Worldwide access to full-service broadband phone and Internet communications is gradually coming down in price as it grows in dependability and popularity. In my September article on satellite phones, you read about affordable world phones offering text-only and text/voice service using either Iridium or Inmarsat satellites. These are dependable user-friendly alternatives to either SailMail, which is a network of HF radios and operators who relay emails via Pactor modems, or higher-priced broadband offering full-service Internet capability.
At the high end of the broadband product line is the Intellian FB500 FleetBroadband Antenna System, most appropriate for very large luxury yachts and commercial vessels. The FB500, which lists for about $16,000, is a professional-level system offering fast Internet, voice and text data speeds from a constellation of 14 Inmarsat satellites. The rather large dome antenna, weighing 15.5 pounds, can handle data rates of up to 432 Kbps — enough to process nine simultaneous telephone calls.
The FB500 system has a built-in Wi-Fi access point, eliminating the need to install a separate router. Any iPhone, iPad or Android device can access the Intellian system from any point on the vessel. The system also features a rugged plug-and-play handset with the data terminal. The handset has a 2.2-inch diagonal screen and a noise suppression function to block out noise from the engine or wind.
If you already have an Intellian i6 or s6HD satellite TV antenna installed on your vessel, you can match it with a similarly sized FB500 radome to add a symmetrical look to the dual installation. The FB500 antenna dome is available in the following sizes: 27 5/8 inches (i6), 42 1/2 inches (i9) and 52 3/8 inches (t110).
The TracPhone Fleet One from KVH Industries.
For roughly half the price of the FB500, you can avail yourself of nearly the same performance of this larger system with the FB250. This system features data speeds of up to 250 Kbps for simultaneous voice and data access, which is enough to handle nine separate phone calls at a time. The smallest FB250 antenna dome measures only 14 11/16 inches high, a much better fit for a 40- to 60-foot cruising vessel.
As with its larger sibling, the FB250 has a built-in Wi-Fi access point, so you don’t need to purchase and configure a separate router. The FB250 package includes the same convenient handset as that featured with the FB500.
At the humbler end of the full-service Internet access spectrum is the TracPhone Fleet One from KVH Industries, which currently lists for about $2,900. With an antenna dome measuring only 11 inches high and weighing only 9 pounds, this compact system can fit comfortably on even the smallest of sailing vessels. An optional wireless router is available to connect with iOS and Android devices.
Perched on the arch between a pair of solar panels, the humble Fleet One would be out of the way while supplying crew with data speeds of up to 100 Kbps through its Inmarsat airtime service. This gives your crew almost the same easy connectivity enjoyed by the rich folks on the giant yacht in the middle of the anchorage. Monthly service charges apply to all of the Internet access phone systems mentioned here, but they are more affordable than you may think. The TracPhone monthly service charge is $49.99 for up to 10 MB of data and 100 minutes of voice communication.
Though many of us relish the peace and simple lifestyle of an ocean sailing voyage, having the ability to communicate with our loved ones back home only adds to that serenity.