WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SATPHONE CONTINUITY? Published in Latitude 38

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
⇑⇓WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SATPHONE CONTINUITY?
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
⇑⇓DIFFICULTY IN CONTACTING SATPHONE SUBSCRIBERS
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
OCENS
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.

Firmware Updates

From time to time satellite phone manufacture’s & carriers come out with updates to their devices. These updates are called firmware updates since they change the devices core functioning software. The updates can do anything from fix bugs found in the previous firmware release(s) to adding new features & tools. Running an outdated firmware means you’re not only missing out on these updates, but can also produce incompatibilities with value-add equipment like docking stations.

As of May 25, 2016 the following are the current firmware versions for these common satellite products:

  • Thrane & Thrane Sailor FleetBroadband – v 1.22
  • Thrane & Thrane Sailor IP Handset –          v 1.17
  • Skipper FleetBroadband 150 –                    v 1.7.0
  • Hughes BGAN 9202 –                                 v 5.8.3.2
  • Hughes BGAN 9201 –                                 v 3.8.1.1
  • Sabre 1 BGAN –                                          v 14.5.1
  • Safari –                                                        v R0.2.0.0
  • iSavi –                                                         v R0.1.1.0
  • Thrane Explorer 700 –                                v 3.08
  • Thrane Explorer 710 –                                v 1.06
  • Iridium Pilot –                                              AO12003
  • Iridium 9575 –                                             HL15002
  • Iridium 9555 –                                             HT15002
  • Iridium GO! –                                              v 1.4.1
  • Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro –                           v 5.11.0
  • Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro 2 –                        v 2

Listed below are the websites where the latest firmware is available. Always consult your owners manual for the steps to take to check the firmware of your satellite device, as well as the procedure on how to update it. Of course, always feel free to contact OCENS if you need any assistance.

INMARSAT

FleetBroadband

http://www.inmarsat.com/support/fleetbroadband-firmware

BGAN

http://www.inmarsat.com/support/bgan-firmware

ISatPhonePro

http://www.inmarsat.com/support/isatphone-pro-support

ISatPhonePro 2

http://www.inmarsat.com/support/isatphone-2-support

IRIDIUM 

9575:

Firmware Version HL15002 for the Iridium Extreme 9575

9555:

Download Iridium 9555 Firmware Upgrade and Instructions

GO!:

Iridium GO! Firmware Version 1.4.1 – Users (ZIP)

BEAM Communications (Inmarsat/Iridium SatPhone Docking Stations)

http://www.beamcommunications.com/common-resources

NOTE- BEAM firmware is located on the support page for each individual BEAM product associated with this link.

 

 

Mandatory Isatphone Pro firmware update

All IsatPhone Pro users must ensure that they update their firmware to version v 5.3.0 before network enhancements are carried out in early 2014.

Features introduced in firmware v 5.3.0 are vitally important for continued use of the IsatPhone Pro service, and users who have not upgraded to the new firmware by the time network enhancements take place, will not be able to register on the network to make or receive calls.

The network enhancements are scheduled to take place on the following dates:

13th January – I-4 Alphasat (EMEA)
27th January – I-4 F3 (Asia-Pacific)
10th February – I-4 F1 (Americas)

No service outages are expected during the network changes.

Firmware version v 5.3.0 is available for download from the Support section of the Inmarsat website:

http://www.inmarsat.com/support/isatphone-pro-support/

To check what version your Ph has please do the following: Menu +> Settings +> About +> Firmware needs to be 5.3.0

 

 

Satellite Tracking Platforms

An attribute inherent in most satellite communications devices is the ability to use them for asset/personnel tracking. I will discuss the various satellite communications platforms and how to implement tracking with each one.

First is a brief summary on how tracking works. The device used for tracking needs to be able to perform two basic functions: 1) acquire a GPS position and 2) send the position report to the internet. Of course, if the position report is being sent, it also needs to be received on the other end. The internet makes this possible and most tracking platforms are web-based, including our own OTrak portal. The portal will receive the report, and plot each position report on a map, and can also perform a myriad of other functions such as geofencing, alerts, speed changes, altitude, heading, etc.

There are many GSM devices that can be used for tracking, but satellite tracking devices are used when GSM is not available or when an asset moves in and out of GSM coverage in order to provide consistent and contiguous reporting. Satellite devices have coverage virtually anywhere since all they need is a line of sight to the sky.

Within satellite platforms there are many different options, but we can break the whole group up into two broad categories: 1) Tracking as an “add-on feature” and 2) Dedicated tracking devices.

Tracking as an “add-on feature”

Several of the handheld satellite phones and most of the larger satellite terminals have built in tracking capabilities.

Handheld Satellite Phones

The Iridium 9575 Extreme is the only handheld satellite phone that can provide stand-alone automated position reporting. It has a built in GPS engine and uses the Iridium SBD (Short Burst Data) service to send position reports. It can also send reports manually via SMS. The Iridium 9555 is capable of sending position reports, but only in conjunction with a docking station that has a built-in GPS engine, such as the Beam 9555SD-G.

The IsatPhone Pro from Inmarsat, on the other hand, can send manual GPS position reports via SMS as a standalone operation and can perform automated reporting when used with a GPS enabled docking station, such as the Beam IsatDock Drive.

Fleet Broadband

Any of the Thrane&Thrane Fleet Broadband terminals can send automated position reports with the latest firmware version. You simply have to go into the tracking menu  in the User Interface (UI) and configure your terminal to report to the tracking portal and then register your terminal’s IMEI in the portal.

BGAN

Similar to Fleet Broadband, any of the Thrane&Thrane BGAN terminals can provide position reporting simply by setting it up in the UI. The Wideye Safari vehicular terminal can also provide reporting directly via the terminal.

 

Dedicated Tracking Devices

Iridium SBD

Iridium can provide dedicated tracking via its SBD service. Terminals are available from both ASE and Beam. The terminal requires an antenna, of which a large variety exist, and an antenna cable which connects the antenna to the terminal. The antenna needs to be installed so that it will have visibility to the sky and the terminal requires a DC power source.

Isat Data Pro

Inmarsat’s small packet data platform, the IsatData Pro, is also frequently used as a dedicated tracking device. The IsatData Pro is a one-piece terminal with a built in omnidirectional antenna and is available in three configurations: Marine, Vehicular, and Dual-Mode. The Marine terminal is slightly taller and provides lower look angles to account for pitch and roll, whereas the vehicular version has a lower profile antenna. The dual-mode terminal incorporates least-cost-routing with GSM as the primary service and satellite as the failover. The IsatData Pro is highly configurable so can be set up to receive and transmit a large variety of data input.

For whatever your tracking needs are, there is most certainly a solution to fit them. If you already have a satellite device and are not using it for tracking, then there is more than likely a way to utilize it as a tracking device in addition to any of the other functions it performs.

Please contact OCENS for more information and to get help with setting up your tracking services.

 

 

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

Handheld Satellite Data: The Importance of Turning Off Internet Applications

A while back, Mark posted a blog article regarding Spyware/Malware and it’s effect on your Satellite connection. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, here’s the link: http://blog.ocens.com/?p=321

Going off this premise, today I’m going to talk about applications that use your Internet connection and their affect on your Satellite data service, ESPECIALLY the handhelds. So first, let’s put these connections into context so it’s something we can understand.

 

Throughput

I apologize in advance… as this will get a little technical, but we will have to pull out some math to explain the underlining concepts.

When talking about files and their size, it’s important to understand the measurement standard used. All data, regardless of what it is, can be broken down to the smallest measurement unit, a bit. A bit is a binary code; think of it as a light switch, it’s either on (1) or off (0) the next measurement up from a bit is a Byte, which is 8 bits. From there, it follows the 1024 sequence of Kilobytes, Megabytes, Gigabytes, Terabytes and so forth:

bit
8 bits = Byte
1024 Bytes = 1 Kilobyte (KB)
1024 KB = 1 Megabyte (MB)
1024 MB = 1 Gigabyte (GB)
1024 GB = 1 Terabyte (TB)

When dealing with a data connection, however, you often hear companies talk about their transfer rate, bandwidth or throughput. This is a measurement of how fast data can be pushed over their service. Think of them as pipes… the faster the throughput, the larger diameter the pipe.

Throughput is measured in how many bits per second you’re able to push across the connection. The abbreviated listing ALWAYS has the “B” in lowercase, which stands for bits, as apposed to the “B” in uppercase, which stands for Bytes. For example, here are some typical connections and their advertised throughput:

Fiber Optic = 1 Gigabit/second [1Gbps] (1,000,000,000 bits per second)
Cable Internet = 30 Megabits/second  [30Mbps] ( 30,000,000 bits per second)
DSL = 7 Megabits/second [7Mbps] (7,000,000 bits per second)
56K Dialup Modem = 56 Kilobits/second [56Kbps] (56,000 bits per second)

Let’s do a little math. Let’s say we have a normal email that we want to send, and we want to attach 3 pictures that total 4Megabytes (MB) the email is fairly large… a page in length, so we will say the measurement of it is 6 Kilobytes (6KB) So, in total, the email size is 4.06 MB (4102 KB) If we break it down to the same measurement as the Throughput (bits) that means the email is 3360584 bits ( 4102 x 1024 x 8 )

Applying the throughput speeds listed, that means the email will take:

.033603584 seconds on Fiber
1.1201195 seconds on Cable
4.800512 seconds on DSL
600.064 seconds on a 56k Modem

So, what about Satellite connections then?

VSAT V3 = 3Mbps (3,000,000 bits per second)
Class 1 BGAN = 492Kbps (492,000 bits per second) (T&T Explorer 700 is a Class 1)
Class 2 BGAN = 464Kbps (464,000 bits per second) (Hughes 9202 is a Class 2)
FBB 150 = 150Kbps (150,000 bits per second)
Iridium 9xxx = 2.4Kbps (2400 bits per second)
Inmarsat ISatPhone Pro = 1.2Kbps (1200 bits per second)

So, that same email would take:

11.20119 seconds on a VSAT V3
68.29997 seconds on a Class 1 BGAN
72.42152 seconds on a Class 2 BGAN
224.0239 seconds on a FBB 150
14001.49333 seconds (that’s 3.89 hours!) on an Iridium handheld
28002.98667 seconds (that’s 7.78 hours!) on an Inmarsat ISatPhone Pro!!

Talk about pushing a watermelon though a garden hose!

Also keep in mind that these are theoretical times, since we haven’t considered overhead data usage to establish and maintain the connection, addressing information, error correction, and other things that occur in a data transfer.

If you take into account issues that can occur like what’s discussed in our blog article Satellite Data Connections Explained (http://blog.ocens.com/?p=296) it’s a feat of engineering that data can be sent at all! And this is just the time spent sending what you WANTED to send… so this brings us to the topic of the article:

 

Applications Internet Usage

Now a day, there are MANY programs running on your computer that utilize the Internet in one way or the other. Operating systems like Windows or Mac OSX use the Internet to pull updates or submit error reports. Internet browsers like Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari & Firefox use the Internet to pull updates as well. Antivirus programs use the Internet to update their virus definitions. Java and Flash pull updates from the Internet. Even hardware drivers can check into the Internet with the intent to pull updates or submit error reports.

On a typical Internet connection this isn’t an issue, and most of these programs are setup to pull these updates without the need for you, the user, to monitor and initiate them.

It’s important to note however, that they only know is that the Internet is “available” not what type of Internet connection it is.

These updates can range widely in size… anywhere from a couple KB all the way up to major updates (like version changes, or service packs) that can be in the MBs or even GBs!! Imagine pulling down Windows 7’s Service Pack 1 (73.7MB through Windows Update) over an ISatPhone Pro connection…

If any of these programs realize an Internet connection is available, and wants to pull an update on slow connection, it will bog that connection down further or even cause the connection to fail completely (watermelon the size of a house trying to go through a garden hose)

On top of that, if your computer contracts malware, spyware or viruses, they all try to push info over the Internet as well.

Then to compound the issue further, you pay for the usage done on a satellite device; per MB on broadband terminals like the FBB 150 or BGAN, or per minute on handhelds like the Iridium 9xxx or Inmarsat ISatPhone Pro.

 

How To Address These Issues

There are a couple ways to combat the issue of moving data over a Satellite Internet connection.

The first is to make sure your computer is clean of spyware, malware and viruses. You can also go through every application on your computer and verify that they are not set to download updates automatically. Though a tedious process, doing so will GREATLY decrease the amount of data trying to be pushed over your connection.

You can also employ devices like the OCENS Sidekick (http://www.ocens.com/Sidekick-Satellite-Wi-Fi-Router-P760C96.aspx) that employs a firewall and proxy server to manage that connection between your Satellite device and your computer, making sure that only the data you want to send is what gets through.

You can also employ services like WeatherNet, OCENSMail and OneMail to compress the data you’re sending… making it as small as possible to save time & money.

Any and all of these products truly are “Value-Add” services meant to maximize the value a Satellite Internet connection provides, while helping minimize the cost of using them.

 

If you have any questions, or would like to know more about maximizing your satellite connection please give OCENS a call.

Satellite Data Connections Explained

Here at OCENS, we often receive calls from customers having issues using data over their handheld Iridium, Inmarsat, or Globalstar handset. Of these calls, 99.99999998% of the time they end up being an issue with poor signal strength. So, today I thought we should help explain what’s occurring when attempting to use a data service over a handheld satellite phone and what kinds of things can affect having a successful connection.

First, let’s explain the differences between the satellite systems, or “constellations,” as the type of constellation has a lot to do with how your satellite phone interacts with it.

 

Satellite constellations for sat-phone services come in two flavors, LEO or GEO:

LEO stands for Low Earth Orbit and is what Iridium and Globalstar use. In a LEO constellation the satellites are orbiting the planet. Iridium’s constellation, for example, has 66 satellites that polar orbit (on a north-south-north orbit) at a speed of 16,832 mph. At that speed, it takes roughly 100 minutes for any given Iridium satellite to do a complete orbit of the Earth. To help bring this closer to home; at those speeds it means the satellites take roughly 9 minutes to move from horizon to horizon. Suffice it to say, those satellites are moving FAST.

The advantage of a LEO constellation is that you can have truly global coverage. No matter where you are located on the Earth if you have a clear view of the sky you will have a satellite available. The disadvantage, however, is that because the location of the satellites are constantly changing so is the quality of the signal. Also, various elements of the area around you can have a great impact on your signal as the location of the satellites change. We will discuss both of these issues in depth later in this post.

 

GEO stands for Geostationary. An example of a GEO constellation would be Inmarsat’s satellites. Inmarsat’s I4 satellites (providing service to their iSatPhone and FleetBroadband/BGAN systems) are a 3-satellite, High Orbit Geostationary constellation sitting at 22,240 miles above the Earth at the equator.

The advantage of a GEO constellation is that as long as you have “Line of Sight” to one of the satellites, your signal from the satellite is assured. The disadvantages of a GEO, however, are that if you lose “Line of Sight” to the satellite, you will never regain signal until you move to a position where “Line of Sight” is restored. Also, as you move to higher latitudes north or south the angle of your “Line of Sight” drops closer to the horizon and the distance through which your satellite phone must operate to reach the satellite increases.

 

Signal Strength

When talking about signal strength, it’s important to remember that it’s a two-way transaction between the satellite and your satellite phone. The “signal bars” that display on your phone show how well your phone can “hear” the satellite; but they do not, however, show how well the satellite can hear the phone.

When trying to explain the communication relationship between satellites and satellite phones, I like to use a reference involving two people having a conversation. One of those individuals is speaking in a normal tone of voice.  The other has a megaphone. It’s also important to remember that this communication is “Line of Sight” meaning that both parties have to be looking each other in the eye while having this conversation (kind of a funny conversation, isn’t it??)

When signal issues occur, it literally means one of two problems:

  1. Phone can not “hear” the satellite
  2. Satellite can not “hear” the phone

Of those two problems, the MAJORITY of the time it’s because the satellite cannot “hear” the phone because the return signal from the phone is always going to be weaker. Because of this it is much more susceptible to interference.

A popular area where this occurs is in places like a marina where there are an abundance of additional signals occurring within that space: radar signals, RF signals, WiFi signals, and even other satellite devices… all these things can affect the communication between your satellite phone and its constellation. If we go back to our example, imagine a room full of people all talking at the same time and you trying to have a conversation with the megaphone person located on the other side of the room. While you may be able to hear the megaphone clearly, it will be almost impossible to have an enjoyable two-way conversation given the difficulty megaphone man will have in hearing you.

Antenna placement can also affect your signal quality. If you place your satellite antenna too close to something like a radar antenna it’s like trying to have a conversation with a person standing right next to someone else that’s a chatterbox. Now apply the concepts of a LEO, where the satellite (person you are talking to) is constantly moving around the room.  You may be able to barely hear each other while the person is on one side of the room, but as you (or they) move in the direction of the chatterbox, a robust conversation becomes impossible.

 

The Differences between Voice & Data Calls

If you’ve ever called in and talked to one of our technical support people, you’ve probably heard us say that you need “at least 4 bars of signal” when attempting a data call. The reason for this is as follows:

In a voice call, information is sent as it’s created. As you talk, your voice is converted to a signal that’s “streamed” through the system to your recipient on the other end.  Signal strength and quality come into play in how much of your conversation is heard between you and the person you are calling. If you hear words being “chopped off” or “dropped,” or the call itself drops it’s because there is interference. HOWEVER, the over all assessment of the success of your conversation lie with you and your party on the other end. You decide if you understand what’s being said and when to end the call. (The caveat being a complete signal loss, where the call is then terminated.)

In a “Data Call,” however, a whole new set of rules apply. Data is transmitted in containers called “Packets” The majority of data transfers use a protocol called TCP, which stands for Transmit Control Protocol, to send these packets. It’s not really important within the scope of this article to explain all of how TCP works; but what IS important to understand is that this is a two-way rule. When a packet is transmitted, a confirmation is sent from the recipient back to the sender before the next packet is sent. If the sender never gets the confirmation, the connection is considered “Lost” and the data transfer fails. Doing this ensures that all the information requested is received correctly. Applying our example again, imagine having to follow these rules when having a conversation, while also having the “noisy room” conditions explained in the previous section. Kind of a difficult and daunting task, isn’t it?

Because of this TCP rule, signal strength and quality play a MUCH more important role in the ability to transmit data than they do in a voice call. If at anytime one party to a data call does not receive the confirmation it’s waiting for then the TCP rules state that the data is lost.  The data conversation terminates and you have to attempt the data call again, use more of your money, more of your plan’s minutes, and more frustration and headaches. Ensuring that you have the best signal possible when attempting a data call ensures that you have the best chance of making sure both parties in the conversation are able to successfully follow the TCP protocols rules.

 

Hopefully this post helps to better explain what’s occurring when you attempt a data call. If you have any questions, or if you would like to know how to improve your satellite phone’s ability to send data, please give OCENS a call.

OCENS launches its EMC² line for disaster recovery and business continuity communications.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

OCENS launches its EMC² line for disaster recovery and business continuity communications.

 Seattle, WA

September 28, 2012

OCENS Inc. of Seattle, WA recently launched its new EMC² (Emergency Mobile ComCenter) line consisting of kits that provide communications for disaster recovery and business continuity. Kits range from a single satellite phone to a satellite internet hotspot with up to 11 independent phone lines. Every kit comes in a watertight and crush resistant Pelican case and includes a backup battery, solar charging panel, and backup lighting. Kits weigh anywhere from 5 to 28 lbs., and each is small enough to be used as a carry-on. The Standard and Team kits feature a Pelican case with wheels and a pull handle and that is dimensionally small enough to fit in an overhead bin.

The EMC² uses satellite technology so that you can make calls or get online when landlines and/or cellular networks are down. The ComCenters are designed for on-demand use and come bundled with airtime that is valid for two years. Additional airtime can be added on at any time.

All but the Voice Only kit include a satellite hotspot, called BGAN, that provides an internet connection with 3G/4G speeds, has built in WiFi, and a built in phone line that can be used simultaneous to the data connection. The “Team” kit editions include 9 smartphones that are preconfigured for voice calls over the BGAN connection and can also be used to access the internet and email.

The BGAN terminal is powered by a lithium-ion battery and every kit includes a GoalZero backup battery and solar charger. The backup battery will fully charge the BGAN terminal and can also charge phones, laptops, and other devices and can be fully recharged via the solar panel in approximately 4-6 hours.

The kits also include a GoalZero Solo solar charging LED flashlight and all but the Voice Only kit include a GoalZero Estrella 3 watt LED light.

The EMC² kits provide an easy and cost-effective solution for Emergency Managers and Business Continuity Planners because everything you would need to operate an emergency communications center is included. Satellite technology makes it very reliable and a completely ubiquitous communications platform. The solar charging component makes it that much more independent since it can remain operational even during power outages. OCENS adds further value to its kits by bundling in VoIP services and airtime that is valid for two years with no monthly or additional costs. This makes it easy for a business to budget for a complete backup system and amortize its operational costs over 24 months. For the grant writer, it provides a single fixed cost which removes the complexity of factoring in a budget for ongoing monthly subscription costs.

OCENS is a satellite service provider that is continuously innovating and adding value for satellite voice and data services and is proud to support its new line of Emergency Mobile ComCenters. See the complete EMC² line and full products details here: hwww.ocens.com/disaster

OCENS is a provider of a broad range of fixed and mobile satellite communications solutions for industries such as business continuity / disaster recovery, first responders,  military and private security, wildland firefighting, mining and exploration, oil and gas, forestry, and broadcasting, as well as leisure activities such as overland travel, hunting, adventure sports, and maritime. Products and services include mobile satellite phones and hotspots, asset and personnel tracking, SCADA, backup communications, VoIP, network controls and metering, web and email compression, and weather services. OCENS tailors complete solutions to meet the customer’s specific needs and offers consistent support to the end-user throughout the use of its products and services.

Contact: Matt Haase, Sales Manager-Land Mobile Division

Tel: (206) 878-8270

Fax: (206) 878-8314      

Email: matt@ocens.com         

Web: www.ocens.com

 

 ###

“Be Prepared” Satellite Phone Voice Services: What does it cost to save a life?

The cost-of-ownership for Iridium, Globalstar and the IsatPhone Pro’s handheld voice services are compared. IsatPhone Pro’s hardware prices and newly available prepaid airtime plans establish it as the lowest cost option for always-ready emergency voice communications.

Perhaps it’s simply because you like to be prepared, just in case the car gets stuck on the way home from this winter’s ski trip. Or just in case the next hurricane knocks out all the phone lines and cellular service between here and who knows where. Or maybe just in case you break a leg on your next back-country hiking or hunting trip. Whatever the reason, you’ve realized the only way to talk to someone to ask for help in a crisis without conventional communications is to have a mobile satellite phone handy. Now what do you do? And what is the least expensive means of satisfying your passion for preparedness without having to pinch every other penny in your possession?

Before diving into our analysis of available options for “just-in-case” satellite voice systems, one simple truth needs to be addressed. Like any cell phone, a satellite phone that isn’t activated under an airtime plan is nothing more than an expensive paperweight. Furthermore, if you’ve waited to activate your satellite phone until your emergency actually happens, you’ve waited too long. The whole reason you’re considering a satellite phone is because you’re concerned about losing communications during a natural disaster or personal emergency. What do you need to activate a satellite phone? Yes, communications.  What have you just lost with your regional, local or personal emergency? That’s right, communications. So indeed, you’ve saved yourself from paying a monthly service fee for your satellite phone’s airtime plan by purchasing that satellite phone and putting it in the drawer inactivated. In so doing, you’ve also emasculated the potential of this phone to possibly save your life. Consequently, any meaningful analysis of the costs-of-ownership of a life-saving satellite phone has to consider up-front hardware AND on-going airtime costs.

Three competitors presently vie to provide you with your just-in-case voice solution. There’s Iridium, the seasoned veteran with its 9555 and Extreme 9575 phones. Globalstar, injured and out of commission for five years but returning in 2013 with high hopes of climbing back into the mix. And then there is the IsatPhone, new to the handheld game but aggressively priced and carrying with it Inmarsat’s heritage of success in fixed phone installations.

Iridium

Of the three competitors, Iridium is the only truly global satellite phone. Pole-to-pole coverage grants to the Iridium network unprecedented reliability and access to voice communications no matter where you roam.  But such system capability doesn’t come cheap. Its 9555 phone is routinely priced around $1200. The high-end 9575 Extreme does contain built-in GPS which can be accessed for personal tracking and its SOS button can be triggered for emergency help but you’ll need to shell out almost $1500 to purchase the 9575 phone.

Iridium airtime service doesn’t do anything to lighten your cost-of-ownership. The least expensive way to keep an Iridium phone active and relevant to you as a communication solution during an emergency is with a postpaid airtime plan. Whereas Iridium once offered a postpaid voice-only plan that creative resellers were able to market for as little as $25 per month, Iridium slammed that door shut in mid-2012. As such, their least expensive postpaid plan now runs almost twice as high at $45 per month ($540 per year). This excludes any of the per minute charges you’d actually pay when you talk over the phone (although if the issue is getting someone to you in time to save life and property, the per minute rate you’re paying is probably the least of your concerns). Couple that with the price of the 9555 or 9575 and your first year cost-of-ownership with Iridium runs between $1700 and $2000! Global coverage is great but if emergency voice communication is your criterion and cost is a deciding factor, you are paying an awful lot to make sure you can make such a call from the North Pole.

Globalstar

The Globalstar system has been largely offline since early 2007 when solar radiation zapped the duplex transceivers on the majority of the satellites in the Globalstar constellation. As such, no matter how inexpensive or cost-effective Globalstar airtime has been since 2007, the lack of Globalstar coverage over the past five years has excluded it from any consideration as a just-in-case satellite solution. But the company has been inching its way back to being a bona-fide sat com provider in 2011 and 2012 and should complete the re-launch of its constellation by early 2013. In September 2012, most locations in the Globalstar footprint (see coverage map below) receive 45 to 50 minutes of coverage in a given hour.  This amount of up-time and the imminent launch completion convinces us it should now play a role in your just-in-case satellite phone considerations.

 

GlobalStar Coverage Map

Globalstar’s 1700 phone sells for $499. Because of the state of its network, the company has been offering unlimited airtime at the unheard of rate of $40 per month. Amazingly, if you have an active phone and can find a working satellite, you will spend less to talk through the Globalstar satellite network than you will on most cell phone plans.

However, because I’m going to assume you wouldn’t mind paying $10 a minute if it will save your life, the fact that Globalstar’s $40 per month provides unlimited talk time is largely irrelevant to our calculus here.  What we’re more interested in right now is knowing it will cost me $480 for my first year of Globalstar airtime to be prepared to make that all-important one or two minute call for help. Combining $480 in annual airtime costs with the $499 price of the Globalstar 1700 and the first year cost-of-ownership with Globalstar is $979, almost one-half the first year cost of Iridium. It’s hard to say what Globalstar will do with its airtime plans once the full satellite constellation is in place (prior to the Globalstar constellation demise in 2007, low end airtime plans were in the $50 per month range), but right now in late 2012, it costs you much less to buy and maintain an active Globalstar phone than it does with Iridium.

Inmarsat

Your third option is Inmarsat’s IsatPhone Pro. Inmarsat has been a global leader in satellite communications for decades, but it entered the handheld market only very recently (in the US not until late 2010). Although coverage extends from 70N to 70S, the fact that its geostationary satellites are positioned at the equator makes an IsatPhone Pro sensitive to the direction the antenna on the handheld phone is pointed, particularly at higher latitudes. Users above about 45 degrees of latitude must have clear views of the sky to the south and orient the phone’s antenna in that direction to minimize signal drop.

Aside from these limitations, the IsatPhone is an excellent solution for voice communications. Voice quality is high and because those Inmarsat satellites aren’t moving, once you’ve achieved a signal lock, the connection is very stable. The price of the phone is around $700 after an Inmarsat price hike in early 2012. This has been more than compensated for by Inmarsat with its globalization of prepaid service on September 1, 2012. This change lowered the annual cost of airtime service to less than $200 for the IsatPhone Pro and consequently has elevated the phone’s status as a cost-effective, “just-in-case” satellite solution immeasurably.

The minimum year one cost of ownership for the IsatPhone and airtime service is under $900 ($897 for a complete hardware/airtime kit from OCENS).  This is almost $100 less than Globalstar and less than half the cost of Iridium. The IsatPhone Pro’s comprehensive coverage (both temporally and geographically) gives it a further leg up on Globalstar.

The following chart offers a summary comparison of year one costs of hardware and airtime from the three providers:

Cost Comparison Chart

Inmarsat’s low annual airtime cost also means it delivers to you the lowest on-going cost year-in, year-out.  Second and later year costs of operation of the IsatPhone Pro are $300to $350 less than Globalstar or Iridium.

Ongoing Cost Comparison Chart

Consequently, IF your objective is the least expensive route to accessible satellite phone voice communications just in case everything goes to heck in a hand basket, the IsatPhone is your answer. It does this by merging middle-of-the-road hardware costs for its handheld phone with annual airtime costs substantially below Iridium and Globalstar.

 CLICK HERE to see the OCENS IsatPhone Pro “Be Prepared” kit.

 

 

New Press Release: OCENS adds the Hughes 9202 BGAN terminal to its rental fleet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

OCENS adds the Hughes 9202 BGAN terminal to its rental fleet.  

Seattle, WA

September 12, 2012

OCENS Inc. of Seattle, WA recently added the new Hughes 9202 BGAN terminal to its already extensive satellite phone and BGAN rental fleet. The 9202 was released by Hughes this year and is the newest Inmarsat BGAN terminal on the market. BGAN uses the Inmarsat satellite network to provide a high speed internet and simultaneous voice connection with coverage virtually anywhere in the world between 60N and 60S latitudes.

The Hughes 9202 is the ideal solution for a traveler or worker who will need an internet connection wherever he may find himself but also needs to pack as light as possible. With simply a 9202 and a smartphone or tablet, you can have a mobile internet and voice connection virtually anywhere you go.

The next generation 9202 inherited many great features from Hughes’ previous flagship terminal, the 9201, only the designers streamlined it and packed it into a form factor that is about half the weight and size. Hughes also added an analog RJ11 port so you can connect any analog POTS handset to make calls. The new UI (User Interface) is sleek and user friendly and the browser-based interface is also mobile and tablet friendly. With the 9202, the cryptic LED light strip of the 9201 was exchanged for a user-friendly backlit LCD display that allows you to access the entire settings menu.

Popular features that were passed down from the 9201 include onboard WiFi, a built in compass, audible pointing, a high capacity lithium-ion battery, and ISDN capabilities.

Where the 9201 is a Class 1 terminal, it has a maximum throughput on a standard IP connection of 492 kbps. The 9202, a Class 2 terminal is limited to 464 kbps, albeit a negligible difference in speed. A Class 1 terminal, however, can provide the full spectrum of Inmarsat’s streaming (dedicated bandwidth) service which is up to 384 kbps. The 9202 is limited to 128 kbps streaming. For most users, though, this is an easy trade-off for having a terminal that is 50% smaller.

The 9202 rental package comes standard with a watertight Pelican case, AC charger with international adapters, cat5 network cable, and quick-guide instructions. Optional rental accessories include a compact analog handset and DC car charger. Prepaid data airtime is available in 20, 40, and 100MB bundles as well as pay-as-you-go. OCENS can ship same day to anywhere in the world.

OCENS was one of the first service providers to offer the 9202 terminal as a rental option, and like the rest of its product line, boasts very competitive pricing and outstanding customer support.

OCENS is a provider of a broad range of fixed and mobile satellite communications solutions for industries such as mining and exploration, oil and gas,  forestry, wildland firefighting, business continuity / disaster recovery, broadcasting, emergency response, military and private security, as well as leisure activities such as overland travel, hunting, adventure sports, and maritime. Products and services include mobile satellite phones and hotspots, asset and personnel tracking, SCADA, backup communications, VoIP, network controls and metering, web and email compression, and weather services. OCENS tailors complete solutions to meet the customer’s specific needs and offers consistent support to the end-user throughout the use of its products and services.

 

Contact: Matt Haase, Sales Manager-Land Mobile Division

Tel: (206) 878-8270

Fax: (206) 878-8314      

Email: matt@ocens.com         

Web: www.ocens.com

###