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Satellite Communications: RBGAN and VSAT
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Posted: 4/15/2004

HumaniNet recently conducted a comparative analysis of VSAT (fixed big dish) systems versus RBGAN terminals. The obvious advantage of VSAT is bandwidth, which can be purchased in large or small amounts. The initial cost is usually $5000 - $10,000 installed, depending on the location, configuration, and overall system requirements, such as the size of the network to be supported. Monthly satellite service cost depends on the amount of bandwidth purchased and they type of service.

RBGAN is optimal for users who need primarily email and limited Web usage. The 3.3-pound terminal has the advantage of small size; thus it is easy to carry and secure. For many users, a portable terminal is essential. Even for a fixed location, however, an operation that needs primarily email for day-to-day operations may find that RBGAN will meet their requirements.

Cost comparisons are fairly straightforward:

Case A (VSAT): assume a VSAT system that costs US$ 5000 installed and a conservative $250 per month for the service. Over a three-year period, total costs (not including local network costs) are approximately $14,000. Net cost over three years: $389 per month. Over five years: $333 per month.

Case B (RBGAN): assume total purchase price of $1600, including shipping, accessories, and activation. Assume relatively heavy usage of 1 Mb (megabyte) per day, 250 days per year – thus 250 Mb per year. Monthly access and usage fees would cost $2783 per year. Adding the $1600 system cost, net monthly cost over three years is $276, and over five years $259 (uncompressed email).

Compression services for email will make a significant difference in the comparison. An RBGAN user who sends and receives 1.8 Mb per day of email and uses the UUPlus compression software would incur total monthly service costs of under $250 per month. This assumes a very conservative 50% compression; at 70% compression the costs drop to under $180 per month.

Above 2 Mb per day, the VSAT solution is more economical, although it would be some time before reaching the “break even” point for the greater initial cost.

Most RBGAN users, however, are logging less than 200 Kb (kilobytes) per day, which holds costs to under $70 per month, with no compression required. Email access for around $2 per day is pretty respectable.

For users who move about regularly, RBGAN is hard to beat. One should simply plan to conduct heavy Internet usage, such as software downloads, Web research, and exchange of large files, when non-satellite connectivity is available. Battery life is listed as 24 hours on standby, and one hour of continuous use; an optional DC adaptor allows the user to run the unit from a vehicle.

HumaniNet welcomes inquiries on the RBGAN, broadband VSAT, and other communications questions. Our purpose is to assist humanitarian teams in finding solutions to technology and communications problems. You may contact us at

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