In their role as "first informers," broadcasters have to be able to maintain communications when cellular and fiber networks go down. The obvious solution is to use a satellite-based Internet connection such as ViaSat's Ka-band "Exede" and station-owned/controlled microwave and two-way communications links licensed in broadcast auxiliary Part 74 spectrum. For stations with smaller budgets or needed worst-case backup, Globalstar's new Sat-Fi may be worth considering.
The Sat-Fi service provides a Wi-Fi hotspot that connects to Globalstar's low-earth-orbit non-geostationary satellite constellation, and when used with a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone or laptop and Globalstar's Sat-Fi apps (available for Android, Apple iOS, Mac and Windows), can provide a low-speed Internet connection suitable for email, SMS and voice service.
Globalstar's modem software installation instructions say the uncompressed data speed is 9.6 Kbps. Global Express Data software compresses the data for speeds comparable to 38.6 kbps. While web browsing should be possible, I'd only expect it to work on text-based or very low bandwidth sites. At 9.6 kbps it certainly isn't broadband. Globalstar's Sat-Fi coverage map shows the service available in the continental United States, Alaska and the Caribbean. There is no coverage in Hawaii. In the last quarter of this year coverage will be expanded to Globalstar's "Home Zone", which includes Europe, northern Africa and parts of South America.
Mat Honan posted a review of the Globalstar Sat-Fi on Wired.com.
He writes: "When everything is set up right, and conditions are good (meaning you’ve got a clear sky setup) it worked perfectly. Voice calls don’t exhibit noticeable lag. The Internet connection just rolls data out and reels it back in again. At night under a wide open starry sky by the side of a lake, I had stellar voice quality that sounded about like a normal cell phone call. Yet on a heavily overcast day when I had the antenna in the shadow of a house, there was a noticeable lag of several seconds between the time I would say something and when it came through to the other caller."
He had some complaints about the software, concluding, "But overall this is a really impressive product. It connects you with the rest of the world, where you previously could not. It’s a remarkable feat."
The Sat-Fi costs $999. Monthly service plans start at $39.99 for 40 minutes of service (voice and data usage are both billed by the minute) with additional minutes costing $0.99. Unlimited service costs $149.99 per month. All plans include Express Data Compression. Plans with more minutes are available with discounts for the included minutes. The "Galaxy Unlimited" annual service plan is $1,800 per year. An annual plan with 480 minutes, which might be more useful if it isn't used that often, is $480 per year, providing 80 more minutes than 12 months of the monthly plan.
I expect to see competition from other LEO NGSO satellite operators and possibly lower prices in the future, but for a station that sends crews to remote locations where terrestrial service isn't reliable the Sat-Fi could be useful right now.
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Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.
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