Critical firmware update for Fleet Broadband SAILOR and Thrane BGAN Terminals

OCENS has been informed by Inmarsat that the latest firmware version 1.16 will be feature critical for all Thrane & Thrane FB SAILOR 150, 250, 500 and BGAN units by 1st June 2013.

Terminals not upgraded to this firmware version will not be able to receive calls on the IP handset. Only the terminals listed above using the Thrane & Thrane/Cobham IP handset will be affected. Terminals with a standard two wire handset will continue to work as normal.

Other features included in this release:

•    Support for Fax and 3.1kHz Audio on SAILOR 150
•    Restoration of an open PDP context on a UT power cycle
•    Support to ThraneLINK, a sophisticated communication protocol that connects the SAILOR products in a network

To Upgrade your firmware, follow the steps below:

1.     Download from the link below the latest Thrane and Thrane firmware to a zip disk:

http://www.inmarsat.com/Support/detailsupport/FleetBroadband/Firmware/index.htm

FILE SIZE is approximately 7 MB. DO NOT download over your satellite connection. Download over wifi or other connection to an external zip disk and carry to the boat.

2.     Unzip and extract the contents of the downloaded file to a known location on the computer attached to your Sailor or BGAN terminal;
3.     Launch your web browser and load the Dashboard by typing into the address bar:

http:// 192.168.0.1

4.     Click on ‘Settings’ on the left side of the Dashboard
5.     Click on the ‘Upload’ menu and in the section ‘Upload Software to Terminal’, click on ‘Browse’ button
6.     Point your cursor to the location on your computer to which you extracted the file in Step 2 above
7.     Highlight ‘bganx_bdu.ao_1_16-0012-bganx_bdu.dl’  and select (Open)
8.     This returns you to the Dashboard. Click the ‘Upload’ button to the right of the Browse button.
9.     The system will upload the new firmware and restart your equipment. IF it does not restart the terminal automatically, do so manually.

After the terminal has restarted, return to the dashboard and confirm that the software version on the main page reads:

1.16, build 12

Adware’s Impact on your Satellite Connections

Adware are programs which can be accidently (or intentionally) downloaded from the Internet and who then seek to return to the Internet to pull down advertisements for your review. On high bandwidth connections such as your home DSL or wifi, they are usually nothing more than an annoyance. Through lower bandwidth pipes such as those provided by most satellite phones, however, they become a much more insidious and expensive threat.

I was reminded of the importance of attention to adware when I assisted a customer who stopped by our booth at the Annapolis Sail Show last month. The customer was experiencing consistent problems completing WeatherNet downloads. WeatherNet would dial the phone, handshake and then commence a connection. But as soon as that connection dialog would post, the system would sit and sit and sit until eventually timing out. No matter how many times she repeated the process the same problem was evident. Not surprisingly, she was quite frustrated.

The customer asked if she could bring the computer into the booth on Sunday afternoon at the show.Once there, we booted it up, connected it to her phone and sure enough witnessed the same thing. Before doing anything else we looked in her corner taskbar to see what programs were running. Not surprisingly, a half a dozen adware programs were running in the background.

What was happening? As mentioned above, these adware and most other programs on your computer are designed to pull content from the internet whenever they see an internet connection. It makes no difference to these programs that an internet connection is running at 2400 baud and costing you $1.00 plus per minute over your satellite phone. They recognize its presence and they want to use it to do their deeds. When you then have one, two, or heaven forbid, six adware programs trying to squeeze their activity through the slim satphone pipe, nobody gets priority and everything moves slower than molasses in a Wisconsin winter.

It may be worse on mid-range bandwidth install like Fleet Broadband or Pilot. Here you have bandwidth to allow the adware to run and still let highly efficient programs like WeatherNet or OCENS Mail conduct the business you really want done. So no immediate frustration. Instead, its at the end of the month when you receive your airtime bill that you feel the pain. All those bytes of adware files were downloaded at $10 to $20 per MB. Money that’s totally wasted.

But I digress. Back to our Annapolis Sail Show project. After spotting the adware programs in the taskbar tray, we loaded the computer’s control panel and began uninstalling each of them from the Programs and Features control . Some were more stubborn than others and some left a remnant of themselves which kept asking if it could reinstall itself on the computer. So a thorough cleaning or drive re-format is probably something this customer should consider down the road. However, the impact of adware removal on the WeatherNet transfer process was immediate and striking. As soon as the connection was established, WeatherNet proceeded to the ‘wait one moment for the server to process your request’ message and then began downloading the desired files.

The moral of the story is to be careful what you are agreeing to load onto your computer. The corollary, however, is more insidious. That is, no matter how careful you are, sometimes programs you don’t want on your computer find their way onto it or data in which you have no interest downloads through your satellite connection. A few minutes taken to eliminate those programs now might save a lot of expensive minutes and frustrating experiences later. A reasonably straightforward way of doing this is to download Malwarebytes from malwarebytes.org and run this program regularly to check for and remove malicious malware or adware. It only runs when you run it so there is no concern for it trying to access the Internet itself. A more comprehensive means of addressing this sort of problem is to talk to OCENS about one of our satellite routers that can wholistically block any and all unwanted traffic and allowing only OCENS Mail, WeatherNet and XWeb use your valuable satellite connection.

Price Changes Looming from Iridium

Iridium has announced several changes to their postpaid pricing plans and prepaid plan philosophy. Most of the changes go in effect in the final quarter of 2012 or on January 1, 2013. Others, such as the expiration of prepaid minutes older than three years, are not implemented until December 2013. Lastly, Iridium is also announcing three new service offerings set to become available in the early part of next year. A summary of the impending changes are presented below.

Closure of Some Plans

  • The PostPaid 10/30/55 minute plans will be discontinued as of October 31, 2012. No new activations will be permitted under these plans after October 31. Current Postpaid 10/30/55 plan subscribers can remain on the plans through October 31, 2013. Subscribers remaining on these plans at that date will be transitioned to a basic postpaid plan by Iridium. (OCENS Note: Iridium tells us that early termination fees will apply if a 10/30/55 plan subscriber desires to move to another plan before the end of their prevailing contract).
  • SMS bundle plans are also closing on October 31, 2012. However, subscribers can transition to an alternative plan prior to October 31. Those who have not transitioned by November 1 will be migrated to a standard postpaid plan and associated plan fees will become effective with the January 2013 bill cycle.

Increases in Postpaid, Crew and Paging Monthly Access Fees

  • Monthly access fees for Iridium Postpaid plans are expected to increase during the January 2013 billing cycle. Iridium has not yet released to us the new fee structure. We will issue a follow-up post when the new pricing is available.
  • Monthly access fees for Crew and Paging plans are expected to increase during the July 2013 billing cycle. Iridium has not yet released to us the new fee structure. We will issue a follow-up post when the new pricing is available.
  • Usage (ie in most cases this means the price per minute you pay) rates are not changing.

Prepaid Plan Price Increases

  • Prepaid plan charges will increase on January 1. New prices are not yet available. We will issue a follow-up post as soon as the new pricing is released.

Prepaid Plan Closures

  • The CONUS and North American 800, 2500, 6000 and 30000 plans will be discontinued as of October 31, 2012 and no new activations under these plans will be allowed after that date. Customers presently on these plans will continue to remain active on these plans until the earlier of the account expiration date or the exhaustion of the minutes purchased. Once the account expires or the minutes are exhausted the sim is available for recharge with a standard Iridium prepaid plan. All minutes are lost if such a recharge is attempted before account expiration or minute exhaustion.

Prepaid Minute Expiration

Commencing December 17, 2013, prepaid minutes older than three years will be expired (a four year expiration applies to owners of 3000 or 5000 minute vouchers) on a daily basis. The change applies to all prepaid accounts except scratch cards or OpenPort GoChat cards.

The expiration process will be conducted on a daily basis by Iridium as follows:

1) The total number of minutes purchased more than three (3) years ago will be calculated;
2) If total prepaid minutes consumed during the lifetime of the account are greater than the number of minutes purchased three years ago, no minutes will be expired;
3) If total prepaid minutes consumed during the lifetime of the account is less than the number purchased more than three years ago, the difference between the total purchased and total consumed will be expired. Units will be expired at 2359 UTC each day.
4) Some sample minute expiration scenarios are depicted in the Addendum found at the end of this blog post.

This is a permanent policy change by Iridium.

Beginning February 2013, the number of minutes that may expire if not used by December 17, 2013 will be available to all subscribers by dialing 2888 or sending an SMS to 2888. After December 17, 2013, dialing or texting 2888 will provide the subscriber with the number of minutes that may expire if not used within the next six (6) months.

New Services from Iridium

  • Caller ID – Caller ID will be offered as an included feature for our voice service packages.
  • LBS1 ‐ A new entry level Location Based Service package called “LBS 1” with no additional monthly fee for active telephony subscribers, 1 KB of monthly data included, and usage charges for overage will apply.
  • LBS17 – A new high use, fee‐based Location Based Service package called “LBS 17” that will carry a higher monthly fee for active telephony subscribers, 17 KB of monthly data included, and usage charges for overage will apply.

OCENS will update our customers as further details on these price and policy changes are made available by Iridium. Of course, don’t hesitate to contact OCENS if you have immediate questions.

Addendum 1: Prepaid Minute Expiration Scenarios

 

 

Fleet Broadband Small Vessel Plans: Curiouser and Curiouser

As Fishing and Leisure plans sunset this month, Inmarsat’s new Small Vessel Plans (SVP) represent the satellite provider’s attempt to both appease its Fleet Broadband (FBB) owners and impede the deployment of Fleet Broadband as the poor stepchild in VSAT/FBB failover marriages.  At first blush, SVPs will far more quickly squash sales of FBB as VSAT backups than will they give reason for pleasure yachts, workboats and fishing class vessels to pen ballads exalting their virtues.  There follows a description of these new postpaid and prepaid SVPs and their potential role in the constellation of Fleet Broadband airtime plans.

In their purest sense, SVP postpaid bundles pack 5 MB of Fleet Broadband airtime into $99 per month. Megabytes used during that month which are beyond the first included 5 are billed at $22 each. There is a one-month minimum on the plan.

While the $99 monthly rate is now the lowest monthly access fee available to FBB users, the imbedded and overage rates are the highest such rates offered by Inmarsat for background IP on any platform.  So yes, it’s the cheapest way to keep your terminal active. But in doing so you pay a dear price if you happen to exceed your allotted 5 MB.

Now for the kicker. Remember that go-kart you had as a kid? How no matter how hard you pressed the gas pedal it would only go so fast because Dad had messed with the throttle? Well, Inmarsat is dear old Dad. They have throttled the SVP plans to a maximum speed of 32 kbaud (See update on the ‘throttling’ issue in comments associated with this blog entry).  With any other package, your FBB 150, 250 and 500 are capable of 150, 284 and 496 kbaud speeds, respectively. But if you’ve activated under an SVP plan, Dad has you maxed out at 32 kbaud. Too bad.

For some reason, Dad also doesn’t want you running on a bigger chassis. Inmarsat requires resellers to ask you the size of the vessel on which the FBB will be installed and wishes to use the SVP. If that vessel is larger than 300 gross tons (GT) the SVP is off-limits. We can speculate Inmarsat has identified these larger vessels as the prototypical ones carrying VSAT and which may be looking for a failover service, such as FBB or OpenPort/Pilot. Of course, if failover does occur on such a vessel we’re talking tens if not hundreds of megabytes of overage. Why a plus 300 GT vessel would then be willing to risk paying the highest data rate Inmarsat can conjure up for a savings of less than $100 per month in plan costs (the Standard plan is $190 per month with an overage rate of $16/MB) is hard to visualize. More likely they would choose a Standard plan with overage costs which are 30% lower than SVP. Or they’d choose a Pilot.

Up to this point in the blog, everything we’ve discussed has focused on the postpaid version of SVP. A prepaid version of the plan is also available. With the extension of prepaid Inmarsat airtime to the entire world after the inclusion of the US market on September 1 this prepaid plan warrants closer inspection. Similarities between the post and prepaid versions of the SVP plan start and end with the 32 kbaud and less than 300 GT limits already discussed. Three prepaid SVPs are available: 60 units, 100 units and 200 units for $66, $95, and $170 respectively (Inmarsat sells prepaid airtime in bundles of  ‘units’ which are then converted to minutes for voice calls and megabytes for data according to specified conversion ratios). At the conversion rate of 10 units per 1 MB proscribed by Inmarsat, these three bundles offer 6, 10, and 20 mb of data each. Consequently, the $/MB cost of these prepaid plans is substantially lower than that of the postpaid. Megabytes from the 200 unit bundle, at $8.5/MB, cost just less than 40% of the postpaid plan’s $22/MB rate. So what’s the catch? Shouldn’t everyone be purchasing prepaid unit bundles under the SVP plan?

The answer is, ‘It depends’. If you are certain you are going to use the units, and use them quickly, most certainly consider a prepaid option. However, purchased prepaid units have a 60 day validity. That is, just as Cinderella’s glass slipper, after 60 days, all those units turn into a pumpkin. They are worthless. To exacerbate this point, Inmarsat will deduct 14 units from your pin balance each week if you have not used at least 14 units of voice or data traffic that week. Use zero units and Inmarsat will deduct 14. Use 7, Inmarsat takes another 7. Use 14, Inmarsat takes zero.

Evidently the 14 unit auto-deduction gymnastic is necessary for Inmarsat’s accounting and tax purposes. But it should also be a huge calculation in your decision to go the prepaid route or not. At 14 units per week, in 4 weeks a 60 unit card is gone (4 x 14 =  56) and a 100 unit card is more than half gone. Obviously, the fact that units are valid for 60 days on a 60 unit card is meaningless.  Moreover, wait 3 to 4 weeks to use any of the units you purchased with your 100 unit pin and that really attractive $9.5/MB rate you thought you were buying has now risen to an effective rate of $16 to $22/MB. So be careful. If buying into a prepaid SVP plan, do so knowing that you are going to be using units for your benefit from week one!

On the plus side, units can be bought in sets and combined together to increase available volume and extend the validity of the units. For example, a 100 unit and a 200 unit card could be activated together giving you 30 MB of data valid for 120 days. But the 14 unit per week ‘fee’ is still in play.  Users also may switch their SVP sim between prepaid and postpaid status as needed. However, Inmarsat charges a $50 activation fee each time you move in the prepaid direction.

So with all this said and done, for who is the SVP the right plan? The SVP customer is potentially someone who:

  • is not using their FBB but wants to keep their terminal active at the lowest possible monthly fee; or
  • is someone who is using their terminal for email and weather with accelerated email and weather services such as OCENS Mail and WeatherNet where the 32 kbaud filter is largely unnoticeable; or
  • is someone who typically uses less than 8 or 9 MB of data per month; or
  • is taking discrete, short trips or seasons during which they have clear plans for using their FBB and can put to immediate use the prepaid units they have just purchased.

Not the broadest cross-section of the broadband market is it? Which returns us to our original point. The characteristics and complexities of the SVP plans seem less geared toward promoting the use of Fleet Broadband in the small vessel market than the do to preventing its use elsewhere. Curious. Nevertheless, OCENS stands ready to help you make the airtime decision which is best for your individual needs. Don’t hesitate to contact us at 206.878.8270, sales@ocens.com or visit our website at www.ocens.com.

The Curtain Lifts: Inmarsat Opens Up Prepaid Service to US Customers

Perhaps Noah felt this way when the rains stopped and dry land began to appear. A mixture of ‘Thank goodness’ with ‘It’s about darn time!’  Who knows what or how much it took to break the long-standing impasse with Freedom Wireless over access to the prepaid platform. Regardless, Monday’s announcement from Inmarsat that effective September 1 prepaid airtime plans can be used in the US, its territories and coastal waters came as welcome news.

With the announcement, ISatPhone, BGAN, FleetPhone and Fleet Broadband customers can now benefit from the prepaid plans that have heretofore been off-limits in the US. For IsatPhone customers, prepaid plans can offer lower airtime rates without the overhead of a monthly service fee. Instead, money spent on airtime is used just for that.

Prepaid BGAN plans enjoy not only a low airtime cost but also 2 year validities on most such plans.  This means that customers have two years to use the airtime associated with their prepaid plan.

For the Fleet Broadband customer, the news is noteworthy because it makes accessible to US customers the 60, 100 and 200 unit prepaid Small Vessel Plans (SVP). Although the units linked to these plans only carry 60 day validities and a bandwidth cap of 32 kbaud, the cost per MB to the end-user is half of that associated with most other low volume Fleet Broadband plans, including the SVP’s postpaid sibling.

Disaster management, trip-oriented IsatPhone users and fishing operations working in short-term seasons are just some of the user groups which stand to benefit the most from these newly available prepaid options.  Not to be neglected, however, are those global customers who can now extend the use of their prepaid Inmarsat airtime to their business and pleasure trips to the US. Effective September 1, the units owned by thesee users will automatically begin to work in the US and its territories. One phone, immediately available worldwide at the lowest possible airtime rates.

For further information on the newly available prepaid plans, Inmarsat, or other satellite solutions addressing your communication needs, contact OCENS at sales@ocens.com or 206.878.8270.

Inmarsat Adjusts FleetPhone Plans and Pricing

Inmarsat has announced changes to its FleetPhone airtime plans and pricing.  The two FleetPhone models (Oceana 400 and Oceana 800) provide a fixed phone service where voice communications is the primary requirement or on vessels where additional voice lines are needed for crew or guests.  The solution consists of below-decks equipment which is connected to a small external antenna.

Oceana 800 with antenna

Effective October 1st, 2012 Inmarsat will be closing new activations to the FleetPhone Standard, Allowance and SCAP plans. Users who have not already done so will be automatically moved to the Fleet Phone Small Vessel Plan (SVP) on January 1, 2013. The action collapses all FleetPhone users into either a SVP postpaid option of $120 per month with 200 minutes of included airtime or three SVP prepaid plans of 60 (79), 100 (131) and 200 (263) included units (minutes to PSTN). Prices for these prepaid bundles are $60, $100, and $200 and minutes purchased carry a 60 day validity. As with other Inmarsat systems, prepaid packages for the FleetPhones are not available for use in the United States or its territories.

In a new and puzzling wrinkle, Inmarsat automatically deducts 14 units from a subscriber’s prepaid balance each week if that amount or more is not used in the week. If a subscriber’s balance reaches zero, further usage is blocked until the account is ‘topped-up’. Inmarsat does allow a free phone call from the unit to request a top-up but as soon as the account is topped up, 14 units are again auto-deducted followed by the next applicable weekly charge of 14 units. Finally, if prepaid vouchers are purchased and activated as a batch, all vouchers in that batch must be redeemed within 365 days of batch activation or they will expire.

For further insights on the FleetPhone changes and other options available to address your needs for communication via satellite, please contact OCENS at sales@ocens.com or 206.878.8270.

Is There a Fit for Fleet Broadband?

Rightfully so, there is much gnashing of teeth in regards to Inmarsat’s new Small Vessel Plans for Fleet Broadband and the disjointed path it seems to be pursuing in the marine marketplace for any boat other than a supertanker.  Consequently, interest in Fleet Broadband by fishing vessels, workboats, and pleasure yachts has waned to something in between awful and poor.  Couple this with the thunderstorm of VSAT marketing and promotion and its not too difficult to recognize that Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham presented less of a challenge than that faced by an Inmarsat reseller making another FBB sale into the small vessel market.  Is such an attitude warranted? Is there a place for FBB any longer in the small vessel market?  Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

This contrarian perspective was reinforced yesterday during an enjoyable conversation with a prospective customer who called to discuss his plans for satellite communication on his soon to be commissioned sailing yacht. His opening comments about the new Fleet Broadband MB plans and rates demonstrated he was someone who had been doing his homework and because of them had decided to explore other alternatives that could more cost-effectively address his communication needs.  He indicated those needs were primarily data driven and those along the lines of email, weather and one or two web sites. After a bit we transitioned into a discussion of Iridium, docking stations, external antennas and antenna siting and data rates and he seemed to be committed to the Iridium path.  It all made for a very productive and enjoyable exchange.

But before we ended the conversation, I asked him to revisit his data interests with me. Was he interested in Internet browsing, (no), what kind of email (on the small side with an attachment here and there), what types of weather (charts) and web sites (an ftp site he had crafted to pull files he needed each day).  Given that mix, why had he rejected the Fleet Broadband option? The reason given was that he felt the new per MB rates for data were just too high. He just couldn’t justify spending $15 to $20 per MB on FBB service.

Can you blame him? $15 to $20 per MB does seem high (let’s not kid ourselves, it is high). Isn’t it much easier to stomach $1.29 per minute on the Iridium network for those data sessions? Maybe it is. Or maybe it is until you do the math.

Iridium runs at a speed of 2400 baud (this translates to about 300 bytes per second or 18,000 bytes (18 kb) per minute; for further context this blog entry is about 6000 bytes (6 kb)). At that speed its going to take you almost 56 minutes to move a MB of data through the Iridium network which, using the not uncommon Iridium charge of $1.29 per minute, is going to cost you $72. Add some additional overhead for dropped calls and connect/disconnect delays and you are probably closer to $80/MB. How much did we say it was to move a MB through a FBB? That $15 to $20/MB number now looks incredibly cost-effective.

Let’s look at it a slightly different way. Inmarsat’s Standard FBB plan costs $190 and includes 10 MB of data.  Moving this 10 MB through the Iridium network would run you close to $800. Or taking the perspective of actual usage, I could send 1000 normal (5 to 10 kb) emails through my Fleet Broadband every month without running out of ‘included’ data. If I’m compressing those emails through OCENS Mail, I’m capable of doing something on the order of 5000 or more emails each month with my Standard plan on FBB. And I’m doing this without drops, disconnects and restarts.

Of course, the VSAT interests correctly argue that this same 10 MB would cost just $50 on a V3 system. But in order to get to that first $50, I’ll need to have invested over $14,000 in hardware (and be providing my VSAT hardware a continuous AC feed as there is no DC option with VSAT).  That’s eight to nine thousand dollars more than what I’d be paying today for an FBB 150. If I’m sticking with my 10 MB a month or less plan, its going to take me over 8 years before the additional investment I made in my VSAT begins to pay off. If past practice is any indication of future behavior, I’ll have either sold my boat and bought another or be looking to invest new money in 2020 communication technology that is far superior to what I have available in 2012.

Could I apply the same reasoning to my decision to purchase Iridium instead of FBB? That is, certainly I’ll spend much less on my Iridium setup and I can apply this savings to the ‘extra’ airtime charges I’ll be paying each month.  Well, yes and no. I can spend as little as $1200 or so and be able to run data through the Iridium network. But since I’m going to be transferring data pretty regularly, I’m probably going to get tired of sticking my satphone up the hatch every time I want to check email. So I’ll end up adding an external antenna, cabling and a docking station. In other words, I’ll end up adding another $1000 for a total cost of $2200 for the Iridium package I’m going to go to sea with. That’s a $3000 savings relative to my FBB hardware and only going to buy me about 5 months of usage at my 10 MB standard of living.

In short, returning to our original question and in the context of Iridium (handhelds; the OpenPort/Pilot to FBB contrast is a story for another time with a whole different line of reasoning) and VSAT, FBB can make a great deal of sense.  It does so if my primary applications are email, weather and occasional web access. It does so if I estimate my usage will top out at less than 50 MB per month. And it does so despite the absence of a cohesive Inmarsat strategy for the small vessel market or the tantalizing flirtations put forward by the VSAT marketing machine.