Travelling Internationally? Consider a Satellite Phone Rental.

We’ve put together a new analytical tool to make it helpful for you to compare international roaming rates on the major cellular carriers with the cost of renting an Iridium satellite phone. Besides the cost savings that you can experience in many instances, and which you’ll see in the examples below, you gain the following advantages by having a satellite phone along with you:

Iridium will work anywhere in the world–literally anywhere. Where cellular is limited to areas in which towers are present, a satellite phone uplinks directly to a satellite, and Iridium’s satellite constellation provides 100% worldwide coverage.

A satellite phone has one universal rate. Regardless of where you are calling from and where you are calling to, the rate on a satellite phone call is going to be exactly the same. With cellular, international roaming rates can vary greatly from country to country and can even vary from network to network within a country. Besides roaming rates, you also could be liable for international toll rates, depending on where you are calling to.

Incoming calls are free on a satellite phone. Direct incoming calls are always free on a satellite phone. With cellular, you’ll be liable for the international roaming rates regardless of an inbound or outbound call.

A satellite phone has extended battery life and is built rugged. Satellite phones are designed to be used in remote areas and in the outdoors, so they are built very rugged and weatherproof. They also pack a lot more battery power than your average cellular phone, so you don’t have to worry as much about frequent recharges. The Iridium 9555’s battery provides around 30 hours of standby time.

We’ve created a complete international roaming rate matrix for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint which allows you to quickly compare costs by country. You can see each one in the links below:  





The following are a few example scenarios to illustrate the potential cost differences between roaming internationally and renting a sat phone, and they don’t take into account the previously mentioned benefits of having a satellite phone on hand (such as coverage):

Example 1: Let’s say you are taking a three week trip to South America and you plan on being in Argentina for a week, Chile for a second week, and Peru for a third week. You plan on using 120 minutes of calling time each week (about 17 minutes per day). If your carrier is Verizon, your roaming costs alone would be $598.80 for week one, $279.79 for week two, and $346.80 for week three for a total of $1225.39. This same trip with AT&T would cost you $720.00 and with T-Mobile, you would be paying $1328.40. Sprint would run you $822.38. Your cost for an Iridium phone rental with the same amount of airtime would be just $549.

Example 2: You’re taking a one week trip to Russia and are only planning on using 60 minutes of calling time. Verizon will charge you $244.39 and T-Mobile and Sprint would both cost $359.40 in roaming fees. The cost for an Iridium phone rental with 60 minutes of airtime would be just $153.00.

Example 3: You’re going on a two week safari in both Tanzania and Zambia. You plan on using 120 minutes throughout the trip. With Verizon, you’ll pay anywhere from $279.79 to $483.79, T-Mobile $718.80, and Sprint anywhere from $483.79 to $598.80. The cost for an Iridium phone rental with 120 minutes of airtime would be $282.00.

Do you travel internationally frequently?

If so, another perspective is to consider simply owning a satellite phone, such as the entry-level-priced IsatPhone Pro. After the initial investment of $699 to own that phone, you would have access to the following global prepaid airtime bundles: 25 minutes for $30, 50 minutes for $55, 100 minutes of $99, and 250 minutes for $245, as well as larger bundles. Using the most dramatic example of the South America trip above, the price of a new phone plus 250 prepaid minutes would still be over $300 less than the roaming costs on T-Mobile and over $200 less than Verizon. See more details on the IsatPhone Pro here.

So, before you plan your next international excursion, consider which mobile communications device is going to provide the best value in terms of costs, coverage, and capabilities. See details on the Iridium rental program here. 

You can see more details on OCENS’ entire line of products, services, airtime, and rentals at:


Inmarsat Mini-M & Fleet Classic LES Changes

As of January 1, Land Earth Station (LES) 015 is no longer available for use. If you are an OCENS customer with an Inmarsat Mini-M or a Fleet 33/55/77 (Fleet Classic) terminal, and use it in the LES 015 region please contact us here at the Office so we can provide you with new LES info.


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/

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/

Bonjour is now re-enabled.

I hope this tip helps you to understand your system a litte bit more.


OCENS Software and Windows 8 compatibility

With Windows 8 now being on the market for several months, it is understandable to wonder if OCENS software will work without compatibilties issues  on Windows 8. This article is aimed to make known that the only bone of contention found when using OCENS software with Windows 8 is due to the Windows 8 driver signature enforcement, a new implementation by Microsoft aim against bad drivers installation

OCENS customers will bump into this signature enforcement barrier when trying to install the drivers related to their specific comunication systems (Satellite devices). Following are the steps to take to resolve this issue.

Disable Driver Signature Enforcement in Windows 8
How to install an unsigned driver on Windows 8

Windows 8 by default will not let you install unsigned drivers. In order to install an unsigned driver, you can follow the steps shown below to start Windows 8 in “Disable Driver Signature Enforcement” mode.

Move the cursor over the top or bottom right corner or the screen and it will show extra options on the right side of the screen (This is the new Charm Bar in Windows 8).

Choose the Settings option (icon looks like a Gear).

Choose “Change PC settings” option

Choose “General”

Choose the “Restart now” from the bottom of the list on the right

Click “Troubleshoot”

 Click “Advanced options”

Click “Startup Settings

Choose “Restart”

Choose the “Disable driver signature enforcement” option

Once Windows restarts you will be able to continue and install your satellite phone device drivers.

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:

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.



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:

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 ( 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 ( 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.

Changing Your Signature in iScribe

when OCENS.Mail and iScribe are installed a default email signature is setup to help remind your recipients that you’re connected to a satellite system, and to keep their messages short. If you ever want to change the signature to something different & more personal here’s how to do it:

1. In iScribe go to File & Options
2. in the Options menu screen click on the Accounts tab
3. in Accounts click on the Properties button

From the Account Properties you can change the signature. At the bottom of the window is a Signature XML field that displays the current signature. Just edit that field to display whatever message you desire, then click OK to save it.

That’s it for changing the signature in iScribe. keep in mind that this is just for iScribe, if you use a different email client, like Thunderbird or Outlook, then you will need to look up the procedure for changing the signature within your selected email client program.

Motorcyles + Dirt + Festive Crowd = Adventure Days

I had the privilege of spending the last weekend at the RawHyde ranch in the foothills above Castaic, CA  for the first annual Adventure Days rally and and trade show. Adventure motorcycling enthusiasts are very familiar with the RawHyde ranch as it is the premier official BMW training facility for adventure riding. Jim Hyde, the founder of RawHyde, and his crew put together a fantastic and first of its kind event which forms part of long term campaign branded as ADV Life, and one that will greatly contribute to the growth of the industry and sport, unify enthusiasts, and connect riders to suppliers.

RawHyde Ranch

Adventure Days provided the following benefits to attendees:

1. A well attended rally with three full days of riding and professional riding instruction from the RawHyde staff.

2. A full schedule of classes on topics ranging from emergency bike repair, GPS basics, first aid and survival techniques (taught by Navy Seals, no less), international travel and logistics, and satellite communications among others.

3. An opportunity for riders to speak with core vendors in the industry, see and demo new products, and even have their bikes inspected and fitted with new components and accessories.

4. Days and nights full of comradery, fantastic cuisine, and even live music to add to the festivities.

Acres of adventure at the RawHyde ranch.

I had the opportunity to teach a class on satellite communications to a very receptive audience and to demo the newest satellite communications equipment such as the Hughes 9202 BGAN terminal, which is the most compact and versatile satellite internet hotspot available as well as the feature-loaded Iridium 9575 Extreme satellite phone, which provides coverage anywhere on the earth’s surface and has built in GPS position reporting as well as an SOS button. Both are very essential tools when travelling off of the beaten path and allow you go anywhere while staying connected.

Training Day-RawHyde style

As is to be expected, Jim Hyde and Co. pulled out all the stops for this event. If you weren’t able to make it this year, make sure to mark it on the calendar for next year.

Many thanks to Jim Hyde and staff and all of the vendors and partners that made Adventured Days 2012 such a great event. I look forward to seeing you at Adventure Days 2013!

See the Adventure Days website here:

Adware’s Impact on your Satellite Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price Changes Looming from Iridium

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

Closure of Some Plans

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

Increases in Postpaid, Crew and Paging Monthly Access Fees

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

Prepaid Plan Price Increases

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

Prepaid Plan Closures

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

Prepaid Minute Expiration

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

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

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

This is a permanent policy change by Iridium.

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

New Services from Iridium

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

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

Addendum 1: Prepaid Minute Expiration Scenarios



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.