It is sometimes difficult to be “out of touch”. Family emergencies, business contacts, and a thousand other reasons require a communications link. My wife and I took a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico recently. While on the ship, we used an on board satellite link for Internet communications. The satellite system was smart enough to continuously correct for movement of the ship. It was very useful for us to be able to answer email and find travel information on-line while we were at sea or docked.
Similar systems are available for land vehicles, most often trucks and RVs. These systems are called mobile very small aperture terminal, or VSAT. The most commonly used dishes for mobile VSAT are 0.74 Meters (About 29 inches) in diameter. The systems designed for land vehicles are different from the ship borne system in that they are not designed for use while the vehicle is moving, but for when the vehicle is parked. The ship only had a speed of 20 MPH. There are currently more than 10,000 land vehicle VSAT systems in use.
The signal with a satellite dish is usually superior to that found with a “dome” antenna. The dome systems must be kept clean and must be wiped off after a snowstorm or rainstorm in order to maintain good reception. It can be a hassle to frequently climb onto your vehicle to perform maintenance on the antenna.
HDTV and TV:
It is possible to purchase a system that is capable of simultaneous Internet communications and Television reception (including HDTV, MHDTV). HDTV using DirecTV, Dish Network, Star Choice, or Bell ExpressVu is available. However, the major networks (NBC, FOX, ABC, CBS) can be a problem. Because of FCC rules, these signals are broadcast with spot beams, which will prevent their reception except within a limited area.
The satellite dish deploys on command, identifies the current location, and precisely points the dish. It usually takes less than five minutes to achieve a communications lock, and then the system is capable of high speed internet communications.
It works in most of the world, even where cable Internet and DSL are not available. However, if you travel in the mountains, the system will not be able to communicate with the satellite when you are on the north face of the mountain, or in heavy forest.
With a typical user account, downstream speed is typically 500-800 kbps. Upstream speed is usually less. The sales literature says to expect up to 128 KBPS, but 20-30 KBPS is much more typical. With more advanced hardware (F2 or XF2 and XF3 antennas), and higher monthly cost, 500 KBPS upstream and 2 MBPS downstream speed is available. Static IP addresses are also available (extra charge) for virtual private network (VPN) connections. The system includes the capability for VoIP (voice).
A mobile satellite system cost about $5000-$5500 for purchase including installation, and $50-$160 a month for internet service. The bandwidth (communication speed) impacts the price of service.
The hardware is available from several suppliers: C-Com’s iNetVu, Ground Control MSS, DTI DirecStar, and the Motosat Datastorm are the main vendors. The satellite service is available from HughesNet (formerly DirecWay) and Starband. Motosat/HughesNet have historically been the most common combination, but that is likely to change.
Ka Band (iNetVu):
C-Com’s iNetVu is now offering a new technology for mobile VSAT. The iNetVu Ka66 has been designed to take advantage a new satellite, Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 Satellite. Anik F2 is the world’s largest commercial communications satellite. The Ka66 is the first mobile satellite internet offering to operate in the Ka band frequency range.
The main advantage of Ka band is that it requires a smaller dish (26″ x 30″) to offer very good performance levels. Ka Band utilizes spot beams, which are more efficient than a traditional Ku satellite (the technology used by the other mobile VSAT systems). The result is that more users can enjoy a high level of performance. The service should be able to deliver significant improvements in performance.
Communications service is provided by WildBlue. Wildblue also offers fixed systems. Hardware costs and communications service should be significantly less expensive when compared to current alternatives for similar performance.
Professional Installation Required:
The installation of a mobile satellite system requires professional installation. The system is complex, and the wiring of the communications downlink is critical. Also, it is important that the external gear be mounted so that it does not get torn from the vehicle during transport, or more likely since the gear recesses when not used, during a high wind. A wind in excess of 60 MPH can damage a dish when it is not recessed. When recessed, the system is tolerant of highway speeds of less than 100 MPH. In addition, a poorly installed system can interfere with other users, so usually HughesNet will not support a system that has not been professionally commissioned.
If you are a telecommuter, with mobile VSAT is possible to work from just about anywhere. VSAT can be a powerful and inexpensive method of communicating from remote areas not supported by cellular networks. Mobile systems can communicate with bandwidth that cannot be provided over cellular networks.
Being able to use the internet while remote can be important. A few years ago, that meant using a dataport to make a phone call to a dialup Internet Service Provider (ISP).
But now our choices are getting better. WiFi hotspots are being added, and WiMax will be available in major cities soon. Cellular services are adding high speed, low cost data access. Other services will undoubtedly be available in coming years.
But, for now, satellite VSAT is the only way that will work virtually anywhere. Besides, it’s fun playing Buck Rogers.