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 Internet: Fixed Site VSAT Service from OCENS

OCENS provides commercial grade VSAT Satellite Internet, the ideal solution for a remote fixed site as well as semi-permanent exploration camps or construction sites.VSAT service is a flat monthly fee that covers all of your internet and data usage and service is available worldwide.OCENS can design and install a complete local area network solution including wireless access points and gateway routers.

OCENS can also integrate compressed multi-line VoIP services that will conserve bandwidth and boasts competitive toll rates as well as unlimited site-to-site calling.

With a complete VSAT solution from OCENS, your site can be online, networked, and have live phones after a single install. You will also receive direct customer support from a single provider for your entire site communications system.

See more details and submit a quote request here.

Basic Computer Networking Terminology

This blog post will go over some basics of networking terminology. To learn more, please visit the references listed at the end of this post or give us a call here at OCENS.

 

Network Designations – the following designations presented here explain networks in context with the Sidekick appliances, though these designations are used throughout Network Engineering.

LAN – stands for Local Area Network. This is the network of device(s) relying on the Sidekick network management appliance for connection, both to each other as well as access to your satellite service. A LAN can be as small as a single computer, or as vast as an entire building and accounts for all the computers, networking equipment, servers, printers, Internet phones, smartphones, tablets, PDAs and more.

WAN –Stands for Wide Area Network. This is the network the Sidekick uses to provide service to the Internet for its LAN. WANs typically refer to the Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) network.

Some other network designations to note:

GAN – Stands for Global Area Network. In short, this is the Internet.

BGAN – Stands for Broadband Global Area Network. Inmarsat primarily uses this designation to refer to their broadband satellite service (FleetBroadband and BGAN terminals)

 

IP Address – Stands for Internet Protocol Address. Every device, when connected to a network, is assigned an IP Address. This allows your device to communicate with other devices and available network resources. Think of this as your cell’s phone number, allowing you to receive and make calls, send text messages, and access other services.

 

DNS – Stands for Domain Name Service. DNS provides a means to attach a name to an IP Address making it easier for us to request resources. An example of DNS being used is when we try to access the Internet: Without DNS, to get to www.google.com we would have to remember the website’s IP Address (173.194.33.46 is google.com). The concept of DNS is similar to that of your Contacts List on your cellphone; it’s MUCH easier to remember your contact’s name then it is to remember their phone number. DNS functions in a similar way, storing network address information associated with the network’s name.

 

Server – a computer or application that is hosting a service. A Mail Server, for example, is generally a computer that is hosting, or providing, email services. If you use OCENS.Mail, the application you install to use our service (called the OCENS.Mail Gateway) is in fact a server application.

 

Client – Usually refers to the recipient, be it computer or application, of a server’s hosted service. For example, a mail client is a software application receiving its mail service from a mail server. iScribe, the mail client we provide for use with the OCENS.Mail Gateway, is a client of the OCENS.Mail Gateway server.

 

Firewall – a specialized type of server. ALL data transmitted over a network is assigned a specific port number, based on the type of data it is. For example, standard website traffic (http) is usually assigned port 80. Secure website traffic, like when you login to your bank account, is usually assigned port 443.

A Firewall controls what ports are open or closed for inbound and outbound traffic flowing through it. Some firewalls are also capable of routing specific ports to specific outbound or inbound IP Addresses. This is called Port Forwarding for inbound traffic, and Port Triggering for outbound. Say you wanted to host your own website from a computer at home. That website would reside with a server application (called a webserver). In order for people to be able to see the website, you would need to set your firewall to forward all inbound web traffic (port 80 typically) to that webserver’s IP Address.

Typically data types flow on their universally assigned port numbers, but it is possible to change those port number assignments, either locally on a specific computer or as a whole on a network, by use of the next term:

 

Proxy – another specialized type of server. Whereas a firewall controls the opening/closing of ports and where specific ports are routed; a proxy controls how data is used within those ports and can assign (and keeps track of) port assignment changes.

Proxy servers stand as an intermediary between their clients, and the resources they are requesting. As such, they are capable of controlling when, how, and if those resources can be accessed. For example: say you want to control what kinds of websites you want available to specific individuals, like children. You would employ a proxy server (called a web proxy) to control who, when, how, and if specific sites can be accessed by specific clients. Typically, when this is done, the web proxy changes the specific port used for outbound web traffic, and the firewall then closes port 80 for outbound traffic, thus disabling someone from trying to get around the proxy.

Proxy servers and their configurations are very complex, and it would be hard for me to explain EVERYTHING they can do in this post, but I will touch on some of the basics as they are used with the Sidekick appliances:

Compression – Compression is a function by which the data is squeezed, or compressed, as small as possible before being sent. This is done to help reduce transmission size and duration.

Captive Portal – Captive portal is a means by which you can control who has access to specific services. For example, if you wanted to control who can access the Internet, you would enable captive portal on a web proxy that would require a login before the Internet can be accessed. Ever been to a Starbucks and used their free Internet service? If so, do you recall their initial page requiring you to agree to their service terms? That is a function of captive portal on a web proxy.

Traffic Shaping – Traffic Shaping, or Quality of Service (QoS for short), is a means of prioritizing specific types of traffic over other types of traffic. For example, suppose you have Internet Phone services on your network. Because of how Internet Phone services function, it’s extremely important that their data reaches its destination as quickly as possible. Utilizing QoS functions in a proxy, you are capable of making sure any Internet Phone traffic is handled and routed the moment it comes in, regardless of whatever else is happening on the network.

Caching – Caching stores commonly used resources at the proxy server for faster access. For example, how often do you access www.google.com? With caching enabled on a proxy, instead of your request to www.google.com going to the internet and waiting for the reply back, the proxy will store the www.google.com page and present it to you when requested. Over a satellite system this also means a cost savings since the proxy, which is local to your network, is providing the requested site instead of your satellite Internet connection.

Whitelists/Blacklists – White/black lists are a means of controlling what kinds of services individuals can access. For example, say you’re a Packer’s football fan and you despise the Vikings. You could set your proxy to allow the Packer’s website through, but block requests to the Vikings site or even re-route requests for the Vikings website to the Packer’s utilizing the functions of whitelists and blacklists. Because of the complexity and the vast amount of sites out there, generating your own blacklist can take quite a long time. Because of this, there are services available that provide a pre-configured blacklist for you. Some are free while others require a usage fee based on what proxy server software they support and the complexity of the list.

Usage Reporting – All proxy servers provide reporting of who did what and when. These reports are useful when evaluating what your satellite airtime is being spent on as well as troubleshooting connection issues when they arise.

 

Least Cost Routing/Failover/Load Balancing

I’m group these topics together because they function similarly and are related; they all are a means of managing and optimizing multiple WAN connections. Some functions can be utilized at the same time, while others are an either/or setup.

Least Cost Routing (LCR) – This is a means of utilizing the most cost affective WAN connection available at the time. For example, say you have a FleetBroadband terminal and Cell Data receiver. Because Internet service is less expensive over the Cell Data receiver you want to route all your Internet traffic over it when the service is available, and switch to the FleetBroadband when it isn’t. This is called Least Cost Routing.

Failover – Failover is VERY similar to least cost routing. Basically, it means that if connection A isn’t available, switch to connection B. Since Least Cost Routing and Failover are pretty much the same function, most setups that utilize one will utilize both at the same time.

Load Balancing – While load balancing is similar to failover and LCR in that it utilizes multiple WANs, how it uses those connections is different. With Load Balancing, the Sidekick takes the inbound/outbound data traffic and spreads the load among the different WAN connections, thus effectively improving service. Load Balancing can function along with Failover since it would switch to the available WAN if another goes down.

 

VPN – Stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a means of joining two networks together, when they aren’t physically together. For example, say you want to have access to your work network (giving you access to it’s supplied resources like printers, servers, ect) from your boat? You would need to setup a “VPN Tunnel” linking the two networks together to act as one. An individual can link to the VPN, or a LAN management appliance (like the Sidekick) can link the entire LAN.

 

VoIP – Stands for Voice over Internet Protocol (IP) this is an emerging service that has been growing and developing quite a bit as of late. The old traditional telephone systems haven’t changed in many many years; but with the increasing demand for additional features like video calls, teleconferences, multimedia presentations and more they just are not capable of keeping up with the newer demands. VoIP however, uses an Internet connection to supply those services and more. Some examples of VoIP technology are Skype, Google Voice, and Vonage. Also, most cellular smartphones provide the ability to utilize VoIP services.

 

References:

If you would like further information regarding the topics in this post these resources can explain more:

Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) – http://www.iana.org

The IANA is the governing authority for maintaining official assignments of port numbers and their uses. They are also the governing authority managing the IP Addressing assignments that make up the Internet. If you are ever interested in how the Internet as a whole functions, IANA and their documentation is a great place to start.

PF Sense – http://doc.pfsense.org/index.php/Main_Page

This is an Open-Source Firewall and Router suite, and their wiki has a lot of useful information regarding their functions.

Squid Proxy – http://www.squid-cache.org/

This is an Open-Source Web Proxy Server, with great documentation and support.

Wikipedia.org  – www.wikipedia.org

Wikipedia it is a great resource for learning and provides useful information and resources. RFC documentation regarding different topics from network designations, TCP/IP functions, DNS and more can be found here. RFC (Request for Comments) documents are the governing documentation for Computer Network Engineering and their underlining technologies.

HowStuffWorks – www.howstuffworks.com

This site is owned by the Discovery channel, and is a great learning resource for explaining how specific things work.

Is There a Fit for Fleet Broadband?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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