|Of Seas and Satellites|
3: Satellite Communication
By Tim Clark — March 2001
This sort of service is also available in conjunction with Motient's MarineSat service. While MarineSat coverage is not as extensive as that of Inmarsat, it does include coastal North and Central American waters plus the Caribbean and Hawaii. For boaters who don't foresee the need for worldwide coverage, it is an attractive alternative. After you pay a $50 to $60 monthly charge for voice and 4.8 kb/second data services, per-minute charges are as low as $1.19. Westinghouse's Wavetalk, which sells for around $5,000 with a standard satellite tracking antenna, is a popular choice among phones used with the MarineSat service. Optionally, it can be connected to a larger, higher-gain, stabilized antenna for optimum reception within the MarineSat range. Another option allows for "cellular dual-mode" operation.
This useful function is a standard feature on the handheld phone made by Qualcomm for the Globalstar network. About the size of the average household cordless phone handset, the Qualcomm GSP 1600 is a cellphone when in range. When you're beyond cell coverage, you can switch over to access Globalstar's network of low earth-orbiting satellites. The Starphone QM 2500 marine kit, made for the GSP 1600, includes a fixed station (where the handheld is cradled) for your boat's bridge along with an exterior-mounted tracking antenna that measures just six inches in diameter and 10 inches in height. The GSP1600 lists for $1,200, and the marine kit lists for $1,499. Qualcomm also manufactures a marine phone that combines an antenna and terminal in one mast-mounted unit. The cable running from the GSMP2001 Radio Antenna Unit can be connected to any telephone set (including a cordless phone) and to a PC. SeaTel--whose new subsidiary WaveCall now distributes Globalstar phone and data services--sells the device with a standard marine mount ($2,495) or housed within its 20-inch radome ($2,995). Basic Globalstar service starts at $25 a month and about $1.50 per minute. Bundled minutes can be purchased on a monthly basis at discounted rates. In December Globalstar, which had been primarily a voice service, introduced data service at 9.6 kb per second. While still rather slow for economical Web surfing, the higher speed is certainly a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile for most of us, succinct e-mails, essential data downloads, and the occasional luxury (or necessity) of a phone call will have to do. If you find yourself fighting the urge to browse eBay while anchored in an isolated cove on the far side of a remote island, remind yourself that one of boating's greatest pleasures is a sense of escape from the trappings of life on land. There is no denying the value of these miraculous means of communication, but when you buy a satphone, it might not be a bad idea to ask for an unlisted number.
KVH Industries (401) 847-3327. Fax: (401) 849-0045. www.kvh.com.
MarineSat-Stratos (Motient) (301) 214-8800. Fax: (301) 214-8801. www.stratos.ca.
Thrane & Thrane/LandSea Systems (757) 463-9557. Fax: (757) 463-9581. www.landseasystems.com.
Westinghouse Wireless (410) 765-0049. Fax: (410) 765-0229. www.westinghousewireless.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.