GMN's wXa-102 satellite router, but Inmarsat rate increases too?
I hear that trying to use the Inmarsat iSatphone Pro's low-speed but high-latency data connection can be extremely frustrating, as we partially anticipated when it became possible last winter. Meanwhile, the folks who've invested in broadband satellite connections tend to worry a lot about extraneous programs that eat expensive megabytes. And regardless of their satcom speeds most everyone these days wants the freedom to use it with any of their computing devices. Well, it looks like Global Marine Network's new RedPort wXa-102 WiFi router/firewall may be an elegant solution to all these issues...
The little USB router can apparently connect to numerous Inmarsat, Iridium, Globalstar, etc satcom devices without your having to load drivers or tweak setups on your computers, and it also firewalls off everything except GMN programs like XGate and XWeb (and relatives like OCENS Mail and GMPCS Speedmail). Hence you can connect whatever device you want over WiFi and get maximum use of the narrowest band or most cost efficient use of broadband. Plus the wXa-102 can run on 12 volts or an optional battery pack, and it seems reasonable at $150. Nice!
Unfortunately I must also report that I've just seen a leaked email strongly suggesting that Inmarsat is going to significantly raise its rates in the months ahead. You may recall that Inmarsat caused a stir last year when it enacted rate policy changes that seemed particularly hurtful to cruisers who used Fleet Broadband lightly or only for parts of the year. That situation was tough to figure out as there are so many layers between Inmarsat and the end customer, and some of those layers (like KVH) also compete against Inmarsat with their VSAT service (which can now be globalized with integrated Iridium OpenPort). I was also pleased to learn last fall that Intellian is somehow offering lower-end FB service bundles that can be turned on and off without fees.
But if I understand the email correctly that minimum $55 plan listed below may more than triple in May, and it will have nothing to do with Intellian. In fact, it looks like almost all Inmarsat rates, including Sat C and Mini-M, will go up to some degree regardless of the distribution partner or service provider involved. I'll certainly be interested in the reaction when and if these leaked rate changes materialize, and I'm quite willing to report on Inmarsat's side of the story -- could the failing LightSquared deal have something to do with this? -- but it surely looks like the company doesn't feel much obligation to the boaters who purchased expensive yacht-size FB hardware once able to get online most anywhere at reasonable costs if carefully used.
PS 3/2: I don't know if this Panbo entry had anything to do with today's Inmarsat letter attempting to explain the coming rate changes, but unfortunately I see no reassurance for customers who use their satellite services lightly or seasonally. For instance, how the heck does raising minimum monthly rates "benefit" Inmarsat's "most valued high-usage customers"? Does Inmarsat not understand how locked-in their low-usage customers are, or are they banking on it? The lowest priced Fleet Broadband terminal is $5000, I think, and that's before installation. And when the FB 150 debuted in 2009, it was Inmarsat itself crowing about how "affordable" it was for cruising yachts. If I'd bought one then I'd be outraged if the minimum rates available when I made the purchase went up drastically.
Heck, even cell service companies are careful about this sort of behaviour, which is why I still have a $30 unlimited data plan even though Verizon went to metered plans last year. Satellite Phone Support is reporting that Inmarsat will also raise hardware prices and service rates on the iSatphone Pro and goes on to suggest that it might be a good idea to get one now. I've been enthusiastic about that phone myself, but I question buying any communications hardware when the sole service provider seems to think it's perfectly OK to raise rates when they "feel this change properly reflects the value." You can download the Inmarsat letter here; what do you think?