Critical Firmware Upgrade Announced for select Thrane & Thrane BGAN and FleetBroadband Terminals

Thrane and Thrane (now rebranded as Cobham) has released a critical firmware upgrade for the SAILOR 500, EXPLORER 325 and EXPLORER 727

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Satellite Phone Providers - Which one is the best?

Satellite phones are increasingly indispensable during regional emergencies.   Terrestrial communication networks can become disrupted by a regional crisis -- crippling the communications between local police, fire, and medical organizations.  A disruption can be caused by physical damage to the network or simple network congestion due to high regional call traffic by the general population.  During the recent Boston bombing, for example, the local cellular networks were almost immediately congested.
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Portable Solar Panel Reviews: Which is best for my satellite phone?

Many of Outfitter Satellite's customers need a portable solar panel to recharge their satellite phone or other electronics. Understanding what you are trying to achieve will save you a lot of frustration!  Here are some portable solar panel reviews that may help you make the right choice.

The first question to ask yourself is what kind of equipment you are trying to charge and how many recharges you expect to make? Many times the best solution is to carry a spare battery -- not get a solar panel. If you need more power, Outfitter Satellite offers rechargeable fuel-gauged battery packs with outputs suitable for small electronics that can be recharged via USB or with auto-accessory chargers.

The main reason for getting a solar panel is that you expect to have daily power consumption needs in excess of what you can easily bring along with you. If you are going to purchase a solar panel, you need to understand what it can realistically do and make sure you have the correct cables to charge the device you are using with it.

If you select a stand-alone portable solar panel without the benefit of an external rechargeable battery pack (which Outfitter Satellite highly recommends), you need to realize that the smaller the solar panel wattage rating is, the more sunlight you will need to successfully recharge your device. While a small 6-Watt solar panel will recharge a handheld satellite phone (e.g. an Iridium 9555 or Thuraya XT equipped with an auto-accessory charger) in 8 to 10 hours of good sunlight, a larger 12-Watt or 26-Watt panel usually will do so even under partially cloudy conditions and in less time while costing only a small amount in extra equipment weight.

Be sure to test that the solar panel can successfully charge your satellite phone -- starting from an empty battery condition. Do this long before you intend to leave for a remote location.  That means do not wait until the evening before you leave. This way you will be prepared and know what to expect.

Recently, we had a client that returned from a multiple week hiking trip in Nepal and complained that he was never able to use his Iridium satellite phone because the solar panel "didn't work". His companions on the trip assured him that Outfitter Satellite had not sold him the correct cables or the correct solar panel. Amazingly, he returned the equipment to us, and the DC car charger was unopened in its original packaging! Obviously, he failed to test his equipment and understand how it worked before he left for Nepal. Everything he needed was in the kit, but the solar panel comes with a lot of adapter cables to maximize its usefulness and this can be confusing. Our client had left some of the cables and the DC car charger at home! The back country of Nepal is not an ideal place to learn how to use your equipment.

If I am taking a back country trip, safety and reliability are my main concerns and I never worry about a little extra expense or a little extra weight.  I have often regretted my economies but never my excesses.  My choice for a portable back country power production and storage capability would be a 26-Watt solar panel and a rechargeable external Sustain battery pack with a fuel gauge.  This should be more than enough for most applications. I would keep topping off the Sustain battery pack whenever I had a chance. The Sustain external battery pack is shown (above right) connected to an ultra-light Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER 100 BGAN terminal.  The Sustain acts as a UPS power supply and can receive charge from an external power source such as a solar panel even while powering the BGAN. The Sustain increases the operating time of the BGAN by over 300%.

So far, this article has been about 6-watt and larger panels. Outfitter Satellite also sells ultra-mini solar panel battery pack combinations. It definitely takes more understanding and more patience to use an ultra-mini solar panel but it does cut down on equipment size and weight and may be suitable for applications where very minimal amounts of power are needed.

A good example of an ultra-mini solar charger solution is the Restore solar panel.  The Restore has an integrated 2200 mAh 5 Volt Li-Ion battery that can be used to charge a Thuraya XT satellite phone very reliably.  If you start with a fully discharged Thuraya XT, you will need to fully charge the Restore and connect it to the Thuraya XT two or three times. Just keep laying the Restore outside with its solar panel pointed at the sun.  Every time the Restore battery reaches 100% as shown by its fuel-gauge, reconnect it to the Thuraya XT using the Thuraya XT's USB data cable.  It is time consuming if you let the Thuraya XT get fully discharged, but not so bad if you keep topping off the Thuraya XT every day.

Here are a few general hints to keep your solar panel experience successful:

  • It is important to tilt the solar panel towards the sun to get maximum power. This will be especially important when using a smaller panel. One way to do this is by using a pencil pointed straight out of the plane of the solar panel. When the panel is pointed straight towards the sun, the pencil will have no shadow -- and you will have optimal power from the solar panel.
  • If your electronics is not designed for variable voltage power supplies, it is better to use your solar panel with an external battery pack like the Sustain that can handle power brown outs. Brown outs occur in partially cloudy conditions or when someone walks in front of and shadows your solar panel. Definitely, disconnect electronics from the solar panel well before the sun goes down, too.
  • If it is a hot day, try to keep the electronics being charged out of direct sunlight. Their internal Li-Ion batteries will charge more slowly when they are hot. It is amazing how hot direct sunlight can make a black Iridium satellite phone on a summer day!
  • There is a small battery symbol in the upper right corner of the LCD screen of both the Iridium 9555 and Thuraya XT that shows the charge state: a solid black battery indicates a full charge while the empty battery is white. It is not desirable to let the Li-Ion battery in a satellite phone get completely depleted. If you do this, sometimes it is hard to restart the satellite phone until it has been charging for several hours. I recommend you recharge and top off your Li-Ion battery as often as possible.
  • Test the solar panel and/or portable battery pack before leaving for a remote location. Make sure you have the cables you need to charge your satellite phone or other electronics. You need to have the right equipment and know how to use it.
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Hughes 9202 BGAN Terminal Firmware Release Version 5.8.1.0

Hughes Network Systems has released a new firmware release for the Hughes 9202 BGAN terminal. This firmware release is not critical but is recommended. It includes enhancements to the web MMI for APN configurations and telephony settings and compressed Web UI pages to improve UT performance.

Firmware release version 5.8.1.0 is available for download from the Inmarsat website. and it will be available shortly for download through the BGAN LaunchPad Update Service.

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SkyFile Mail Premium

If you need PC-based email over your Iridium, Outfitter Satellite recommends that you purchase an AxcessPoint.  Another choice that is FREE is the popular Vizada SkyFile Mail 8.2 software (only available on selected plans).   SkyFile Mail provides reliable and cost-effective two-way email, fax and SMS messaging on Inmarsat, Iridium,  and Thuraya (though it is not available on Thuraya prepaid SIMs).

Vizada has just rolled out a new more powerful version of SkyFile.   To differentiate the two versions, Vizada is now naming the free version SkyFile Mail Classic and the new version SkyFile Mail Premium.   The new Premium version is not free but if offers powerful features for business users at a competitive rate.

Key benefits of SkyFile Mail Premium over Classic:

  • Works with some popular email clients like Microsoft Outlook
  • An automatic notification push feature allows emails to be delivered immediately without manual actions
  • Access over non-satellite connections (3G, WiFi, etc.)
  • SMS up to 1500 characters
  • Advanced call detail viewer & split billing file
  • Quarantine file for suspicious emails

Key benefits SkyFile Mail Classic & Premium

  • Ensures reliable and secure messaging
  • Compresses data by up to 90%, significantly reducing connection time
  • The integrated BDU access command allows users to automatically start/stop the IP-session from SkyFile Mail
  • API allows 3rd part application access, e.g.  ship management applications
  • Enhanced supervision of sub accounts
  • SkyFile works on any desktop PC.  Provides highly effective anti-virus, anti-spam filter and black & white lists.   SkyFile Mail can use Iridium Rudics to boost connection quality and bandwidth, reducing connection time by more than 50% (Iridium Prepaid does not have Rudics but many of Outfitter Satellite's postpaid plans do).  SkyFile NOAD enables to create and transmit electronic forms required by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Call us for more information.

 

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Troubleshooting Power Problems on the Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER 700

Troubleshooting Power Problems on the Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER 700

When you power on the EXPLORER 700  terminal, is the display blank? This does not necessarily mean the terminal is not working.   The EXPLORER 700 may be in Stealth Mode. Stealth Mode turns off all the displays, indicators and sounds on the terminal and is  typically used for night-time military applications. Press C+OK on the display keypad to toggle the Stealth Mode on and off.

There are a few other easy things you can check before deciding your EXPLORER 700 needs to be returned for repairs.

  1. Can you see the EXPLORER 700 Web Interface? To do this connect an Ethernet cable between your computer and the EXPLORER 700 LAN #1 port. Open a web browser on your computer and in the address field enter 192.168.0.1  and if the EXPLORER 700 web interfaces comes up, then you know the terminal is not completely dead. It is possible that the contrast setting on the LCD screen is set too low.   You can adjust the contrast setting directly from the EXPLORER 700 Web Interface. Click on SETTINGS and under CONTRAST, we suggest setting AUTOMATIC to YES.

  2. Verify that the  AC/DC adapter is connected to a wall outlet that has power.

  3. There is a GREEN POWER INDICATOR LIGHT next to the EXPLORER 700 LCD display.  A short flash every 2 seconds means the terminal is on, a steady green light means the battery is charging, a rapidly flashing green light indicates a charging error, and OFF means no power or Stealth mode. If you have power connected to the terminal, you should either see a short flash every 2 seconds or a steady green light.   If the Green Power Indicator is flashing rapidly, you have a charging problem which could be caused by problems with the external power, problems with the AC/DC adapter, or a defective battery. If you are using a DC Car Charger, it may mean that the voltage input to the DC Car Charger is below 9 Volts.

  4. Remove the battery and check it for damage.  Are the contacts dirty or bent? If the battery appears OK, re-insert it into the terminal and make sure it is firmly in place and not loose.   Can you start the terminal now? If not, try step 3 again.

You can find additional guidance on the use of the EXPLORER 700 Web Interface on pg 82 of the User Manual.  There is a valuable Troubleshooting Guide on page 163 of the User Manual. If you are still not up and running,  it is advised to call for technical support.

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Connecting your iPhone over an HNS-9201 Inmarsat BGAN terminal

Connecting your iPhone over an HNS-9201 Inmarsat BGAN terminal

Many of our customers have asked if it is possible to use their iPhone or iPad with their BGAN.   If you have a Macintosh computer connected to a BGAN, normally you can share the connection with your iPhone or iPad.   It is possible to connect an iPhone directly to some BGAN terminals. Outfitter Satellite tested the iPhone (software version 5.1.1.) over the HNS-9201 (firmware version 3.8.0.6) and were able to browse the web and send and receive email. Hint: If you are in an area with cellular coverage, remember to turn off the cellular data on your iPhone so you know you are running over the BGAN.   Here are the steps:

1) Enable WLAN feature on the HNS-9201 using LaunchPad:  Under the “Terminal” menu select “WLAN interface” and enable wireless access.  Set the Network Name to “BGAN”. Set Region to “Rest of World”. Set channel to “11”.  Select 128-bit encryption and use a network password with at least 13 characters. We used: Outfitter123#.   Click “Apply” and “OK”. The WLAN LED on the terminal will now be GREEN. A WiFi capable computer will now see “BGAN” as one of the available wireless networks.  Notes: The WLAN LED blinks if the terminal is on battery power and turns RED if no devices are accessing the HNS-9201 using the WLAN.

2) Connect the iPhone to the HNS-9201 via Wi-Fi: In your iPhone 5.1.1 go to “Settings” and click “Wi-Fi”.  If Wi-Fi is off, turn Wi-Fi on using the slider switch. Under “Choose a Network”, you will see a network called “BGAN”.  Select it and enter the password Outfitter123# and press the “Join” button. You should see a check mark next to the “BGAN” network.

3) Use the HNS-9201 web interface to start an internet session:

  1. Use the iPhone’s Safari browser to go to the HNS-9201’s web interface by entering 192.168.128.100

  2. Initially you are on the “Properties” page of the web interface.   On the mobile version of the HNS-9201 web interface, you will find a green bar at the bottom of the page under which are the various pages that are available.

  3. On the Properties page, if you are not already registered, you can click the “Register with Network” button.  After it registers you will see “Registration Status: Registered with Home network”.

  4. On the “PDP Contexts” page, select a unique CID value between 1 and 11 for each device that will be using the BGAN. Make sure the APN is set correctly, e.g. XANTIC.BGAN.INMARSAT.COM for Stratos SIMs or VIZADA-USA.BGAN.INMARSAT.COM for Vizada SIMs.  Requested QoS should be set to “Background” which is best effort Standard IP data. No username or password are needed for the APN. Press the “Create Context” button. The page will refresh. Press the “Activate” button. The page will refresh and show the Local IP address, Global IP address, and DNS server addresses. There may or may not be error messages displayed in red above this, but if you hit the “Update” button the error messages will clear off.

  5. OPTIONAL: ACA refers to Automatic Context Activation. On the ACA page  under “ACA Settings for TEs Using DHCP Assigned IP Addresses” you may want to enable ACA by selecting the “On” radio button.

4) When you are finished using the internet, remember to disconnect:  When using a BGAN, you need to be mindful of the cost and be careful to avoid unexpected usage, e.g. automatically downloading emails coming in on your iPhone.  It is a good practice to power down the BGAN when not using it. Another approach would be to deactivate the iPhone’s PDP context which can be done by going to the HNS-9201 web interface on the “PDP Contexts” page and pressing “Deactivate”.

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Controlling Costs on an Inmarsat BGAN

Controlling Costs on an Inmarsat BGAN

One of the most common issues that comes up with our Inmarsat BGAN customers is that they use more megabytes (MB) than they expect. The reason for this is that people don't realize that simply going to Google can use around a quarter of a MB.  Most popular news sites have a lot more graphics and even animations which will use up a lot of MBs. When you are using a conventional broadband terrestrial internet service for which you only pay a fixed monthly fee, it doesn't matter how many MBs you download.   When you are using an Inmarsat BGAN in Standard IP data mode, you pay for each MB you transfer.

Here are a few simple ways to reduce unnecessary data usage:

  • Most computers that have been setup for terrestrial broadband internet connections use the internet constantly to check email, run instant messaging, update virus definitions, update the operating system, run backup services,  etc... All of these processes transfer enormous amounts of MBs. So, when you are done with your internet activity, HIT THE DISCONNECT BUTTON on Inmarsat Launchpad to end the internet session.

  • Keep emails text based and avoid uploading or downloading large attachments with photos or graphics.  A typical photo using a digital camera may be several MBs or larger.  

  • The overwhelming majority of data transfer that occurs during web browsing is used to download graphics. If you enable Picture Placeholders  in your web browser, it prevents your web browser from downloading the graphics on the web site you are browsing -- unless you specifically right click on a particular graphic that you want to see.  We have included instructions below for Internet Explorer 9.0 but similar capabilities exist on other browsers.

Using Picture Placeholders on Internet Explorer 9.0: 

  1. From the IE 9.0 Web browser, click on the Gear symbol (see right).

  2. Select “Internet Options”.

  3. Click the “Advanced” tab.

  4. In the “Settings” area uncheck the following:  “Show Pictures”, “Play Animations”, “Play Sounds” as shown below:

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What does the IP Rating of a Satellite Phone Really Mean?

What does the IP Rating of a Satellite Phone Really Mean?

The IP Code often called Ingress Protection Rating (but correctly the International Protection Rating) of a product is a classification that indicates how well the product resists intrusion of solids (such as dust) and liquids (such as water).

The first digit is the rating for Solids:

  • LEVEL 0  -- No protection against ingress of objects, even large objects such as fingers.

  • LEVEL 1  -- Objects larger than 50 mm cannot intrude.

  • LEVEL 2  -- Objects larger than 12.5 mm cannot intrude, e.g. fingers.

  • LEVEL 3  -- Objects larger than 2.5 mm cannot intrude, e.g. most small tools.

  • LEVEL 4  -- Objects larger than 1.0 mm cannot intrude, e.g. most small wires and screws.

  • LEVEL 5  -- Ingress of dust is prevented sufficiently to prevent it from interfering with product operation.

  • LEVEL 6  -- Dust tight.

The second digit is the rating for Liquids:

  • LEVEL 0  -- Not protected against liquids.

  • LEVEL 1  -- Dripping water (vertically falling drops) will have no harmful effect.

  • LEVEL 2  -- Dripping water has no harmful effect even if the product is tilted up to 15% relative to its normal position.

  • LEVEL 3  -- Spraying water(water falling as much as 60 degrees off vertical) has no harmful effect.

  • LEVEL 4  -- Splashing water will have no harmful effect, regardless of the direction it hits the product.

  • LEVEL 5  -- Water jets projected from a 6.3 mm nozzle against the product's enclosure from any direction will have no harmful effects.  The test is done for 3 minutes involving 12.5 litres per minute at 30 kN/m^2 from a distance of 3 meters.

  • LEVEL 6  -- Powerful water jets from a 12.5 mm nozzle will have no harmful effect regardless of the direction of impact on the product enclosure.

  • LEVEL 7  -- The product is protected against immersion in water up to 1 meter below the surface for 30 minutes.

The ratings give the overall idea of the rating  omit some specifics of the precise test conditions.   So, for example, the reader is advised that if the product is rated LEVEL 4 against liquids, it may stand up to water but perhaps not some other liquid.  It may also stand up to water for 15 minutes but not 20 minutes. If the reader has a bad case of insomnia, he/she should look up the specific details of the IP Code for a better understanding than we have been able to present here.

REAL WORLD EXAMPLE:

The IsatPhone PRO is rated IP54.  The first digit 5 means that it is protected against dust and dust may enter its enclosure but cannot interfere with its operation but can enter.  The second digit 4 means it can withstand splashing at least within the bounds of the internationally accepted test conditions.

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Explorer 100 incompatible with new OSs

Explorer 100 incompatible with new OSs

Mac OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and Windows 7 are becoming more prevalent among BGAN users. This has exposed a problem with the Thrane & Thrane Explorer 100 BGAN. The Explorer 100 USB drivers are not compatible with either Snow Leopard or Win 7. The user will get an error that says, "a suitable modem could not be found...". Thrane & Thrane has indicated that they have no software releases planned to resolve this issue. In light of this, Outfitter Satellite has implemented a policy to provide a discount off our already low prices on a Wideye Sabre to replace an existing Explorer 100. You do not have to be a current customer to take advantage of this discount. Please call us at 1-833-403-0581 for more details.
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