BGAN on a boat? A test in Hawaii


A question I’ve never known the answer to:  Can a cruiser use Inmarsat’s BGAN service — the much less expensive “land” version of Fleet Broadband — at least when at anchor in an exotic place where fast Internet isn’t otherwise available?  Well, thanks to “curious cat” Dan Freedman, we’re a lot closer to the answer.  Dan recently acquired a lovely trawler and he seems to be having a ball applying his technical background to improving its electronics, and blogging about it.  His experiment with BGAN was done at home in Honolulu, not on the boat, but nonetheless he feels its ability to cope with a shifting platform is “astonishing”…

Dan found that once he’d aligned the little portable BGAN antenna — which sounds like a simple process — he could move it left or right about 45 degrees, and up and down about 25, without losing his connection.  Which sounds like a lot of boat motion, doesn’t it?  He lays out the reasons a cruiser might want to consider BGAN in this entry, and then his detailed testing — file download/upload speeds, VOIP calls, video chats, the works — in this one.  It makes BGAN seem like a pretty compelling option for certain boaters, especially ones doing one time exotic voyages.  As Dan discovered, you can even rent at BGAN at fairly reasonable rates (though you’ve got to be careful about usage, which he figures could add up to to over $1,000 an hour if you’re promiscuous at the 384Kbps maximum data rate!).
   Certainly a permanently mounted system like the FB150 or Iridium OpenPort that Gram Schweikert has been testing out in the Pacific is a better bluewater solution if you can afford one.  And there are also higher-end VSAT solutions, which are actually cheaper in terms of service if your data desires are large.  In fact, Dan found some sort of deal on hardware for KVH mini-VSAT (a service that seems to be expanding rapidly).  But unfortunately that means he won’t be reporting on how a BGAN actually works in real world cruising conditions.  I’m curious if anyone has used BGAN on a boat, or sees some reason why Dan’s testing might not apply?


PS, 12/03:  Here’s a photo (taken by Martin Kristensen) of commenter Søren Laursen aiming a BGAN from the Viking Warship replica The Sea Stallion from Glendalough:


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

8 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Incidentally, Dan is also quite a pianist. I’ve been enjoying his latest CD, Art Attack:

  2. Jorma says:

    Important topic.
    I did look into this 2 years ago, because of the reasonable equipment prices. I found one sailor with some real word experience with BGAN and sailing:
    His experience was that it only worked when moored or anchored in very still conditions.

  3. Søren Laursen says:

    On The Sea Stallion from Glendalough we used a BGAN 250 from Thrane & Thrane. And it could be used while sailing.
    One person on the computer and one person holding til BGAN antenna in level and used the build in compass to aim south.
    We used it for uploading pictures, editing the homepage, etc…

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Wow, so that would be BGAN on board the world’s largest viking warship replica:
    30 meters and 60 oarsmen! Thanks for sharing, Søren.

  5. Godfrey says:

    This may be helpful: From “The BGAN Explorer models (300 and 500) have shown to work well on a boat at anchor that has limited rocking and swinging. If you try using any portable BGAN terminals while moving on the open sea, Inmarsat (the owning company) will suspend service.”

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    What a wild world marine electronics can be. I just added a photo above (refresh your browser if you don’t see it) of Søren doing BGAN Viking style, and Dan’s testing an app for receiving WeatherFaxs on an iPad:

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Godfrey, In Miami an Inmarsat representative assured me that it does not cut off BGAN users just because they’re to use the system offshore.
    Dan Freedman, author of this entry, ended up getting a KVH V7 system and may be bumming a bit that V3 just appeared. But then again, he’s pretty busy trying to settle into the cruising life, which he’s blogging very well about:

  8. BenBen says:

    It works 🙂 check my trip through asia on a trawler and and a wideye bgan unit. was entirely uploaded from the boat using BGAN. Used it for weather and emails, blogging and checking the news on the net. To control browsing costs,set-up your browser to avoid downloading pictures, use a network monitor program(little snitch on MAC) and block all emails more than 50kb.
    Got caught in a typhoon during the Hong Kong to Philippines trip, The eye of the storm came really close to us. I was able to download sat pictures of the storm almost every hour, even with 75knots of winds. Was able to stay in the right quarter of the typhoon looking at sat pictures of the storm updated every hour by the Hong kong weather website. Priceless:)
    Inmarsat’s Fleetbroadband prices are too high when you can use bgan for the “same” quality of services. (you have to align the antenna, and during rough seas you can sometimes loose the signal). I’m ok to spend the money on a stabilized antenna, but FB connection rates should be identical to Bgan’s .
    go buy a bgan and a used irridium satphone for back-up(independent systems) and forget ssb and sailmail.

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