With the wide range of capabilities and options offered by different types of terminals, choosing the right platform for your IP satellite communication is essential to ensure you have a system that will be able to fully support your organization’s needs. Currently, there are three popular, reliable options available: Inmarsat’s BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network), FBB or Fleet Broadband for Maritime and for Aviation SBB or Swift Broadband, VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), and Iridium’s Certus. All three of these systems provide reliable voice and data applications from remote locations, however, each one has different specifications in terms of data volumes, size, cost, and ease of use. Essentially, your decision between platforms should be made with consideration to which one will best suit your organization’s needs.
Data and Capabilities
The amount of data you plan to send or receive is one of the key considerations when deciding which technology to choose, particularly since it impacts operational costs. If you plan to use the platform mainly for office applications, such as email, small data transfers, web-browsing, phone support, and VPN access, the BGAN may be sufficient for your needs. It also supports telemetry and short-term video broadcasts. The BGAN can transmit data at speeds of up to 500 kbps and is generally designed for single users or a small team that has sporadic data usage throughout the day.
The VSAT is a better choice for those who need high bandwidth to transmit high levels of data on a long term basis. It can carry data as well as latency-sensitive applications and IP based multicast applications like audio and video streaming. The VSAT can provide point-to-point WAN links and is capable of “always on” broadband internet services; it also supports bandwidth on-demand services, encrypted data transfers between two or more sites, and VPNs. The VSAT platform supports dozens of users with upload speeds of up to 5 Mbps and download speeds of up to 20 Mbps. The VSAT terminal can back up to terrestrial networks or can utilize customized plans to backup exclusively with satellite service providers. The VSAT is extremely reliable and not affected by natural disasters, making it an excellent option for mission-critical applications. Rain attenuation may affect its performance, so larger antennas and amplifiers are usually recommended for some applications.
The Certus offers high throughput L-band data speeds for simultaneous connections of data access, multiple phone lines, and location-based applications. Its low-latency network provides consistent smartphone use anywhere around the globe. Certus allows you to automatically route data connection through an external cellular modem when networks are available to help reduce the cost and provide a seamless user experience. It initially launches with speeds of up to 352 kbps but can be upgraded to 704 kbps and potentially reach a maximum 1408 kbps. Certus can be used as primary broadband or as a backup to an existing VSAT. The Certus terminal features a low-frequency I-band signal that is unaffected by weather conditions.
BGAN, Fleet Broadband and Swift Broadband offers seamless coverage on land or sea for the majority of the globe – with the caveat that it must be in the line of sight with one of Inmarsat’s three geosynchronous satellites. Due to this requirement, there is no data coverage at the polar regions. There also can’t be anything obstructing the line of sight to the satellites, so they often tend to be used outdoors or through unobstructed windows. Unlike VSAT and BGAN which are geosynchronous, Certus offers pole-to-pole coverage and will soon be providing narrowband voice and data capabilities for ships, aircraft, vehicles, and IoT devices.
Portability and Ease of Use
If you’re interested in selecting a portable, easy to set-up and use terminal, the BGAN is a great choice. It’s small, lightweight, and battery-powered. The BGAN is incredibly user-friendly and doesn’t require a technician for setup, making it simple to have your mobile office-ready in a matter of minutes. It does require that you manually point it at the satellite; however, it’s easy to do. The BGAN’s portability and on-the-go setup make it favorable for applications like war zone broadcasts, remote regions, and sporting events. Inmarsat makes about 18 different types of BGAN terminals, many of which are small enough to fit inside of a laptop case.
The VSAT terminal requires a technician to handle the installation, so it’s important to keep in mind that there will be additional costs for it to be fixed-site installed for In-Building communications. It’s a small dish antenna that stays in place, so it’s not portable once installed. Deployment can be done in any region within hours. Iridium’s Certus is lightweight, straightforward to set up and easy to use; it has a solid-state omni-directional antenna that automatically connects with the closest Iridium satellite. To give you some perspective of the size differences, the BGAN could be likened to a garden hose, the Certus to a fire hose, and the VSAT would be a large water holding tank.
The costs of each platform vary quite significantly – another reason to ensure you’re choosing a system that will meet your needs. BGAN antennas range from $3,000 to $5,000; auto-tracking units cost anywhere from $8,000 to $18,000. Certus terminals can range from about $7,000 to $9,000 depending on the equipment. VSAT costs can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the type of equipment you choose. Entry-level equipment starts at $3,000 but can run up to tens of thousands of dollars for larger-scale operations. Auto pointing systems can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 depending on the type of system.
Ultimately, all three of these terminals offer extreme reliability and coverage for remote locations, so the bottom line comes down to how you plan to use it and what type of capabilities you’d like it to have. If you’re still unsure which terminal would work best for your applications, we’d be happy to answer any questions you have to help you determine the best system for your needs. We supply all three terminals and can help you determine the right one for your organization. From consulting to hands-on training, Remote Satellite Systems is available to help you get the most out of your communications. Contact us today at 1-888-989-8199 to learn more.