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June 10, 2013

Stay Internet-Connected On Board

How anglers can stay Internet-connected wherever they fish

Internet Access for Offshore Anglers

For anglers who run many miles out to canyons, to the east side of the Gulf Stream or to offshore rigs, a number of satellite-based products provides Internet service. While that service could be considered very slow (about 12 to 15 kbps for handheld sat phones) based on today’s broadband standards, satellite-communication providers have partnered with compression-software companies to streamline ­transmissions. Many of today’s websites have developed mobile versions that strip out images and video.

As a result, data can transfer at about 56 kbps via some handhelds, such as Globalstar’s new GSP-1700, and accelerates to more than 4 mbps for some fixed units with powerful antennas. As an example, says Joel Thompson, Iridium’s vice president of product ­management, 15 kbps translates to about 10 to 15 e-mails per minute. A handheld sat phone costs $1,000 or more, and basic-use rates average about $.80 to $1.50 per minute.

Iridium also offers its AxcessPoint Connect system, which turns a laptop into a Wi-Fi hot spot for the boat. Globalstar, which is poised to finish its launch of upgraded satellites this summer, works with a third party to offer a similar vesselwide wireless network. The setup allows multiple users to connect tablets, cell phones and computers. That provider also created an app to optimize data transfer — a 1 MB upload can take as little as four minutes.

With even faster speeds comes higher cost — which is certainly understandable, since satellites cost millions of dollars to launch and maintain. Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband service, which Intellian provides its customers, offers speeds of 148, 250 and 500 kbps with a fixed-mount satellite phone.

The average usage cost for the FB150 (148 kpbs) would total about $300 per month, Comyns says, citing a friend’s experience. “It’s best for downloading GRIB (weather) files, uploading text e-mails, and for voice calls. It’s not designed to do Skype or constantly check a Facebook page,” he says.

A step up from that system, VSAT (very small aperture terminal) offers true broadband satellite communication. Instead of paying per byte or the time spent on a connection, the primary usage cost is the bandwidth, or “the pipe,” Comyns says. A half-megabyte pipe costs about $400 a month; prices increase to about $4,000 a month for the maximum 4 MB pipe. The system also requires an antenna. The smallest version — at 60 cm — costs $25,000.

Better Onboard Internet Connections

Consumers eventually will see enhanced coverage as demand increases. Iridium plans to launch new satellites over the next two years that should drive up data speeds. Inmarsat says it’s working on creating lower-cost terminals and airtime usage for the average consumer.

“The driver [on the cell side] is that there are not enough users at the moment to make any changes to cell-phone signals,” Comyns says. “­Cell-phone companies don’t communicate out at sea. They’re worried about the millions of people moving up and down the highways.”