Boat Connectivity, Part 2: BGAN Systems for Your Boat

BGAN systems

BGAN systems can provide easy-to-use portable satellite wifi almost worldwide, useful aboard anything from superyachts to much smaller local charters. (Inmarsat)

Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) systems in portable “suitcase” packages are becoming popular for mariners and others in remote locations to access satellite links worldwide at an equipment cost well under that of most fixed satellite dome systems. These systems also provide seamless worldwide telephone links, so staying connected is no longer an issue anywhere on the planet . . . except on the poles, where the satellite signals don’t reach. 

Most of the devices are “auto-pointing”. There’s no need to move the terminal around or direct an antenna to locate the satellite. This makes them ideal for use in motion. Whether you’re underway on a distant ocean or simply in an inland or nearshore area with no wifi or cellular service, you just switch the devices on and almost immediately have a highly weather-resistant global wifi hotspot. 

Most BGAN’s are light enough and compact enough that you can easily take them with you from boat to boat—delivery captains and those who charter at distant locations take note. 

internet, BGAN

Underway in a remote ICW location? You can still easily get internet with a BGAN system. (powerfulsignal.com)

Remote linkage is not just for offshore cruising. When you’re cruising along the ICW or Great Loop, internet access is vital for finding marinas, food, repair yards and other basic services along the way.

Many BGAN’s come in waterproof cases that allow them to operate on open deck in heavy weather conditions with no concern for water intrusion. 

The user simply places the case anywhere with a view of the open sky, presses the power button, closes the case and waits. Typically in about 60 seconds, the device locks on and becomes a waterproof wifi hotspot with a range up to 1000’ (300 m) with your chosen cellular provider. 



Many BGAN devices are also self-contained 3G/4G/LTE routers, so multiple users aboard can access data. A single BGAN terminal provides simultaneous voice and data up to 492kbps, enabling you to access the internet or send email and talk on the phone at the same time.

Many can operate up to 10 hours on a rechargeable internal battery or can be attached to AC/DC power from outputs aboard or at the dock.

They’re not flyweight but are easily portable. Some weigh less than 10 lbs. (4.5 kg), and the heaviest are less than 30 lbs. (13.6 kg). (The latter models come with suitcase wheels, allowing easier transport.) Size ranges from about that of a laptop to that of a small Pelican-type waterproof case, roughly 17″L x 13.75″W x 6.75 “H (432 x 349 x 171mm).

portable BGAN

Portable BGAN packages allow linking to wifi almost anywhere worldwide, ashore or at sea. (CPN Satellite Services)

Advantages over fixed satellite systems
Fixed satellite systems typically cost $5,000 to up to $50,000. BGAN’s start at around $1,500 for the terminal alone and the most pricey are about $13,500 for complete terminal, battery, waterproof case and peripherals. 

There’s zero cost for installation because there is no installation—you simply carry them with you where you want to get online.

Finding a spot to mount the antenna or dome, sometimes an issue with fixed systems, is also no problem—BGAN antenna’s can sit on the open deck or console, anywhere with a clear view of the sky. 

BGAN systems

BGAN systems operate anywhere they can “see” the sky and are easily controlled by smart-phone apps. (Satellitephonestore.com)

And they’re also less subject to damage from wind and sea, since they can be safely stowed below-decks in tough conditions. Many come in water- and air-tight cases, as well.

Data Packages
Prepaid and postpaid BGAN service plans are available in almost any quantity, with data costs averaging from less than $100 per month to over $4,000 per month. Most shops that sell BGAN terminals, such as Global Marine Networks and Ground Control, also sell BGAN data plans.

Or you can pay a monthly fee for BGAN access, and you’ll simply get charged for how much data you use. An example of an access plan is Ground Control’s BGAN Standard Plus plan.

On that plan, service never suspends unless the subscriber requests a usage cap on each month to stay below a maximum monthly bill. The most that can be charged in any month for service is $4,145, but many request the cap be set at 1 Gigabyte or 5 Gigabytes so that the monthly bill is never more than $1,135 or $2,145 respectively, according to the company. 

BGAN systems

With portable terminals, BGAN systems allow taking your satellite internet connection ashore with you where ever you travel. (groundcontrol.com)

This is a good possibility for those who expect to regularly transfer a lot of data since the per-megabyte cost is far lower than standard BGAN service that averages about $5 USD per megabyte transferred. On Standard+ the cost per megabyte can be below $0.15 cents per MB.

However, the biggest difference here is that you’ll pay less for a terminal, but a lot more for the data plans. Basic data plans start around $70 per month, which gives you access to 5MB of data — anything over that will be charged at $6.36 per MB, which will quickly add up. Budget-friendly Internet solutions can be had for a minimal fee, but premium data plans will cost you upwards of $2,000 per month to get the kind of connectivity that you want for browsing, TV streaming, and other entertainment.

Here’s a look at some of the BGAN systems that might be right for your boating needs. 


MCD-MissionLINK Satellite WiFi Hotspot (MCD)
The MCD-4800 is a portable auto-pointing BGAN satellite terminal which provides a powerful Wi-Fi hotspot in any environment. The terminal is a Thales MissionLINK.  Its nickel-metal-hydride battery provides up to 6 hours of operation, or it can be powered by AC or DC connections. Case dimensions are LxWxH: 20.66″ x 17.20″ x 8.40″ (52.5 x 43.7 x 21.3cm). It’s one of the heavier BGAN’s, at 37 pounds including case, and one of the more expensive at about $13,500. Standard warranty is two years, but this can be extended at an added fee; https://satellitephonestore.com. 

Inmarsat IsatHub

Inmarsat IsatHub Terminal
The Inmarsat IsatHub Terminal lists at about $1,450 and give BGAN Internet access pretty much worldwide. The company says it’s plug and play, allowing most users to get online in minutes. Just download a couple of apps to control the terminal from your laptop, iPad or smart-phone. The app allows setting a data limit to avoid excessive bills. Services are delivered via Inmarsat’s L-band network, with up to 99.9 percent satellite and ground network availability according to the company. Data plans start at about $80 per month; www.bluecosmo.com

CPN Every 323 PTT

CPN EVERY 323 PTT is a mobile ruggedized Push-To-Talk (PTT) solution for the Inmarsat BGAN satellite network. It connects in about 60 seconds in most cases, and can operate up to six hours on internal battery power, per the company. Two optional USB modems can be connected to the base station supporting two independent cellular networks. If limited or no cellular coverage is available the system will switch to the Inmarsat BGAN satellite network to assure connection. Weight in the IP 54 case is 27.5 lb (12.5 kg). List is about $8,595; www.cpn.de/en/produkt/cpn-every-323-ptt

Groundcontrol MCD Cradlepoint

The MCD Cradlepoint from Groundcontrol is rated to operate in temperatures from -22°F to +158°F  (-30°C to +70°C) and has an IP66 water and dustproof rating in the included hard case. It’s easily portable at 22 pounds (10 kg), and the company says it’s plug and play, requiring very little technical know-how for full, immediate operation worldwide. Price is about $4,995; https://cradlepoint.com

Cobham Explorer 510

The Cobham Explorer 510 is exceptionally compact and lightweight at just 8.5 lb (3.5 kg) housed in a durable magnesium case. With high-speed internet up to 464 Kbps downloading, 448 Kbps uploading, it allows users to be on the phone and internet at the same time, a big plus for remote workers. Wifi range is about 330 feet (100 m). It’s designed for use with the Inmarsat BGAN network, but operates with all BGAN internet service plans according to the company. It can connect up to 11 devices (laptops, smartphones and tablets) simultaneously. Price is $3,426 with case. The standard service plan allowing transfer of up to 20 MB per month is $765.    (www.groundcontrol.com). 

Thrane Explorer 500

The Thrane Explorer 500 is a compact BGAN terminal allowing access to Inmarsat data applications while making a phone call at the same time via a Bluetooth handset or a standard desktop phone. It provides data transfer at speeds up to 432 kbps. Weight with the lithium-ion rechargeable battery is just 3.1 lbs (1.4 kg) and size is (H/W/D) 8.6” / 8.5” / 2.1” (218 / 217 / 52) mm. Its IP 44 waterproofing means the occasional mist or spray won’t harm it, but you wouldn’t want to leave it on deck in a downpour. The company says it can be setup quickly for internet, email, telephone, SMS text messaging, voice mail, fax, ISDN and more. It’s $2,645 with airtime starting at about $80 per month; https://satellitephonestore.com