Beam Oceana 800, and weather via sat phone
Panbo thanks Bob Ebaugh for taking some time out from a Caribbean cruise to write this review detailing his experience with several satellite phones, particularly an Inmarsat model built by Beam for fixed marine installation:
Early this year one of Ben’s industry friends was interested
in an evaluation of a Beam
Oceana 800. I was in the right
place at the right time, and thanks to the kindness of Satellite Phone Solutions,
one was loaned to me for the season as I travelled from St. Martin to Grenada. We already had an IsatPhone Pro and Globalstar
handheld on board, so I can make some comparisons between the 3 different
products for voice and data communications.
Installation was a breeze; the system has only 2 components,
the handset and the active antenna.
Connect the antenna to the handset with a pair of pre-made coaxial
cables, then connect the handset to either 12 VDC, or 110 AC with the supplied
transformer and you are up and running.
In my case, we had a bum sim card, and I had to wait a couple of days
for a new one to arrive via FedEx.
The Beam 800 is essentially a IsatPhone Pro in
disguise. The phones menus are
identical. But instead of having to go
outside and watch where you move your head, thus re-aiming the handhelds
antenna, this one works all the time with the outside active antenna. We found the handhelds usually work under a
canvas top, but the best signal requires an unobstructed view of the sky. With
numerous calls back home and the Beam Oceana only one dropped call the entire
time. Voice quality was very good, but
you do have to allow for the conversational delay due to the distance to the
satellite. In this regard, when it
worked, the Globalstar phone was more like talking on an ordinary cell phone
since their satellites are in a much lower orbit.
Incoming text messages are free. The phone has an email address for anyone
to send you a message. Outgoing ones
are based on rate plan, 39 cents each on mine to any email address. The message size is limited like cell phone
texts. The Beam, like the IsatPhone Pro,
allows you to automatically transfer your current position, course and speed to
a text email message for someone following you at home. We tend to use this when out to sea over 24
Beam offers additional tracking capabilities over the
IsatPhone Pro. They have a tracking website
that will show your current and historical position reports tracked on a
map. The Beam phone will update your position
several different ways:
1) When you press the “tracking” button on the phone
2) Automatically based on a user defined reporting
3) When someone logged on to the tracking website
asks for an update (pretty slick)
I found this more of an industrial solution. Worked great, but every position update is
billed as a text message, so they cost 39 cents each. There also may be some sort of subscription
fee as well, we had a demo account. But there
is no way to create a public link to the tracking map for a blog site, you must
have a user id and password for the tracking website. For a maritime fleet, this looks like a
great solution. But for recreational
cruisers, there are better and less expensive tracking options available.
I wanted to compare the data capabilities of all three
phones, the Beam, IsatPhone Pro and Globalstar. If you want to surf the net, none of these
will do that in a useable manner. But
they will do text email and weather quite nicely. However, you do need additional either
hardware or software to manage and compress the communications going through an
extremely slow connection. This can be
accomplished by either managing what protocols are allowed to pass through to
the TCP/IP connection or by using a direct connection to a service that only
offers email. I used OnSatMail, a private branded version of UUPlus for customers buying airtime from Applied
Satellite Technology. Other providers
have different solutions, but it does pay to shop around when buying airtime
since this service is free. Otherwise
this feature can cost $30 a month or more from UUPlus or Global Marine Networks, the
two primary providers of this technology.
Installing OnSatMail to a PC gives you an email application
optimized for satellite communications along with an email account
@onsatmail.com for your satellite email.
The email client directly connects to a mail server using a digital
connection similar to an ISDN link, although at a fraction of the speed. The client is preset to work with many
satellite devices, including my IsatPhone Pro and Globalstar phone. So I was able to use all three phones and
compare data transmission rates.
My primary objective was weather, so the next needed
component is a service to send you GRIB files via email. There are several services that do this, I
used SailDocs, a free service
used by many cruisers using SSB Radio data links. The needs for slow satellite phones are
identical. To use SailDocs, you send an
email with a coded request for GRIB data covering your area of interest and
specify what layers (wind, pressure, precipitation, wave height etc.) you are
interested in. Here is an example
From: Robert Ebaugh
Date: Thursday, March 8, 2012
covers the box covered by the coordinates in 1 degree increments, every 6 hours
up to 72 hours then every 12 hours out to 384 hours. Wind, Sea Level Pressure, Height of
Significant Waves, Wave Period and Predicted Precipitation are the requested
data elements. SailDocs processes this
request, generates a customized GRIB file and sends it back to your email
address as an attached file in a couple of minutes. There is also an option to have the same
file sent every day at the same time.
For the final piece of the puzzle, you need to have
something that can interpret the GRIB file.
My personal favorite is WeatherTrack,
an IPad application. When you have an internet
connection, this application will connect and download GRIB files
seamlessly. But for satellite weather
you have to transfer the files using Itunes and a cable. Or you can make your mail PC a FTP server and
download them over your WiFi network.
Or to keep it simple you can use a PC based GRIB file viewer either
standalone, or in conjunction with your PC navigation program. I was able to use MaxSea TZ to display these
files, but I really preferred WeatherTrack. Here is an example of the final product on WatherTrack:
The area shown in the picture is the area covered in my speed
test GRIB file downloads. This one
shows wind direction, wind speed and sea level pressure. There are other screens for other data types
like precipitation. It shows your
current position on the map, and you can tap anywhere on the map and get a
Meteogram for that specific point on the map.
This feature is what makes this application stand out.
I ran several tests sending the same request file on all
three phones and downloading the results.
It takes almost a minute of overhead to establish the connection. The emailed request is very fast, so that is
over in less than a minute of billable time on all the phones. Then you have to wait 3-5 minutes to reconnect
again to receive your email with the GRIB file attached. This takes 2 minutes, on both the Inmarsat
phones, the speed of the Beam was identical to the IsatPhone Pro. The Globalstar data rate is faster, so it
was able to do it in just under a minute.
If you were doing other email tasks, Globalstar would be very noticeably
faster. You should plan on 3 minutes
of airtime a day to get a weather update.
My test GRIB file was about 20K, and OnSatMail compressed that to about
11K for data transmission.
Overall I was very pleased with the Beam phone. It was trouble free and much easier to use
from the inside steering station than going outside with the portable. For a commercial vessel or charter boat, it
has the benefit of never disappearing since it’s bolted to the wall. But for the same money you can buy the Beam
Docking Station and an IsatPhone Pro, a more flexible configuration for the
cruising sailor. This configuration
allows you to throw the phone in your ditch bag if needed, but still have the
benefits of the fixed installation.
PS Globalstar: From Florida to Antigua, I was very pleased with my
Globalstar phone. You did have to look
up the times that the satellite would be overhead since their satellite constellation
is not complete. But it worked in those
windows of time for both for voice and data.
At 19.99 a month for all you wanted to use, it was a bargain. But about Guadeloupe, the phone stopped
registering with the network. Email
support was nonexistent, and telephone support weak. They also just raised the rates to $40 a
month. The coverage limit under our
plan is Grenada anyway and we are headed to the ABC’s and Columbia, so with the
rate increase and phone issues we won’t be continuing our plan. We have decided to not look at expanding our
coverage area. We bought more minutes
for our IsatPhone Pro instead.
Bob and Elaine Ebaugh cruise aboard the Defever 44 Mar Azul, and Bob has already contributed two excellent (I think) guest entries to Panbo: one on Chetco Digital engine monitoring last year and another about getting NMEA 0183 data onto Ethernet the year before. Thanks, Bob!
Inmarsat IsatPhone, bring it on!
September 24, 2007
Globalstar vs Iridium, no winner
September 4, 2007
IsatPhone Pro does data, XGate a must?
April 9, 2011
Saildocs, a Gram Schweikert tutorial
June 3, 2008