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.

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

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.

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

 

 

“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.

 

 

Fleet Broadband Small Vessel Plans: Curiouser and Curiouser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BGAN Prepaid Airtime is Now Available for Use in the U.S.

Inmarsat BGAN prepaid airtime is now available for use in the U.S. beginning Sept. 1st! The new coverage includes currently active plans as well as new activations. With BGAN prepaid, there are no monthly or maintenance fees, any size airtime bundle has a validity of 2 years, and any unused airtime rolls over with a refill before the expiration date.

BGAN prepaid continues to offer preferred rates for use in South America, China, Russia, and the Southern African countries (includes Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe).

Contact OCENS with questions or see the new BGAN Service Agreement and Airtime Plans here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inmarsat Adjusts FleetPhone Plans and Pricing

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

Oceana 800 with antenna

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

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

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

New Iridium Australia and New Zealand Postpaid Regional Plan

OCENS now offers a new Australia and New Zealand postpaid regional airtime plan. The plan is only $25 per month and in-region calls made while within Australia and New Zealand are only $0.80 per minute. Roaming, out-of-region calls are $1.59 per minute. See all of the details on this plan here.