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.

 

 

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.”

Gratefully,
Dave Carroll and Ben Cabo Alaska hunting crew

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.

 

 

Iridium Airtime Plan Comparisons: Prepaid vs. Postpaid

A very common question when choosing an Iridium airtime plan is, “Should I go with prepaid or postpaid?”

The general answer to this question is actually with another question, “Do you plan on using the phone?” In most cases, the answer to this question will put you into one of two categories: 1. Emergency-Only User, or 2. Active User.

Emergency-Only User

Some people purchase an Iridium phone to use strictly for emergencies, so they plan on rarely using airtime, if ever. They simply need the phone to be active and available for that critical situation. In this case, it usually makes the most sense to go with a postpaid plan. There is really only one postpaid plan, which is the Basic plan. It is $49.95 per month for the subscription, which keeps the phone active, and any minutes you end up using are billed at $1.39 per minute. If you don’t use the phone, you are only liable for the monthly subscription fee. The main advantage with this plan is that you have a minimal monthly expense that you can budget and still know your phone will be available for when you need it. The other advantage is that it is an open account so, when you do use the phone, you would be able to use as many minutes as you needed.

Active User

The other group of subscribers are those that are actively using their phone, whether it be year-round or seasonally. Typically, a prepaid plan is more cost effective in the long run if you are using airtime, because there isn’t a subscription fee like the postpaid plan so you are only paying for straight airtime. The detail to be aware of with any prepaid plan is the expiry period. Every prepaid bundle has a different time allotment and the bigger the bundle is, the more time you have to use it.

The best point of comparison between postpaid and prepaid is when you stack the Basic postpaid plan against the 500 minute prepaid plan. The 500 minute prepaid plan is valid for 12 months and the price for a new activation is $745. This is an effective rate of $1.49 per minute. If you take the Basic postpaid plan’s monthly fee of $49.95 and multiply it by 12 months, this works out to $599.40–about $145 less than the 500 minute plan. If you take $145 and divide it by the $1.39 per minute rate of the Basic postpaid plan, this works out to be about 104 minutes, which is your break-even point. So, if you think you will use around 100 minutes or more in 12 months, you’re getting a better value from the 500 minute prepaid plan, since you are effectively getting an additional 400 minutes for the same cost. The one trade-off to this is that you are paying for all of those minutes up front. If you are concerned that you might not use all 500 minutes within the 12 months, don’t worry, as long as your refill your plan (with any amount of minutes) before your expiration date, those remaining minutes would roll over.

If you are a seasonal user, you can do a similar analysis with the 200 minute prepaid plan, which is valid for six months. The price for a 200 minute prepaid bundle is $500 and six months of the Basic postpaid plan plus 200 minutes would be $577.70. In this case, there would be a net savings of $77.70 with the prepaid plan. The 150 and 75 minute prepaid plans are basically a wash when compared to the Basic postpaid plan.

In conclusion, you’ll see the most dramatic savings when comparing the 500 minute or higher prepaid plan with the Basic postpaid plan. Coincidentally, the 500 minute prepaid plan is the most popular amongst our subscribers.

 Regional Plans

There is always a third option, right?

Iridium also offers Regional prepaid plans. Before I get to these, I will point out that even though I stated earlier that there is just one postpaid plan available, there is actually an additional one–the Australia/New Zealand regional postpaid plan. This plan makes the most sense if you are only planning on using your phone in Australia or New Zealand. The subscription is only $34 per month and airtime is just $0.80 per minute. The roaming rates outside of these countries are extremely high with this plan, so even though you can roam with it, we really don’t recommend it.

Getting back to the regional prepaid plans, there are four to choose from: Africa, MENA, Northern Lights, and South America.

The Africa plan is pretty straight forward—it includes roaming in all of the countries in Africa. It costs $320 for 300 minutes and the minutes are valid for 12 months. So, if you are only planning on using your phone within the continent of Africa, this plan offers very good value.

The MENA plan is very similar to the Africa plan, only along with the African countries, it includes most of the countries in the Middle East region as well. This plan costs $460 for 500 minutes which are also valid for 12 months.

If you can’t tell by the name, the Northern Lights plan is a regional plan for only Alaska and Canada. This is a very popular plan for those only using their phone in Alaska or Canada since it offers great value. You get 200 minutes for $199 and they are valid for six months.

The South America plan is for use within all of the South American countries. You get 100 minutes for $199 and they are valid for six months.

Two Trains Depart the Same Station Travelling at Different Speeds…..

Does all of this sound like a high school math story problem? Don’t worry, it probably seems more complicated than it really is. You are always welcome to speak to us about your particular needs so we can help you figure out what plan makes the most sense. The important part is simply to define the main purpose of the phone and where you will be using it. We’re more than happy to help you crunch the numbers!

See all of the Iridium airtime plans here.

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.

Bonjour!
Jeff

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.

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

 

 

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.

Are you taking advantage of existing GPS technology for tracking and emergency messaging?

Most adventure travelers are well-versed in the world of GPS, but are you using this technology so that someone can track you while your are out trekking? This same technology could also help save you by sending a message to emergency response personnel that includes your GPS position.

A tracking portal, such as OTrak, is compatible with virtually any device that can send a GPS position report via SMS, email, or Short Burst Data (SBD). OTrak will receive the position report and place it on a map. It also allows you to set up automated alerts for multiple contacts with a variety of triggers including geofencing, start/stop, speed, and arrival/departure from a position.

Most current smartphones have built in GPS engines, however, when you are outside of cellular coverage areas, your only means of connecting is with a satellite phone. The designers of the new Iridium 9575 Extreme satellite phone included a powerful GPS feature that provides automated GPS position reporting and they also built in a SOS button that works off the same principle. When you push the SOS button, an emergency message is sent that includes your GPS position.

The important point here is to plan ahead and make sure you have a means to call for help when you are out as well as a means for someone to locate you. Current technology makes this capability that much easier and accessible.

You can see complete details and a live demo on OTrak here: http://www.ocens.com/OTrak-Asset-Tracking-Service-W33C28.aspx