Test Center adventure: Phone and data off the grid

Inmarsat's satellite data service and the highly portable Thrane & Thrane Explorer 500 can connect you wherever you happen to be, or not be

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For my purposes, I had to shoot through the tree cover. This turned out to be a good test, and not only was I able to connect to a satellite through a small gap in the trees, but the signal was strong and reliable throughout the day. Toward evening, I found that I needed to adjust the unit slightly to relink, but this was a minor hassle.

Data speeds through the Explorer 500 are around 384Kbps down and 128Kbps up -- not exactly broadband, but more than suitable for general data use. Latency was high, as you might expect for a signal that travels 44,000 miles before reaching Earth. I measured normal latency in the 1,000ms-to-1,200ms range.

Overall, data transmission was reliable and fast enough for most tasks. SSH sessions could become tedious due to the latency, but Web browsing, instant messaging, and e-mail were quite usable.

One of Inmarsat's focal points is streaming data, wherein you can configure a streaming session that will guarantee uninterrupted data at a lower bit rate. For instance, if you wanted to stream audio or video through the device, you could configure a stream to run at 128Kbps. An example of a real-world use of this might be television or radio correspondents working in the field who need to stream live reports back to the station headquarters. In fact, Inmarsat offers dedicated data lines into its network operations center to complete the end-to-end guarantee. That stream essentially doesn't leave the network, and the result is a solid connection, no matter where you happen to be.

Red Sox (Inter)Nation(al)
I wanted (in fact, needed) to see how the streaming worked without the guarantee. What better way to do this than to stream a Red Sox game? I had the Explorer 500 connected to an Apple Airport Extreme and used the MLB Live application on my iPhone to pull the WRKO audio stream of a few Red Sox games through the satellite connection, with the iPhone plugged into a set of speakers. As long as I had reasonable signal strength, I encountered no problems streaming the entire game, without dropouts. At a data rate of around $6 per megabyte, it's not the cheapest way to take in a ballgame, but it was a good way to test the reliability of a nondedicated stream -- anything for science.

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