Satellite Internet

Wow, there are a lot of satellite Internet options out there. I've been looking at mini-VSAT, which seems to be the only "unmetered" Internet solution for offshore. Unmetered means that while the speed of data is fixed, the amount can be as much or as little as you want, all for the same monthly bill. This allows for web surfing without worrying what the bill will be. All the other options for satellite Internet are "metered", in which you are charged a substantial per-megabyte fee for sending or receiving data. Since the fee is between $6 and $13 per megabyte, and since a single web page can easily by 1/2 a megabyte, we're talking about spending several dollars every time one clicks on a web page. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, at those rates, a $50k bill is not out of the question for a single month's service, and I'm not going to let that happen.

Here's a picture of KVH's Mini-VSAT system, which is called "TracPhone V7" for some reason. The dome weighs about 60 lbs, and is about 2 feet across.

Fortunately, satellite voice seems MUCH more reasonably priced, at about $1/minute. So "voice anywhere" is basically now cheap. But at $25k for the hardware and $$1k - $5k per month for mini-VSAT, Internet is still "not cheap". By the way, I happen to believe these monthly fees are completely reasonable for the service being provided. But the $25k up front hardware cost is a bit ridiculous.

This week, I'm experimenting with the other end of the satellite Internet spectrum. For about $160, I have rented for a week a "BGAN Terminal". These are very similar in performance to the Fleetbroadband devices being offered by KVH, Intellian, Skipper Communications, and others. But they cost a whole lot less (like about $1300 to buy, versus $5k - $7k for the FBB systems). But most importantly, the data for the exact same service as FBB is half the price. Still pricey, but $6/MB instead of $10 - $13.

The stickler is that the BGAN systems are not gyro-stabilized in a dome the way the FBB systems are. Instead, they are made to sit on the hood of a car, or lay on the ground, pointing up at a satellite in an unmoving fashion. This means they are likely unsuitable for use at sea, but are probably fine for use in an anchorage or at a dock.

My main goal is to be able to reliably get weather maps before moving the boat. For weather updates while offshore, I will rely on the services of a weather router such as OMNI Bob. It would be nice to also be able to get weather maps offshore, but a lot depends on the performance of the unit.

I know this is not the ultimate way to go, especially for a gadgeto-holic like myself. However, I do intend to see just how much movement the BGAN unit will tolerate. I will report back to the blog once I have done some experiments.

But in summary, the three options for Internet offshore seem to be:

mini-VSAT$25k up front$2k/mo billunmetered

FBB$6k up front$12/MBmetered

BGAN$1.3k up front$6/MBmetered

note that BGAN and FBB are essentially the same service, just priced and packaged differently.

I could see moving to mini-VSAT at some point. Not too sure about FBB. We'll see how well BGAN works in my tilting hands once it arrives next week :)

Winter 2011: Training from Lauderdale to Georgetown and back!