5. Mobile Satellite Internet & WiFi HotSpots

Mobile Satellite Internet & WiFi HotSpots

With the increasing demand to be connected during your travels we’re getting more and more enquiries from customers wanting mobile satellite internet. We’ll start by taking a look at the limitations of using handheld satellite phones for satellite internet.

Satellite Internet via Handheld Satellite Phones

While, strictly speaking, most handheld satellite phones can function as a satellite internet modem; the data speeds on handheld satellite phones are so ridiculously slow, that we do not recommend using them for data at all. Let’s look at the Inmarsat iSatPhone satellite phone, for example.

The Inmarsat iSatPhones offer a data connection of a mere 2.4kbps. To put this into perspective, land-line dial-up in the ‘old days’ used to be 56kbps. So the internet connection you can make with an Inmarsat phone is very, very slow indeed. And the data connection on an Iridium handheld phone is only marginally better.

Now consider the fact that you pay for the data connection on a handheld satellite phone by the minute, and you can see how it quickly becomes not only a very frustrating but also a very costly exercise.

A plethora of little devices and 3rd party apps exist that claims to make satellite internet via a handheld satellite phone more useable, no matter what you do you’re just never going to get a connection speed that will be sufficient for general internet browsing using a handheld satellite phone.

Mobile Satellite Internet Via Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspots

A relatively new development in mobile satellite internet is the emergence of Satellite Wi-Fi hotspots. These are a class of wireless device that connect to smartphones, laptops and tablets via Wi-Fi, and then also simultaneously establishes a link directly to the satellite, interconnecting the two, and thereby providing all your devices with mobile satellite internet.

And satellite Wi-Fi hotspots are not just for internet. Just as they enable your devices with mobile satellite internet, they also enable them with voice calling abilities through the use of apps for making satellite voice calls. You will have a satellite voice call app on your Apple or Android with which you dial a number, the app then passes the call to the Satellite Wi-Fi hotspot, which in turn passes it to the satellite.

Next we’ll take a look at the 2 major players in the satellite Wi-Fi hotspot segment, Iridium and Inmarsat.

The Iridium GO

The Iridium GO provides a narrowband mobile satellite internet connection of approximately 12kbps. Narrowband is a very slow class of internet connection, very similar to what one may get from a handheld satellite phone.

However Iridium GO does compression and acceleration; increasing the throughput of its data connection to approximately 20kbps, so as to make it sufficient for plaint text emailing and small attachments, which is ideal for people out at sea wishing to download weather reports etc.

Do note that, with an Iridium GO data connection you are billed for the time the data connection is open, and not for the volume of data transmitted over it. And since the connection is fairly slow, it is easy to spend a lot of time with the connection open – so you may wish to consider the unlimited data subscription for Iridium GO.

From a voice perspective Iridium GO also has many practical advantages over using a handheld phone out at sea, being that it can very easily be placed somewhere on the vessel where it gets signal, while the user can be comfortably sitting below deck using it from up to 20m away.

It is also important to note that, while the Iridium GO data connection is quite slow, Iridium GO works equally well on sea or land, while the Inmarsat satellite Wi-Fi hotspots require a stable surface to operate from, and hence do not work on vessels out at sea.

Iridium Go Antenna Deployed
Iridium Go Antenna Deployed

Inmarsat Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspots

Inmarsat offers a number of different brands of satellite Wi-Fi hotspots, commissioned by Inmarsat from third party manufacturers, to run on the Inmarsat satellite network. The Inmarsat satellite Wi-Fi hotspots provide very good up to internet connections of around 500kbps(half a megabit) depending on which hotspot chosen; which is a good 35 times faster than one gets when using a handheld satellite phone for your satellite internet connection.

A major limitation with the Inmarsat hotspots is that they do not work at sea – except if using a gimbal, as one needs to keep them pointed towards a satellite 40 000km away, which is almost impossible on a moving vessel, except if using a gimbal. Also worth noting that the Inmarsat satellite Wi-Fi hotspots do not work at the polar regions. Other than that they are really great devices.

Unlike the Iridium GO which has major limitations in what you can do with its internet connection, the Inmarsat hotspots enables one to use all the apps and programs on your smartphones and laptops just as if connected to 3G. There may be some limitations presented by the cost of using an Inmarsat satellite Wi-Fi hotspot, but from a technical perspective they work very well indeed.

Inmarsat BGAN Explorer 510

The Explorer 510 Inmarsat BGAN Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot is designed and manufactured in Denmark, provides you with a 464 kbps internet connection, and is aimed at professional users.

Cobham Explorer 510 Inmarsat BGAN satellite Wi Fi hotspot
Cobham Explorer 510 Inmarsat BGAN satellite Wi Fi hotspot

Thanks for Reading!

This concludes our miniseries on satellite phones, networks, services – and satellite Wi-Fi hotspots. Use coupon code BANK to get 3,5% discount when ordering your satellite phone or Wi-Fi HotSpot on our website.