. With these you pay a one-time fee for a block of minutes that are valid for a set amount of time. If you have a prepaid airtime account, you can call or send a text SMS from your Iridium phone to the number 2888, and the system will reply with information on your remaining airtime balance and term expiration date.

If your prepaid minutes run out, you will not be able to make any further calls. Some but not all carriers offer a number that you can call, even after your minutes have been used up, that will connect you to customer service and may allow you to have more min- utes added to your account. However, this is not a foolproof method and can vary dependent on the provider. It’snot something that I’d want to rely on in an emergency.

Satphone owners should keep in mind that there are a number of entities between the end user and the network provider, be it Iridium or Inmarsat. For example, Iridium sells its airtime to distribution partners (DPs) that may add a layer of services and features to the package. These DPs then sell the airtime plans to the dealers, who may also add to the offering before finally selling the plan to the end user.
Trying to coordinate adding airtime or reactivations, and having that filter through the system so that the Iridium net- work will allow you to make a call, can take time, especially if it’s not a standard new activation or just adding minutes to a regular account in good standing. Also keep in mind that the dealer is on the hook for the airtime charges. If the end user does not pay or defaults on their account, the dealer still has to pay for the airtime. Thus the dealer is going to be very concerned about adding airtime if there is any uncertainty about payment.
In addition, dealers may have access to multiple DPs to tap into for airtime. SIM cards, and thus the plans, are tied to specific DPs that cannot be mixed. The dealer cannot sell you a plan (SIM card) that was sourced from one DP and add minutes to it from another DP. So if your dealer switches DPs, they may ask you to switch out your SIM card or refuse to add minutes to your older card.
As both a sailor and a satellite solution provider, I highly recommend that end users make a test call from their sat- phone each month as a best practice. Making a test call will do the following:
• Make sure the battery is charged. It is a good idea to fully discharge the phone a few times per year to keep it in top condition.
• By making a call you are verifying that your airtime plan is still active. If your phone will not register on the network, or gives you an error message, it may indicate that your air- time plan has expired. You will need to contact an airtime provider to obtain new service. This will most likely require that a new SIM card be sent to you.
• Making a successful call verifies that you remember how to make a call. Most satellite phones are treated as international, and require you to call all numbers as if you are making international calls — no matter where you are or where you are calling.
• The test also confirms that the phone is in operable condition. Verify that you are receiving a good signal, that you can hear the voice on the other end, and that they can hear you.
Many carriers have a dedicated number for making free test calls, but I recommend calling someone you know for better feedback.

Jeff Thomassen
OCENS, Ha-Ha Sponsor
Des Moines, Washington

Jeff — Everybody knows that satphones are frequently relied upon in life-and-death situations, and that 99% of the end users can’t remember the expiration date of their plan — let alone the very fine details of whatever plan their particular retailer talked them into. So we think it’s incumbent upon the vendor who sells the time to alert the end user a month in advance of the expiration of their plan and/or when 90% of their usage is up. If AT&T can do it by MTS and email with their cell-phone service, why can’t satellite time providers do the same? Besides, isn’t it in the best interest of the vendor to do this? It gives them the opportunity to sell more time and keep from losing a customer to a competitor.

Published December 2014
I first want to thank Latitude for including my ‘Who Is Responsible For Satphone Continuity’ letter in the November issue. I am happy to assist in bringing this information to light, and hopefully assist users in their understanding of how the current satellite phone systems operate and what things to look out for. We’ve had many conversations with boatowners at the last few boat shows regarding all of this, and know that this is a hot topic in light of the Rebel Heart incident that kicked off all the publicity.

In response to my November letter, the Latitude editor replied as follows: “Everybody knows that satphones are frequently relied upon in life-and-death situations, and that 99% of the end users can’t remember the expiration date of their plan — let alone the very fine details of whatever plan their particular retailer talked them into. So we think it’s in- cumbent upon the vendor who sells the time to alert the end user a month in advance of the expiration of their plan and/ or when 90% of their usage is up. If AT&T can do it by MTS and email with their cellphone service, why can’t satellite time providers do the same? Besides, isn’t it in the best interest of the vendor to do this? It gives them the opportunity to sell more time and keep from losing a customer to a competitor.”

I agree that most satellite phone users do not keep very close tabs on the status of their accounts. In the case of Iridium prepaid plans — the primary airtime plan being faulted in this discussion for mariners’ being unable to use their phones because time ran out or expired — keep the following in mind:
1) Each time you make a voice call, you get a voice prompt with your current balance and expiration date before the call is completed.
2) Prepaid plans do not require monthly billings that might keep the user up-to-date.
3) Prepaid plans do not autorenew unless specifically requested by the end user, where an agreement must be in place between the customer and the vendor. Keep in mind that the dealer is responsible for the airtime. If they were to auto-reload a customer’s account without the customer’s fully agreeing to it, the customer could refuse to pay. Because these are prepaid minutes, the minutes cannot be retracted, so the dealer would be left on the hook.

Also keep in mind that satellite phone users are typically remote. This means that in most cases they are not getting regular email, phone calls or physical mail. Nor, in many cases, do they want to. So getting in touch with them can be rather difficult. Thus it is not quite fair to put all of this burden on the airtime vendor, but as you can see, it is important to pick your vendor carefully.

As an airtime vendor, we at OCENS truly understand why customers have satellite phones. And we understand the nature of how and where these devices are typically used. This knowledge is evident in all the products and services we both design and offer. Our goal is to help customers to get the most out of their equipment and service, so we make every effort to alert the customer as to the status of their accounts — even prepaid accounts. We send out a number of notices when their balances get low or expiration dates get near. We send alerts via the email address provided by the customer, and then again via SMS directly to the phones. We want to not only keep our customers, but also keep them safe and happy.

Jeff Thomassen
Des Moines, Washington

Jeff — If you use email and SMS alerts to customers to alert them that their plan — even if it’s a prepaid plan — is about to expire, we think you’re doing everything that you legally and ethically should be obligated to do. We think that what you’re doing should be an industry-wide requirement.
When Profligate crewman Fin Bevin does the Ha-Ha, he always brings his Iridium/OCENS combo to produce GRIB files on the computer screen. It’s one of several great ways to get weather when far offshore.

Emergency with a good ending…

There is more to satellite phone communications than just having the satellite phone. We at OCENS strive to provide not only the best equipment for the application, but the follow up service that customers need to actually make it all work and keep it going. Thank you to Dave for letting us know how this event turned out and we are very thankful that you all made it back ok.

“Thank you very much for your assistance when my wife called you during a medical emergency at our hunting camp. She said you were most helpful in obtaining more minutes for our sat phone.

Between the air force C130 and a Blackhawk helicopter which we wouldn’t have been able to get without the sat phone we saved the live of a fellow hunter who was having severe breathing and heart problems.

It is amazing how fast the minutes of use add up when you are trying to coordinate between state troopers, air force personnel, medical people and giving weather reports to flight crews and everything else. The event started at 9:30pm on 9/17/13 and took two different rescue attempts by four different crews because of severe weather (snow, wind, rain, and darkness). It took thirteen hours to finally get to us and airlift him out. The Blackhawk landed and picked him up, flew him to Gakona where he was transferred to a C130 which flew him to Anchorage to Providence hospital. He spent five days in the hospital and was released on the sixth day. Thought you might like to know the results of your help. The sat phone worked great.

Again thank you so much for your help.”

Dave Carroll and Ben Cabo Alaska hunting crew

Tricks for your Mac – Turning of Bonjour

When the French say “Bonjour” it means “good day”, but when Apple says “Bonjour” over your satellite connection it may not be such a “good day”.

“Bonjour is Apple’s implementation of Zero configuration networking (Zeroconf), a group of technologies that includes service discovery, address assignment, and hostname resolution. Bonjour locates devices such as printers, other computers, and the services that those devices offer on a local network using multicast Domain Name System (mDNS) service records.”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

While this “Bonjour” sounds great and does work well when you are connected to a network via a high-speed connection and have other devices that you connect to on that network, it can make your day not so good and cause real frustration when trying to connect to the internet via a satellite phone system.

Bonjour is continually broadcasting information about your device to the network and then listening for what other devices or service are available to connect too. Each time your information is sent your system is using precious megabytes and bandwidth. Not a big deal at home or via a good and inexpensive Wi-Fi connection. But when you are connecting to the internet via your satellite phone you usually doing so via a very slow connection, such as and Iridium phone, and/or are paying a premium for data that is transmitted (i.e. $20 per megabyte for the FleetBroadband systems). Now it does not sound so great.

When you make a connection via your Iridium phone – your Mac is going to see that you are connected to a network and try to find out who is on this network that it can communicate with – this can use up your very limited bandwidth, or pipe if you will, and leaves very little if any room for your weather or email application to transfer its data. What you typically end up seeing is a stalled connection because the data is stuck in the bottleneck of the small pipe and then you receive a time-out error. If you are using one of the higher speed system where you are paying per megabyte – the system is using up data to do this – data for something that you may not care about or realize is being used.

There are a couple ways to reign in Bonjour when you are using your satellite phone.

OCENS software products employ a mechanism that automatically disables Bonjour when you use the dialer in OCENS Mail or WeatherNet so that the data flow is unimpeded by any Bonjour transmissions. When the connection is finished the service is re-enabled.

Another way is to manually disable Bonjour. You can do this by opening the terminal application on your Mac and entering the following command:

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.mDNSResponder.plist

Then hit enter. You may be required to enter your system password. Bonjour is now disabled.

Bonjour will automatically restart when you reboot your system. To turn this back on without the need to reboot your system you can enter the following command in same fashion as before:

sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.mDNSResponder.plist

Bonjour is now re-enabled.

I hope this tip helps you to understand your system a litte bit more.


OCENS Mail includes a powerful GPS repeater

OCENS Mail Feature – GPS

OCENS Mail includes a powerful GPS repeater

With the GPS repeater functionality of OCENS Mail, GPS informaton can be imbedded in your email headers, sent into tracking services such as OTrak, and be used to supply data to your other navigation software or connected devices.

GPS Enable
“Enable GPS input” must be checked before any options in this dialog can be configured. Once enabled Wireless Email Gateway must be configured to read GPS data from either a physical COM port or from a network TCP/IP socket or port.

To read GPS data from a physical port select the “GPS on physical port” box, this will enable the Port and Baud pull down lists. The Port pull down list contains a list of all the physical COM ports on the system, select the COM port which corresponds to your GPS. Next, from the Baud pull down list, select the baud rate at which the GPS has been configured. By default most NMEA 183 devices (i.e. your GPS) use 4800 baud for this setting.

The Wireless Email Gateway should now be configured to read GPS data, to confirm that GPS data is streaming into your system hit OK to return to the main screen. Then observe the state of the GPS icon on the Toolbar, if all is well you should see a green status icon. See the GPS section under toolbars for a description of the different states of the GPS icon.

Alternately, to read GPS data over the local area network, select “GPS on TCP port”. This selection enables the entry of a host by either name or IP address and a TCP port number. The host and port number must be entered as hostname:port where hostname is the name or the IP address of the computer hosting the GPS and port number is the TCP port used to repeat the data.

Using at TCP port for GPS data allows one to configure a GPS on a remote computer interconnected to the Wireless Email Gateway machine via a LAN. The remote computer could, for example, be running the Wireless Email Gateway configured to read GPS data from a local COM port and repeat it to a TCP port (see below). As long as the remote Wireless Email Gateway is repeating data to the same TCP port that is being used by the local Wireless Email Gateway, the local Wireless Email Gateway will read the data and optionally repeat it to local COM ports.

Repeat GPS output
The GPS repeater is a very powerful tool which allows multiple applications running on a local computer to access one GPS. This allows you to repeat the GPS data stream out to two additional virtual com ports as well as another network port. For example, the repeater can be used to configure Wireless Email Gateway not only to read the GPS from a physical serial port for vessel tracking but to also configure an electronic plotting program such as MaxSea, Nobeltec, or others.

Both “Repeat GPS output…” check boxes are used to enable the repeating of physical GPS data to virtual COM ports or to a network TCP port.

When enabled, Repeat GPS output to COM port, will create a new COM port on the local machine and repeat GPS data to it. To enable this feature place a check mark next to the option and then assign a COM port to the new (to be created) device.

Repeat GPS to network port creates a socket or TCP port on the local machine which can be used by network aware applications (such as the Wireless Email Gateway) to read GPS data over a network.

Enable Logging 
The enable logging functions are used to debug your GPS connection. Enable logging will create debugging information in the main status window. The Wireless Email Gateway will inform you of failed COM port creation as well as other errors which might help isolate a GPS problem.

The “Dump NMEA data…” option configures the Wireless Email Gateway to dump raw NMEA sentences to the status window. Enabling this feature results in a large amount of text being displayed in the primary status window. You should only use this function if you want to see the raw data being generated by the GPS.


OCENS releases WeatherNet 3

NEWS – For Immediate Release

New WeatherNet 3 Portal mode screen

OCENS Inc., Seattle WA
Media Contacts:

Jeff Thomassen

OCENS releases WeatherNet 3 Weather-on-Demand 

Enhances award-winning service with intelligent product wizard and new Portal mode

SEATTLE, WA July 23, 2012 – OCENS proudly announces version 3 of its award-winning WeatherNet Weather-on-Demand service. For a decade, WeatherNet has warehoused the most robust collection of weather, ocean and fishing data on the planet. Its patented WeatherNet data transfer engine continues to hold the preeminent position in the accelerated delivery of content across all satellite and wireless platforms.  These twin pillars of content diversity and file transfer performance are now integrated together in unprecedented fashion with the launch of WeatherNet 3’s Portal mode and the imbedded intelligence of its ingenious Content Wizard.  The Content Wizard personalizes WeatherNet’s vast content library to the specific weather, ocean and fishing interests of the individual user. It’s Portal mode then stages selections for the rapid and reliable global delivery of these products via satellite or cellular, wired or wireless connections.

WeatherNet 3 transforms the product selection process by asking users for their general weather interests and then responding with definitive file suggestions for their area of operation. No need to get specific, just let WeatherNet know whether you’d like GRIB or classic weather charts, text files or buoy products, fishing data or ice forecasts, satellite pictures or tide information…the list goes on. WeatherNet’s intelligent content algorithm then merges your general interests with your present or proposed location, anywhere in the world, and the work by OCENS professionals who have mapped each one of the thousands of products in our large library. The result is a personalized list of products that satisfy the specific insights required for prevailing and predicted weather, ocean and fishing conditions.

‘We wanted to take WeatherNet where no other weather service on the planet has gone.’ summarized Mark Freeberg, OCENS President and CEO. ‘So not only does it have the largest GRIB and classical weather and ocean data library and the most robust means of delivering that information to users, it can now skillfully help them find the products best suited for their needs and area of operation.’

Just some of WeatherNet 3’s new features and capabilities:

  • GPS integration
  • OCENS Positional Packet sharing with OCENS GRIB Explorer and MetMapper
  • Content Wizard and Portal mode
  • Content Preferences page to help you personalize GRIB model preferences
  • Content Box and integrated content search algorithm
  • Graphical user interface for selection of coastal, offshore, high seas, and MetArea text products
  • Buoy location map for choosing buoy(s) data feeds for your area of operation
  • Zoom capabilities on all content reference maps
  • Portal mode tracking of present geographic position relative to selected content
  • Satellite Dialer for auto-connect/disconnect to satellite phones and docking stations
  • Integration with Optimizer, webXaccelerators, and Iridium AxcessPoint
  • Refreshed interfaces and new icons for WeatherNet’s legacy Basic and Library modes
  • Updated Basic mode ‘Personalities’
  • Rapid access to Basic mode content ‘Personality’ switching and content options
  • New data classes (Tides) and sources (Terrafin)
  • Race and Tournament mode editions

WeatherNet 3 is compatible with Windows XP, Vista and 7, both 32 and 64-bit versions, and Apple Mac computers with virtual machine PC installations.

It is bundled with drivers and auto-dialing/disconnect capabilities for most serial, USB and Ethernet-based satellite telephones and will operate through any wifi, DSL, cable, or dial-up connection. It seamlessly works with the entire webXaccelerator line, including the Optimizer 102, and the Iridium AxcessPoint.

Pricing and Availability
WeatherNet 3 service is priced at $99 per year and is immediately available from OCENS and through OCENS dealer network. Content fees are charged on a per item basis with such fees starting as low as US 18 cents. WeatherNet prepaid content cards are available in $75, $250, $500 and $1000 denominations.  3-day no-charge demos of WeatherNet with full access to all WeatherNet content and features are available with each installation.

About OCENS, Inc.

OCENS data services and software merge easy-to-use applications with unprecedented content offerings to affordably deliver data to remote users around the world. Using patented pull-me technology, OCENS WeatherNet provides fast access to the world’s widest selection of weather and ocean information. MetMapper transforms static weather chats to dynamic planning tools. OCENS Mail accelerates the transfer of email over wireless phone connections while OCENS XWeb provides fast wireless web browsing with up to a 10x improvement in speed through customer satellite equipment. These services have been bundled in strategic partnerships with some of the leading nautical software and satellite providers in the world such as Nobeltec, B&G, Expedition, Globalstar, Sailfast, GMN and Sattrans. OCENS augments its software core with satellite equipment and airtime solutions it provides in cooperation with all the major satellite providers.