Comparing BGAN and VSAT Technologies #
Inmarsat’s BGAN and VSAT technology are the two main options for IP communications. They are both reliable and provide voice and data services in remote locations. Requirements for usage (amount, location, bandwidth, etc.) will be the deciding factor in which technology ends up being the customer’s final choice. Below is a listing of some of the important differences between BGAN and VSAT to assist in the decision of which solution is the best for your needs!
Data Transferred #
How much data that is sent will be a huge factor in which tech (BGAN and VSAT) you decide to go with; this decision also affects cost highly. Let’s say in a hypothetical scenario that you are expecting to move tons of data, like hundreds of GB’s of data and this will be occurring every month; for this situation VSAT would likely be the better choice if none of the other factors below end being more important.
Speed Requirements #
BGAN offers a Standard/Shared service IP connection, which can deliver peak speeds of 490kbps. It also boasts a Streaming/Dedicated IP service with selectable speeds from 32 to 384kbps. VSAT bandwidth is selectable from 64K to multiple Megabits per second in symmetrical or asymmetrical configurations. For customers with high-usage needs, VSAT would likely be a better choice when considering usage requirements.
Number of Users #
If you are having issues figuring out what speed you will need or even how much data you are going to be transmitting in MB’s then try to think of how many users you will have that need to use the connection. A good rule of thumb is that BGAN is for single users or small teams who have sporadic usage patterns.
Also, these customers are mainly sticking to email, small data transfers, and possibly some telemetry or even short video broadcasts. As far as where VSAT is concerned it is literally the polar opposite. VSAT can accommodate large camp operations for oil & gas, mining, or even military operations where you could have dozens of clients and a much wider range of applications all being used simultaneously.
Hardware Cost #
Where cost is concerned BGAN is the simpler of the two. BGAN directional antennas range from $3,000 to $5,500 while auto-tracking units can even be upwards of $8,000-$18,000. Installation is of no exception with this either with BGAN units being on average pretty simple to install and operate by the customer without any assistance by a technician. VSAT costs on the other hand vary dramatically depending upon several factors including the type of equipment (Ku or C band) and the size of some of the hardware like the antenna for instance.
Entry level setups can run approximately $3,000 but can literally be upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for large scale operations. VSAT systems with auto-pointing can range in price from $20,000 to $200,000 depending upon the type of system needed. With all this being considered a trained technician is needed for VSAT installations, so there is normally additional costs with VSAT for fixed site installations.
Operating Cost #
VSAT bandwidth is usually a fixed monthly fee based upon the speeds you need, which can range anywhere from $200 to $20,000 per month depending on bandwidth. In some cases there are transfer allowances associated with the VSAT bandwidth plan, but most are based upon GB’s of usage per month. BGAN’s Standard IP service is charged per Megabyte of data with rate plans ranging from $3 to $7 per MB.
Global Coverage? #
Inmarsat provides BGAN on a seamless network that operates with near global coverage. You can take your BGAN terminal from California, Toronto, South America, Africa, and even Asia and connect easily to the Inmarsat satellite network. VSAT coverage is similar to BGAN coverage but in most cases it is not seamless and you need separate contracts on different satellites and teleports to get global coverage. If mobility is a major issue then BGAN really provides a more seamless transition for your coverage and its small form factor makes it ideal for mobility as well.
Easy to Use #
As far as ease of use, this is where BGAN really comes out on top. In under five minutes any user can set-up, point, and connect their devices to a BGAN terminal and start communicating. Fixed VSAT systems require a trained technician with specialized equipment to point and peak your terminal. This is of course unless you invest in auto-pointing technology which has push-button deployment. Equipment size is also a major factor between BGAN and VSAT where ease of use is concerned. A BGAN terminal (depending on the model) can fit inside your laptop bag while a VSAT system is pretty huge.
The illustration shows how big of a difference there can be between the two. The left image is an iSavi sitting on a table which is a BGAN terminal while the image on the right is a VSAT system installed on a ship. As you can tell the iSavi is literally the size of a small laptop while the VSAT system would take at least two people to install it.
Form Factor #
The diameter of VSAT terminals can range from 1 to 2.4 meters for most solutions. Fixed antennas can be mounted on a pole (2″ in diameter) or even on a non-penetrating roof mount (NPRM) with 500 to 1,000 pounds of support to prevent misalignment. In contrast, BGAN terminals are about the size of a laptop computer and they include a rechargeable battery so they shouldn’t need to be tethered to anything for a power source to operate.
Communications on the Move #
If you are in need of communications on the move than BGAN is really your best bet. It offers auto-tracking that helps communications while in a moving vehicle while VSAT are available they are designed for maritime communications and way too large for something in a moving vehicle. So for land use it is safe to stick to BGAN in moving vehicles.