(HumanEdgeTech/Tom Sjogren) For years Inmarsat has been the go-to place for explorers looking for faster data speed over satellite.
To upload video your choices were either 2.4kb/s offered by Iridium, or 15kb/s offered by the handheld Thuraya: Inmarsat's BGAN units saved the day with speeds up to 400kb/s until recently Thuraya IP joined the fast track as well.
Negatives with BGAN and Thuraya IP have been cost of units ($2500 and up), weight/size and expensive data plans.
Starting at around $400 for 3 months and 60 MB Inmarsat offered the cheapest low volume plans. Thuraya was favored by high-volume users such as large outfits for their $3,000 per month "unlimited" plans.
Average buyers usually found the total outlay of $4000 to $7000 plus power way over budget.
Enter the IsatHub service
A new satellite service from Inmarsat changes the picture. IsatHub targets the smaller customer with the following advantages:
- Low weight (850gr)
- Small (179mm x 170mm x 30mm)
- Cheap ($1350)
- 1 month plan (earlier the shortest BGAN plan was 3 months)
- Low monthly. Starts at around $60 for 10MB included.
- Up to 384kb/s download, 240kb/s uploaded
Inmarsat calls its service Global 3G which I found a bit confusing. "3G" indicates that the speed is at least 200kb/s but the terminology is usually related to standard mobile phone service over GSM rather than a satellite connection.
iSavi - the first IsatHub terminal
Singapore based Wideye are the first company to roll out a product for the IsatHub system - the iSavi.
iSavi comes in a sleek package and unwrapping the unit felt more like unveiling an iPhone than the usual high speed satellite modem shipped in a boring brown box. The unit itself is well designed and much more compact than the clunky BGAN or Thuraya IP models we have used during the years. The volume size is less than half of a Thuraya IP plus or a Hughes 9202.
Form and design have a modern feel and the buttons/setup are intuitive. The removable battery does double duty as a foot when aiming the unit.
Getting a satellite connection
Inmarsat satellites are geosynchronous which means they always sit in the same spot above earth and always over the equator (see map). The unit must be oriented toward the dish before it can be used. Wideye has constructed a clever built in tool with position arrows to guide the user towards perfect aim. I found it working much faster than earlier BGAN's beeping or computer screen guidance.
One complaint would be the actual placement of the arrows on top of the unit. That works until you fold the antenna up and the arrows disappear from view (unless you lean above the BGAN). I actually held my smartphone in front of the unit and used it as a mirror to see the markers. No big deal but a note for the next model perhaps.
Once up and beaming the iSavi becomes a hotspot to which you connect a laptop/pad/smartphone as you would at any internet cafe. A default Password is set which could save your finances in a crowded Everest Base Camp. After logging in on the wifi you need to tell the unit to open the satellite connection for you. This is done either from a browser or a downloadable app (iPhone or Android). The app firewall is easy to use and prevents unwanted downloads that could be costly over satellite.
We used a smartphone to activate the data and connected a secondary device (MacAir) during our tests which worked fine.
What can you do and how much does it cost?
- Check emails: yes
- Upload content including videos to your website or social media: yes
- Video conferencing (Skype): yes, but don't expect a perfect picture
The upload speed will allow for around 1 MB of image/video per minute in ideal conditions. The cost per MB is $4-6 depending on plan so make sure you resize images before uploading. Your phone by default saves images at 2MB or higher (that's $10 in iSatHub cash). A 50-100 kB picture works fine for Facebook or a site such as Explorersweb and costs 50 cents or less.
We averaged 200kb/s download during our tests in Silicon Valley which is less than the "up to" 384kb/s advertised. It's worth to mention that at this location we have lower than expected speeds with standard BGAN as well. We were able to do Skype video from a smartphone to a Mac. The quality wasn't the best but it worked to see the person talking and the surroundings. Gmail was super slow until we switched to the low bandwidth option (search "gmail low bandwidth" to find the link).
Skype video should cost around $1-2/minute. To estimate cost for a single user on an 8000 meter expedition you could roughly approximate around 50 - 200 MB or a data cost of $250 to $1000.
Buy IsatHub iSavi at HumanEdgeTech
Everest Tech Week 2015: Do you remember when...