Begin the BGAN

New satellite terminal from Inmarsat makes live news from afar easier
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While dealing with new platforms for delivering content to consumers, traditional media organizations also have an eye on new platforms for delivery from the field. The latest is Inmarsat's BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) service, which promises to make it easier for reporters to file live streaming-video reports or to blast a high-resolution story file back to the home office.

“With a small satellite terminal with a dish the size of a laptop computer, broadcasters and journalists will have unprecedented portability,” says Frank August, Inmarsat regional director, North America. “Instead of needing a satellite truck, you can have a reporter in the backseat of a car with a satellite kit in a backpack.”

98% OF THE WORLD

The new service has been a long time coming. To facilitate it, Inmarsat this year launched two satellites, each the size of a double-decker bus and featuring panels as large as a football field. BGAN should be available in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa in January and in North America by March or April. It will cover 85% of the world's surface and 98% of the earth's population.

Using satellite phones to transmit news stories is already familiar to reporters. For example, Inmarsat's current GAN (Global Area Network) is used by reporters around the world to send back live video streams at data rates of 64 kilobits per second (kbps) per ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) channel. The problem, however, is that increasing the bit rate to 256 kbps (enough bandwidth for reasonably presentable video quality) requires crews to tie four satellite terminals together. Each terminal costs up to $8,000 and weighs between 10 and 20 pounds. That adds a considerable financial (and physical) strain.

BANDWIDTH AND PORTABILITY

The new system offers a leap in both bandwidth and portability. BGAN supports point-to-point telecommunication services on portable and semi-fixed land mobile platforms in the range of 216-432 kbps in downlink and 72-432 kbps in uplink, depending on the type of terminal. That means that only one terminal is needed.

Four companies—Hughes Network, Thrane & Thrane, Nara and AddValue—are building lightweight BGAN terminals that will cost between $1,600 and $3,800. “They can also take two of the BGAN terminals and tie them together to get speeds up to 512 kbps,” says August.

Transmission costs, he adds, will be equivalent to those for GAN, for which users pay about $13 per minute for a 64-kbps channel and about $6 per megabyte when sending a file.

The system has a number of other features that August expects will make it attractive to news personnel. It uses Ericsson 3G switches, bringing features like SMS text messaging, voice mail and call-forwarding to the phone terminal. It also offers voice-call capability so that a reporter or producer can stream live video, with a video file in the background, and make a voice call on the phone.

“Data is where we saw the technology gap, but voice is part of that as well,” August explains. “It's all about giving our customers a comfort level.”

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