What will it cost for your organization to use satellites in emergency situations? The following comments and accompanying chart can be a starting point for your evaluation of satellites. The Publisher sought input from a number of industry experts, and the chart is an attempt to highlight some of the differences in three types of service: BGAN, Fixed VSAT and Mobile VSAT. Another option, High Throughput Satellite, is not included here, but this relatively new type of service is likely to offer much higher bandwidth at even more affordable rates. See the following article on Ka-band satellites in this issue. The Disaster Resource GUIDE will be working with a number of experts in the coming months to offer educational webinars to help you objectively evaluate satellite solutions.
The BGAN solution included in the chart has been very popular because of its ease of use and low monthly fixed charges. However, in disaster situations, two factors could make this solution much less practical, and less affordable, than expected. In regional disasters where many users may be using their BGAN equipment simultaneously, recent experiences indicate that BGAN service can slow significantly and reduce bandwidth to intolerable levels, and this could happen when you are most in need of quality service. Secondly, the cost varies with data usage and the over- ages can add up quickly. One responder working in Haiti after the earthquake made the unfortunate mistake of leaving his laptop on, and automatic Windows updates ran up a $3,000 charge for data! BGAN’s excellent value in mobility and ease of use is unlikely the best solution for longer response efforts.
Another key consideration in your decision deals with stated bandwidth, CIR (Committed Information Rate), and contention ratios. While a thorough analysis of these issues is beyond the scope of this summary, it is very important to ask questions of your prospective satellite provider! Briefly, you will be paying a monthly rate for a level of bandwidth. However, unless you are getting a guarantee of bandwidth (CIR), your service may be much less than the stated maximum. The satellite companies sell capacity to many customers, and one of the ways to offer less expensive service is to have a higher contention ratio – or more people using the same ‘pipe’ than the pipe can sup- port. There could be 500 users, each with 2 Mbit/second service, sharing a 20Mbit/second pipe, resulting in a 50:1 contention ratio. It would be unusual for all of the users to be attempting massive data transfer at the same time...but with a higher contention ratio, it’s easy to see how this could happen. Naturally, a CIR service will cost you more because the satellite company is essentially leaving that bandwidth available for you, even when you do not use it.
Stay tuned to the Continuity eGUIDE newsletter for announcements about satellite webinars! The Publisher wishes to thank Dave Hartshorn and Steve Birnbaum, of the Global VSAT Forum (GVF), Peter Zawistowski of PeterZ & Co., and Skip Anderson, of Skycasters for their assistance in preparing this summary and chart.