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Small, Effective, Affordable the Sabre I BGAN

By Gregg Swanson

February 15, 2008

The BGAN mobile satellite terminal has been around now for about 18 months, with a growing number of users reporting high confidence in the system and the Inmarsat broadband network.  Recently, we tested the newest of the BGAN terminals, the Sabre I, and were impressed.

Known as the Wideye Sabre I, the terminal weighs only 1.6 kg (3.5 pounds) and would easily fit in a backpack: 10 x 6.5 inches (not including the 1.2 inch protruding hinge on the base).  See the Inmarsat specifications for metric dimensions and other details.  It appears to be a sturdy, rugged design, much like the larger Hughes 9201.  The Sabre I was designed by a Singapore company, Addvalue Technologies.

There are two compelling reasons for looking at the Sabre I:

First, it is an excellent value, priced approximately at the cost of an Iridium satphone.

Second, it has an excellent voice capability, in addition to broadband Internet.  The cost is less than 80 cents per minute.  You simply plug in a conventional telephone (RJ-11 connection) or use the small handset provided, and dial as you would an international call: 00 + country code + number.  It took about 30 - 40 seconds to connect.

On our test to land and cell phones, the voice quality was uniformly excellent, better than many cell phone connections.  There was very little "lag" or latency, making it easy to converse.

The Internet data connection was a bit slower than with the Hughes, which has a larger antenna.  We were connected from Portland, Oregon, USA with an elevation to the Inmarsat satellite only 5 degrees above the eastern horizon.  Even in light rain, the speed was more than satisfactory.  Normal Web pages took 2-4 seconds to load, and a photo-intensive Flickr page took about 10 seconds.

Setup was straightforward, using the Quick Start Guide provided.  A complete User Manual was also included in the CD that came with the terminal. 

The Sabre 1 is simple to understand and operate.  There are three ports: power, Ethernet, and the RJ-11 for a phone or handset.   The terminal comes with an AC charger, but a DC car charger must be ordered separately.  

Connecting to a laptop with an Ethernet cable has two advantages: no USB driver to install and keep updated, and you can use up to 200 feet of cable from laptop to BGAN.

Upon power up, the Sabre I quickly acquired the GPS location and went into antenna pointing mode.  Acquiring the satellite signal was easy with the customary audio tone.  When the terminal acquired the signal, it immediately began to register with the network.  Within a minute of power up, we could place a call using the handset.  A Bluetooth wireless handset is also available.

(Note: this is not Voip, or voice over IP.  It is a specialized analog channel for phone calls.)

For Internet access, we connected the laptop by Ethernet and used the LaunchPad software

The only complication in our test was that a firmware upgrade was required in order to enable the Standard IP connection to the Internet.  We downloaded the upgrade from the Inmarsat Web site, installed it using the directions given (15 minutes total) and the Standard IP connection has worked well every time.

The LCD window is a very nice feature, allowing the user to check or change settings and – when the service is introduced – even receive text messages.

Users who are "off the grid" will need to consider solar charging or some other provision for power.  The battery is not large, and the spec sheet states "one hour continuous transmission at data rate <= 72kbps."   The lithium ion battery will give you three hours in receive only, and (according to specifications) 36 hours in Standby.  We have not tested these specs, but will soon.

While the Explorer series of BGANs are somewhat lighter and smaller, to date they have been priced higher than the Hughes 9201 (which has integrated WiFi) and much higher than the Sabre I.  Users who need to travel light, and those who need to replace their RBGAN by end 2008, should consider this terminal.

For more information on the Sabre I and other mobile satellite communications options, please contact us at info (at) humaninet.org. Please include the name of your organization.

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