Communications: Prices Drop and Services Increase

As advances in
communications and navigation equipment technology change at a seemingly
alarming rate, there is something to be said about mixing the old with the new
to keep some semblance of the old familiar functionality for commercial
In June, Inmarsat launched Fleet One, a new satellite phone
service which provides voice, email, Internet, text service and features
inexpensive equipment and installation. “Airtime is only 50 cents per
minute for voice calls and the data rate starts at only five dollars per
megabyte,” says Dave Brengelmann, Maritime Sales, Western US. “These
rates are considerably less than a cell phone when roaming overseas and are a
third less than the other services we currently offer.”
Of particular interest to fishermen is the ability to
purchase pre-paid vouchers of time so they can initiate the service as they
need it, no matter the fishing season. “All you do is go to your marine
electronics dealer to activate the service and buy extra vouchers that feature
a 16-digit pin. Whenever you want to re-activate the service, dial a toll free
3-digit number and you’re back in business,” he says.
Fleet One operates on Inmarsat’s I-4 satellites which are
rigorously tested and has a standard plug and play connection to a computer,
works with mobile apps such as smartphones and tablets, and a wireless router
enables multiple users. The system also offers real-time weather information.
Also available is an AmosConnect email service for free with an account.
One can hook up a Fleet One terminal in about five minutes on
a shop bench and users can find youtube videos that help visually through the
process. On board, installation time will vary due to the cable run. The
Inmarsat Fleet One terminal has the same mounting bolt pattern as the Mini M
and MSAT antennas; users need only change out their existing one for Fleet One.
Additionally, Fleet One supports Inmarsat’s unique ‘505’ safety service that
immediately connects a fishing vessel in distress with the marine rescue
coordination center.
Also in June, Globalstar, Inc. launched its new satellite
technology offering. Called Sat-Fi, the device provides the clarity of a cell
phone for voice-to-voice contact and also enables up to eight users to send
emails and texts through their existing smartphone, tablet or other
Wi-Fi-enabled device interface.
“We are expanding our hardware portfolio to provide
customers access to a satellite network with their existing smartphones, in
essence, making the user’s current phone into a satellite phone,” says
Rich Galasso, Distributions Manager. “The real trick is that the Sat-Fi
allows up to eight devices connected at any one time.”
Once users download the free Sat-Fi apps on their existing
cell phones, for example, they can compose an email or a text the same way and
can monitor what it’s doing and where it is in the process of sending and
When adding users to the Sat-Fi device, Galasso says it works
much like extensions on a land line phone. Only one person can dial out at a
time and the app shows any other users if the line is already in use.
For email, each user can create emails and have them queued
on the app until they are ready to send and receive. From a text message
standpoint, users shouldn’t notice any kind of delays as these work in near
real time.
The new Sat-Fi, in comparison to Globalstar’s other sat
phones, is a lot less expensive. The fixed GSP-2900 phone normally retails for
about $1,400 to $1,700, depending on antenna set up and data kit. The Sat-Fi at
$999 comes complete. There is nothing else users have to buy unless they want
to extend the antenna cable, which will likely cost less than $100. Sat-Fi
comes with a 14-foot antenna cable which for most operations is more than
For fishing crews, there is the option of a three-day free
email plan, or getting email direct for an additional $80 per year (including
additional service fees on top of the air time). Users can obtain an unlimited
voice and data plan through Globalstar at $150 per month which is comparable to
today’s cell phone plans.
“People already have their phones in their pockets so
they’re not buying any additional equipment,” says Galasso. “And they
get the benefit of putting multiple users on it at one time. Sat-Fi provides
normal wireless connectivity, so it definitely has good range for small
crew-type activity.”
Technological advances in the next couple of years will soon
increase raw data speeds that will bring satellite phones on par with cell
phones. “It’s not that sat phones are going to replace cellular but it will
be very convenient and very simple to use and the price will be very reasonable
in both the hardware and in the air time side of it,” adds Galasso.
“That’s where the satellite world is going for Globalstar. As data speeds
increase, we’ll offer faster, less expensive products with more
Ocens, located in Des Moines, Washington offers easy access
weather data-gathering that can be downloaded via satellite phone. “The
software is designed around the low bandwidth limited file size restrictions so
that users can cost-effectively get in, get the weather information they need,
and get that downloaded over their satellite phone,” says Jeff Thomassen,
Director, Sales & Marketing, Product Testing & Development.
WeatherNet 4 service allows the user to select the weather
information they want, for instance, a text weather report from NOAA or a
weather facts chart. All they need to do is hit the download button and the
software connects them to the Internet over their satellite phone, which logs
into Ocens’ servers, immediately downloads the files and then disconnects the
call when it’s done. The files are downloaded in compressed formats so the user
takes the minimal amount of air time possible to get the files.
“We employ some data compression as well as Internet
protocols that are streamlined, and our servers are configured to work with the
slow connections,” says Thomassen. “Today’s Internet is looking for
broadband connections everywhere and sat phones are not, in general, that type
of connection. They’re much slower or still using older protocols, older
speeds, so we have our servers configured so they can operate at that slower
speed to deal with the slow data transfers without causing time-outs.”
According to Thomassen, WeatherNet 4 comprises one of the
world’s largest databases of ocean information products; everything from
standard weather information to ocean data such as surface temperatures,
currents, salinity, plankton and as well as text reports and satellite imagery.
Each time the user hits the download button, the software
downloads the most current version of that particular weather file. Many of the
files are supported by many of the charting software programs so the files can
then be imported into a user’s navigation software or view them as stand-alone
weather files. “Even if you have guys who are working multiple fisheries,
it’s all available in the same service so all they have to do is change their
selections as needed,” says Thomassen.
Ocens sells many familiar state-of-the-art satellite phone
brands along with WeatherNet 4 service. Users with existing phones or computers
can sign up for the WeatherNet 4 service which is $99 per year. File download
costs vary from between five cents to a dollar, with some higher resolution
products at $5 per download and are billed on a monthly basis.
“We offer the satellite phones and we offer email
service as well,” says Thomassen. “If the crew need to stay in
contact back home or communicate with a buyer, etc., we have an email service
that’s designed around the same kind of compression and enhanced network
protocols so that they can very cost-effectively send or receive email from the
vessel, and they can subscribe on a monthly or yearly basis for that.”
Furuno’s family of NavNet TZtouch products have recently
taken a step forward with a much-requested remote control unit that provides
the old-fashioned buttons and tactile control for vessel captains and crew.
“The MCU002 Remote Controller is compatible for use with
the entire NavNet TZtouch series, including the TZTBB Black Box, as well as
theTZT14 and TZT9 MFD,” says Jeff Kauzlaric, Advertising &
Communications Manager, based in Camas, Washington. “The controller
benefits installations where the displays are recessed and/or mounted a bit out
of conventional reach. The design of the controller is compact and light,
allowing it to be installed anywhere, even as an armchair controller, if
The remote control accesses all NavNet TZtouch features,
including Chart Plotting functions, like panning, zooming, and route creation.
Users can control the Radar, Fish Finder, NavPilot autopilot (when interfaced),
RotoKey menu functionality, as well as custom page displays. When this remote
is mounted alongside a currently installed TZT14 or TZT9 TZtouch display, it
will give the user direct, instant access to tactile controls, which can be
critical in rough seas.
The cost of the unit is $180. “The only thing you’ll
need to do is make sure TZtouch MFDs are updated with the very latest operating
software, version 3.12 or above,” says Kauzlaric. This can be done easily
by watching youtube videos.

Additionally, Furuno has recently released version 3.12 of
their TZtouch Software which enables operation with the MCU002 remote control
and offers new features, including optimized active route synchronization
between NavNet 3D and MaxSea TimeZero software, auto transmission power setting
for the DFF1-UHD CHIRP sounder, and enhanced on-screen DSC call and position