The second question we ask every customer is “what do you need to do?”. If voice communications and a small amount of e-mail or messaging is the only requirement, then it is fairly straightforward and the customer selects from one of the popular satellite handsets.

If there is a need to send pictures, the decision process becomes more complicated. Most modern handheld cameras take pictures approaching 10 Megapixels. While these are great for family photo albums, a file that size will take several minutes and many dollars to transmit over a handheld satellite phone. There are two things that can be done to improve the process and allow you to send pictures as an e-mail attachment or to an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Site.

The first thing you want to do is select the lowest Pixel setting on your camera. Photographs displayed on web pages are optimal at less than 100 dots per inch, so a large Megapixel image is not required if you just want to send update pictures to friends and family. You can always take high Megapixel pictures as well and just hold them on the camera or memory chip until you get home.

The second suggestion is to use a value added e-mail system such as OnSatMail or X-Gate which will provide data compression in the range of 10:1 and allow you to transmit more data (remember a picture file is data) in less time.

These two suggestions should help a lot if you are just planning on sending a few pictures home from your trip. If you have a need to send many pictures, want to be able to send video clips, or want to do video chats, you are going to need a broadband terminal. Inmarsat is the first choice in global broadband solutions. Their land mobile service is called BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network). There is also a vehicular version of BGAN, and the maritime versions are called Fleet Broadband (FBB). We are going to focus on BGAN.

There are several manufacturers of BGAN terminals – all of which utilize the Inmarsat Constellation. Some of you will remember that Inmarsat does not have coverage in the polar regions, so if a trip to the Arctic or Antarctic is in your plans you will either want to plan on sending photos over an Iridium Extreme and holding the video clips until you return, or carrying an Iridium Openport (slightly bigger than a large breadbox) which will do a fairly good job of transmitting videos.

Pictured above is the Explorer 300 terminal from Thrane & Thrane ($2,000 price range). It is a very nice portable terminal. You use a handset for making voice calls, and plug in your laptop to make an internet connection, browse the web, and send those pictures and video clips. In addition to the higher equipment cost, the cost of transmitting data over BGAN is around $6.50 per MegaByte.

When you think that some of the pictures you attach to an e-mail exceed a MegaByte, and how many web pages are close to a MegaByte, it is easy to see how your airtime bill utilizing a BGAN terminal could be very high. One of the best ways to control cost over BGAN is to utilize a prepaid sim card. With a prepaid sim card, you can arrange to have an e-mail send to your family, office, or your terminal, when you use up 80% of the prepaid airtime. This gives you enough time to arrange to add additional airtime before the service is suspended.

When you see an NBC or CNN reporter reporting via live video from remote locations around the world, these broadcasts are often done over BGAN. In well-established locations, video transmissions are carried over VSAT (those large antennas you see on office buildings and gas stations), but mobile or very remote locations are almost always handled by BGAN. The terminals used by the networks and other organizations with the need for large data transmissions are the big brothers of the two terminals shown above. Only slightly larger they fall in the $5,000 - $7,000 price range. Video streaming (which is live video instead of sending a video file), at speeds approaching 500 KBPS costs about $20.00 per minute. We have tried to focus on the lower end high speed data terminals, but if you have questions about these high end products, feel free to send us an e-mail or give us a call.


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