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Salty sea dog scales the mountains of Ithaca

To BGAN at the beginning...

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Guy Kewney and the Inmarsat Broadband Global Area Network satellite modemBlog Suppose you had to test a brand new bit of wireless internet gear. Specifically, an Inmarsat Broadband Global Area Network satellite modem.

What does it do? Easy! - it gives you internet access at pretty quick speeds, even if there's no broadband, no mobile phone coverage, no net cafes, nothing. OK , where's a really remote part of the world, suitable for a proper field test?

I'm now in a position to tell you something about the small fishing village of Fiskes, on the island of Ithaca - something I bet you don't know. It is this: the mountains that guard the entrance to Fiskes are taller than they would need to be to block Inmarsat BGAN satellites.

Yes, it's going to be a long story. Here's the brief intro: I was boasting to a friend who works for Inmarsat that I didn't need any of his toys this time.

"I'm going sailing off Greece," I bragged, "and I have a new Vodafone mobile connect data card. Remember how the wireless software used to crash all the time? - well, the new version of the software doesn't! So I'll be online all the time I'm away."

A few short statements for my education. Yes, there is some 3G coverage of Greece. No, it doesn't extend to the remote islands of the South Ionian. If you want mobile internet there, you have to be happy with GPRS - or take something special.

So that's what this is about. I said that if he let me play with his BGAN terminal for a fortnight, I'd report on how well it did.

The BGAN network is quite unlike what you'd expect. Most of us have seen BBC journalists sitting by the roadside, wearing flack jackets somewhere in the middle East - with a huge radio dish next to them. So you know what to expect.

BGAN isn't like that. It's about the size and shape of a hardback book, lying open on a lectern; two white pages forming the radiation and receiving panels. It uses pitifully little power - you can run it off a car cigar-lighter if you use its battery enough to flatten it.

And the beauty of it is that it will reach a remote boat, parked in a remote cove off a Greek Island. Unless, of course, you park the boat in a harbour underneath a socking great mountain.

Well, it gives me a chance to do a side by side trial of BGAN vs GPRS. Today, I'll upload all my pictures via GPRS, and tomorrow, I'll try again, using the BGAN toy. More follows... ®

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