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Part 3: Sea Tel MCM3
By Tim Clark — March 2002
The backbone of Sea Tel’s system is the WaveCall Multi-Channel Modem 3 (MCM3), a 20-inch-diameter, 10-inch-high antenna dome packed with three 9.6-kbps voice and data modems. Depending on the data load coming through from WaveCall Globalstar satellites, the MCM3 activates one, two, or all three modems, essentially multiplying the speed by three. When combined with existing Sea Tel SatSpeed Internet compression software, which will be packaged along with the MCM3, the three modems’ total 28.8 kbps download speed can be further enhanced by up to five times.
Whether data download actually reaches 144 kbps depends partly on the nature of the data being transferred. Word processor files, for instance, are usually constructed in a way that leaves significant room for compression. Graphics files, however, are often densely constructed from the outset, so compression would have less effect. As Judy Borchelt, Sea Tel’s marketing manager, puts it, "The 144 kbps is theoretically achievable, but it’s not going to happen all the time. On the other hand, matching the at-home experience of approximately 56 kbps is commonly achievable." Borchelt also points out that since the MCM3 allows the use of three channels, users can use the satphone and surf the Web simultaneously.
At press time Sea Tel did not yet have pricing for the MCM3 and its accompanying WaveCall service. Quest Telecom International’s Carl Sederquist, a maritime satcom consultant in Ellesworth, Maine, hesitates to speculate, but points out that since the MCM3 will utilize three modems, per-minute charges may approach three times the cost of using a single channel. "The Globalstar satellite network may give them a break because it’s bundled with three channels, but still someone’s got to pay for the space segment [of the satellite’s bandwidth]." Hopefully consumers will be pleasantly surprised when Sea Tel sets its rates.
One thing is certain: In addition to speeding up access to information such as electronic charts and weather overlays that aid safe navigation, these new services will bring boating another step closer to including all the comforts of home and all the convenience of the office. Everyone enjoys the seclusion boating can bring, but the sad reality is that this very pleasure often curtails the amount of time we spend away from homeport. With underway access to e-mail accounts, search engines, company networks, and Web sites of all sorts, some boaters used to dreaming of cruising while planted at their desks may simply opt to take their work with them, making boating the reality and business virtual.
This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.