Best satellite hotspot for Africa, Middle East and Australia

Are you planning to hunt or travel in Africa?   Though cellular coverage in Africa has made great strides in recent decades, traveling in remote areas of Africa still requires a satellite phone.  The newest satellite phones are compact portable satellite hotspot devices designed to work with your smart phone or tablet.  You can make phone calls, send texts and even browse the web using a free app.  In a life-threatening emergency, you can send an S.O.S. message with the press of a button.

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Paying Too Much for Inmarsat Broadband?

Inmarsat offers broadband internet services using small portable or vehicular terminals.  These include Inmarsat BGAN,  FleetBroadband (for marine applications), and its new entry-level service called IsatHub.

Paying too much?   What you can't see could be hurting you.

A common complaint by Inmarsat broadband users is that they experience higher usage costs than they originaly expected.  The main reason for this is a lack of awareness of the typical usage patterns of modern computers and tablets.  Notebook computers are configured to use the internet to update their software, check email, browse the web, backup data... all in the background.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce or block background traffic while you are using an Inmarsat broadband device.  Upcoming articles on this blog will give some practical examples of how to do this on Windows, Macintosh, iOS and Android platforms.

What is a MB anyway?

A bit is a 0 or a 1.  A byte is 8 bits.  A megabyte (MB) is 1024 x 1024 bytes or 8,388,608 bits.   So, now you know.

Many users are not aware of how many megabytes are consumed by typical activities. Emailing a digital photo might consume between 0.5 MB and 5 MB.  Visiting consumes about 0.25 MB -- before you even search for anything.

Standard IP internet access over Inmarsat is billed by the MB.  A typical rate might be $6.95 per MB.   A class II BGAN terminal, like the Cobham EXPLORER 510 could transmit at 300 kbps (typical).   By the way 300 kbps is 300 x 1024 = 307,200 bits per second.  So, at that rate, you can transmit a MB in 8,388,608 bits / 307,200 bits per second or 27.3 seconds.   That means that at $6.95 per MB you can spend around $15 per minute.   If you are one of those Inmarsat broadband users with higher than expected usage costs, hopefully I now have your attention.

Paying too much for Inmarsat internet access?

Fortunately, there are ways to block unseen background internet usage. There are also ways to control and limit necessary foreground usage.  For example, you can compress web graphics or check email without downloading attachments.

As an Airbus Defense and Space Elite Partner, Outfitter Satellite has the resources and knowledge you need to empower you to reduce your unnecessary Inmarsat traffic.  This article discusses firewalls and compression software.   Future blogs will discuss Best Practices for individual operating systems.

Recommendation #1:  Use Optimized Email Software

SkyFile is one of several free email software packages available to Outfitter Satellite customers.   SkyFile requires a Windows computer.   It includes a powerful compression feature and the ability to review the text of an email before downloading its attachments.  SkyFile also has a web interface that allows email reception via the terrestrial internet when you're not in the field using a BGAN.

If you want to receive email from your regular email account, simply forward it to your SkyFile email address while you are using the BGAN.   To find out how to forward email from one account to another email account Google "forward outlook email" or "forward gmail", etc.

Recommendation #2:  Use a Firewall and Compression Services

The Airbus Terralink Data Manager (TDM) includes a firewall located at the Inmarsat PoP that can control the traffic types being passed.   For example, if you are only interested in using email, one simple configuration of the TDM firewall would be to block all traffic except SkyFile traffic.

The TDM firewall can also whitelist certain IP addresses while blacklisting all others.  This can be useful if limited web browsing is necessary.

The TDM includes web compression and web filtering services that can reduce download costs on graphics by up to 40%.

Finally, the TDM can offer near real-time traffic reports to the user online.  These reports can help the user determine where usage costs are coming from.  That is certainly the first step if you want to avoid paying too much for Inmarsat traffic.

Recommendation #3: Use an Optimizer Wi-Fi Hotspot

The Optimizer HotSpot is a small portable Wi-Fi hotspot with a built-in firewall.  By default, it blocks all traffic except traffic from its associated XGate email and XGate web browser software.

The Optimizer Hotspot does have the disadvantage that you need external power, but it provides extremely tight control.   It virtually eliminates unwanted usage traffic and assures you are not paying too much for Inmarsat internet traffic.

The Optimizer Hotspot has an Ethernet WAN port that is connected to the corresponding port on the BGAN.   Multiple Windows, Macintosh, iPad and Android devices can be simultaneously connected to the Optimizer via Wi-Fi.  Just download free software or a free app.

Xgate's email package has a built-in Fetch capability that pulls new emails off your regular email account so you don't even need to forward your email.

Wait for More Inmarsat Best Practices Articles

Hope this article has given you some ideas on how to keep your Inmarsat broadband costs down.   Please check out our BLOG again for more articles about avoiding paying too much for Inmarsat by configuring your Windows, Macintosh, iOS, or Android device to reduce unnecessary background traffic.  It's easier than you think.

*All rates and prices are provided Valid through December 1,  2015.  Rates and prices are subject to change without notice.


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Inmarsat Video Made Easy

Anyone that has used video conferencing services over Inmarsat realizes it's expensive.  This article does not cover Inmarsat video streaming solutions specifically developed for broadcast quality media.  Instead, the article focuses on practical videoconferencing.

Budget sensitive Inmarsat video solutions that keep usage costs under tight control are available.

History of Inmarsat Video

During the early years of the Iraq War which started in 2003, Outfitter Satellite offered videoconferencing equipment like the Talking Head 2.  It used the ISDN 64 kbps data supplied by an Inmarsat GAN terminal like the Thrane and Thrane Capsat Messenger.  The combined cost of this hardware was around $16,000.  The 64 kbps GAN data cost users around $7 per minute.

The video quality of the Talking Head 2 was poor.  If the news reporter transmitting the story kept their head still and there weren't any large moving objects in the back scene, the quality was decent.   If a large object moved across the screen behind them, the video compression algorithm simply couldn't keep up and everything became a blur.

In 2010, Inmarsat BGAN or Broadband Global Area Network was launched.  Small portable BGAN terminals offered Standard IP data speeds up to 492 kbps.  Specialized ISDN-based products like the Talking Head 2 were no longer necessary.   In fact, software-based solutions using a Windows PC or Macintosh computer could be used.  The BGAN hardware cost was typically around $3000.

In addition to Standard IP data, Streaming IP data with a minimum Quality of Service or QoS is also available.  Various streaming speeds include 128 kbps, 176 kbps, 256 kbps, 384 kbps X-stream and High Data Rate HDR up to 800 kbps.  These services are billed by the minute of connection time and are very expensive.

At your home or office, you probably pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited internet access so  Skype is a great videoconferencing solution.  YouTube or Skype can be used to stream  Inmarsat video but it is an expensive choice.   Skype was designed to maximize sound and video quality by using as much bandwidth as is available.  A class II BGAN terminal, like the Cobham EXPLORER 510, provides typical data speeds of about 350 kbps (2.5 MB per minute).    


*Note: Any prices listed here were accurate as of the time of the first publication of this blog article.  Prices, terms, and conditions are subject to change without notice.

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Cobham Firmware Version 1.21 for Sailor 150/250/500 and EXPLORER 325/727

If you have any of the following devices, Cobham Firmware Version 1.21 should be dowloaded at your earliest convenience (RECOMMENDED MEDIUM PRIORITY):

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Alphasat -- How will it impact your use of Inmarsat?

In November 2014, Inmarsat transitioned its GSPS (IsatPhone) services in the Europe-Middle-East-Africa (EMEA) region from its I-4 F2 satellite to its new Alphasat satellite.  On March 24, 2015, Inmarsat also transitioned its EMEA FleetBroadband and BGAN services to Alphasat.
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Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspots: BYOD Bring Your Own Device

In the last few years, Satellite Wi-Fi hotspots have demonstrated themselves to be the long awaited solution for iPhone, iPad, and Android users trying to connect to the internet over satellite from remote locations beyond the reach of conventional cellular or internet providers.  All the satellite Wi-Fi hotspots compared here enable smartphone and tablet devices to access the internet through a satellite network. Some but not all of the satellite Wi-Fi hotspots support phone calls and texting through your smart device.
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Ready for 2014 Hurricane Season? Buy a Used Satellite Phone

The six-month Hurricane storm season begins June 1.  NOAA officials recently announced that they expect 8 to 13 named tropical storms.  They also expect 3 to 6 hurricanes with one or two having winds exceeding 110 miles per hour.
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Thuraya IP Review: How does it stack up against BGAN

Inmarsat BGAN is currently the standard of comparison for portable satellite broadband internet service.   Though ThurayaIP has a much smaller coverage area than BGAN, if you are working in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Indonesia or Australia,  a ThurayaIP satellite terminal should be considered carefully.
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What Replaces Inmarsat M, Mini-M, GAN?

What Replacement Product Should You Choose for Your Legacy Inmarsat Equipment?

If you are replacing a legacy Inmarsat terminal, the choice usually comes down to:

  • Is the application maritime or land based?
  • Does the application require high speed internet or data capability?
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From Russia with Love - New Regulations on Satellite Phones

Russian Regulations on Satellite Phones:

There are new rules for satellite phones within Russia or its territories. The new regulations are intended to fight terrorism by intercepting calls to other countries. So, if you intend to use a satellite phone inside Russian territory, including Iridium handheld phones or even marine equipment such as the Iridium Openport, be sure to investigate these regulations carefully. Outfitter Satellite does not offer legal advice, and this article is not intended as legal guidance. We do hope that this article is food for thought, if you are traveling to the land of Kodiak bears and beluga caviar.

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