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Going out at sea doesn't necessary mean that you can't
connect to the internet. Since DSL and cables are not available,
satellite communication is your only option. But satellite
communication at sea is more complicated because it needs
special equipment.

The demand for Internet access in the maritime world has never
been greater, with access to the Internet a virtual requirement
for modern business, and e-mail an almost-indispensable
communication tool. Satellite communication providers
recognized the demand among their customers years ago, but
only recently have the tools become available to offer reliable
and affordable two-way e-mail and Internet service to boaters

As maritime access to the Internet becomes more common,
marine electronics professionals need to understand both the
available the services and options as well as the language of
the Internet to ensure that boaters understand what is being
offered and what they can expect. For that reason, this article,
the final installment in our series on existing and emerging
marine satellite technology, addresses some important Internet
concepts as well as the services available to boaters now and
in the future.

While Internet at sea has become more affordable, it is still
more expensive than standard home Internet service. While
some services charge based on the amount of information sent
or received, many charge a per-minute fee. When a boater
compares the costs of the available services, make certain that
they also account for the difference in connection speeds.

There are a variety of mobile Internet solutions available to
mariners. Since connection speed defines the type of
experience the consumer enjoys, let's take a look at the
existing options. For customers who need to stay in touch
worldwide and want to make a relatively low hardware
investment, the 600 bps data services, such as Inmarsat-C and
mini-C, are great solutions. These services use a small,
omnidirectional antenna that is often paired with a GPS receiver
for additional versatility. Due to their slow connection speed
and the Inmarsat-C communications protocol, these systems
are unable to provide a browser-based Internet connection
and require a protocol-compatible e-mail application. They are
easy-to-use services and are ideal for sending and receiving
basic text-based e-mails, position reports, weather advisories,
and emergency broadcasts.

A 2.4 Kbps connection to the Internet is limited on a practical
basis to supporting e-mail activities. While you can use it to visit
web sites, it's very slow. However, 2.4 Kbps is more than
sufficient for mariners who want to stay in touch via e-mail.
The Inmarsat mini-M service offers voice, fax, 2.4 Kbps e-mail
connections, and standard email applications. As a result, a
mariner can use the same laptop and applications at work,
home, and on the boat.

In addition to its voice service, Iridium offers two data services:
Dial-up Data (2.4 Kbps) and Direct Internet Data (4.8 Kbps
standard, up to 10 Kbps compressed). Like mini-M, these
connection speeds are fine for e-mail but may be considered
too slow by many people for an enjoyable Internet browser-
based experience. Iridium offers a global service with a choice
of either a handheld or installed unit. If a boater chooses a
handheld unit, a separate data kit is required to connect a
computer to the phone. If the handheld unit will be used below
decks, a supplemental above-decks antenna will be required
as well.

Mariners can connect their computer to a Globalstar phone and
directly access Globalstar’s 9.6 Kbps data service. This service
is available throughout the Globalstar coverage area, which
includes the primary land masses and coastal areas but limited
oceanic service. In addition to using a Globalstar phone, there
are several specialized products, such as the SeaTel WaveCall
2100R, that offer voice and data access to the Globalstar
network as well as monthly subscriptions to a data
compression service that can increase the perceived speed to
as fast as 56 Kbps (equivalent to a home dial-up modem). This
permits users to have relatively fast access to the World Wide
Web as well as e-mail capabilities.

Moving beyond Globalstar leads to a leap in Internet access
speeds to 64 Kbps. The boost is made possible by the use of
the larger, more powerful antennas required for the global
Inmarsat B and Fleet services. Inmarsat B offers voice, fax,
telex, and data services for roughly $7 to $9 per minute. While
the service is still fully supported by Inmarsat, industry
expectations are that it will quickly be supplanted by
Inmarsat’s newest service, Fleet. The Fleet service offer
s exceptional value and versatility for mariners who need to be
on-line, especially for business purposes.

While 64 Kbps qualifies as a moderately high-speed service,
there is currently only one “broadband” satellite Internet
service available to mariners in and around North America:
mobile DirecPC, available exclusively from KVH Industries. Mobile
DirecPC provides downloads of Internet data at speeds as fast
as 400 Kbps. These data rates are possible because, unlike the
other services that use low-powered communications satellites,
mobile DirecPC takes a breakthrough step and broadcasts its
signal via the high-powered, Ku band ExpressVu satellite. This
is a broadcast-only satellite that is also used for high-
bandwidth data-intense satellite TV programming. As a result,
boaters wishing to receive mobile DirecPC will require a DVB-
compatible TracVisionĆ in-motion satellite TV antenna.

Mariners in search of an on-line connection face a sea of
options. The above services and hardware are the best and
most versatile available to the recreational and commercial
mariner. But as with any technology, future developments will
improve services, expand capabilities, and boost speeds.

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