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BGAN: Broadband Global Area Network

inmarsat I4 satellite
the inmarsat I4 satellite sits in a geosynchronous orbit (meaning they stay in one place relative to the earth). each satellite can provide coverage for roughly 1/3 of the earth. the high altitude of the orbit, roughly 22,200 miles, causes high latency, around 1 second.
yesertday my dad sent me information on another possibility for mobile wireless: BGAN. It’s basically satellite access to both phone and data at the same time. You can get transfer rates up to around 500Kbps so it’s pretty feasible for most uses i’d require. the beauty is that you can use it worldwide (except the north and south pole, but i won’t be going there anytime soon, at least not yet ;-)). the downsides seem to be latency, up to 1 second or more, and most of all, price. One online retailer, SDS (Satellite Discount Store) offers a basic plus plan for $65/mo which includes 10MB/Month of data bandwidth. If you don’t use the full amount each month it can be rolled and piled up for a maximum of a year (no more than 120MB/yr). Not too bad, BUT (a big but!) is that each megabyte over will cost you $6.50. That can add up VERY quickly. Voice only calls are around $.85/minute, not too bad. They also have streaming video options for video conferencing, etc. with guaranteed bandwidth from around 128Kbps to 256Kbps, that will cost you around $10-18/minute! that better be an important conference call. i see why they mainly target military, oil and gas and other high profile corporate manager types for this service.
BGAN rental terminal
a rental package shown with a Hughes terminal and mac ibook along with some sort of phone system.
the same company also offers rentals of this setup as well, starting at around $99 (plus bandwidth time!). i can see this becoming a real option for things like everest base camp trips, something like that. the basic setup consists of a terminal that is about the size of a laptop which is basically a compact satellite dish of sorts. the nice thing about this system is that it doesn’t require exact positioning to make a connection, however your bandwidth will probably increase dramatically the better your alignment. the other component of the package is software that does the magic. it must aquire the satellite and make the connections, etc. and according to their online information, that’s about all you need to do and you’re in!

the more you spend on the terminal the more bells and whistles you get of course. You can get faster “guaranteed” bandwidth, up to 256Kbps for video conferencing type streaming needs. Built in RJ-11 phone jacks enabling direct phone connection as well as bluetooth phone headset options so you can go wireless for phone (or data for that matter). most seem to support standard network connections enabling you to connect a router or switch, etc. i thought this would be a nice option to even use for home use if the price were a little cheaper. the only limitation would be if one of us travel seperately the other is without a connection.

inmarsat I4 launch
the launch of the last inmarsat I4 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
inmarsat is supposed to be launching the third satellite for this system sometime this year, it may already be up there but i’m not sure. the third satellite will cover the remaining 1/3 of the earth not covered by the other two satellites already in orbit. i’ve heard no talk of coverage for the poles, but we’ll see.

in conclusion, i think this seems like the best option yet, but pricing will still be the barrier. this brings me back to the emerging technology problems i spoke of before. besides price, it’s pretty unclear how well the technology actually works. i’m sure it works for field reporters to upload the latest video piece to the main office in a pinch from the middle of nowhere, but i’m looking for practical day-to-day robustness. if i don’t find any better options, i will probably use this one on a rental basis for remote trips in places like nepal and bhutan. however, unless prices drop considerably, or a company like this wants to sponser my reviews of their products (offers welcome!), i don’t think i’ll be using this as a practical all around solution anytime soon. it’s looking more and more like i’m going to have to get a land based hard wired broadband solution once we get to korea, or if i’m lucky they will have some kind of korea based EVDO solution. but i fear that whatever i get there will only work there so i’d have to reinvest in hardware if i went somewhere else. finding information in english about korean broadband is a tough task, i think i may have to wait until we arrive. i just hope they have a solution at all, especially if we live on an island!

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