LinkWav, Inmarsat FB finally makes sense for intermittent users

LinkWav_website_home_page_aPanbo.jpgHo hum, just another sat coms service provider? No way! I think that LinkWav has pulled off something quite special in the daunting world of expensive marine satellite voice minutes and data megabytes. The company figured out how to offer a simple Inmarsat FleetBroadband service plan with decent rates and nearly realtime cost/budget monitoring, but without an oppressive contract. In fact, LinkWav is especially designed for the ocean racers, cruisers and small commercial operators who only need satellite communications now and then, sometimes with many months in between. The cherry on top is the high quality of the LinkWav team…

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First, let’s review some frustrating FleetBroadband history. When the service went live in 2007, even the smallest 15-inch FB250 antenna offered significantly faster, better global service than had ever been available with hardware that small. Then in 2009 along came the $6,000 11-inch FB150, which seemed really right for some medium-size yachts. In fact, Panbo friend Gram Schweikert installed that KVH FB150 above (alongside an Iridium OpenPort) and then tested both from Newport to NZ. As explained in that last entry and further here, Gram and his family found the FleetBroadband system easy, reliable and useful during their long cruise, and service options, like the ability to buy a year of minutes up front and use them any time during the year, made it reasonably affordable.

But then, in 2011 some of the cruiser-friendly service options went away and in 2012 Inmarsat base rates for light and/or intermittent users seemed to go up again. We later learned that Inmarsat was under pressures that had little to do with their smaller yacht users, but I’m not sure that made the affected boaters feel better about the results. Some installer/dealers who had equipped customers with FleetBroadband were also upset and the one I quoted in 2011, saying that the service changes “will completely orphan the recreational community,” was particularly perturbed. But guess what? The guy who cared a lot about his customers is the guy behind LinkWav.

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For many years Eric Steinberg has run Farallon Electronics, where he’s specialized in Grand Prix racing yacht systems and has also developed products like the IstarGPS. I finally met him in San Diego (above), where he was responsible for all the conventional and very unconventional electronics aboard the dozens of the Americas Cup 34 support vessels (and here) that went around the world helping to pull off a whole new level of race management and live video coverage. I caught up with Eric during the actual AC72 racing in San Francisco, and by then was even more impressed with how he and the rest of Stan Honey’s team had employed so much new technology with so few hitches. He didn’t mention LinkWav then, but according to the company’s modest About page, the idea was germinating. In fact, the person responsible for the complex database that makes LinkWav work is Chris Milnes, whose father Ken is Stan Honey’s longtime tech partner. I presume that, like Eric, he, too, is familiar with work in high performance environments where reliability is key.

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In that spirit, LinkWav has already been tested on about a dozen boats for over a year, and I know that Steinberg and Milnes were perfectionists about the LinkWav site before they made it public a few weeks ago – which is why I don’t need to say much about it. I think that the single pay-as-you-go service plan is easy to understand, even though there’s nothing else like it. The magic seems to be behind the scenes in how LinkWav interfaces with Inmarsat’s pre-paid SIM card billing system (and Inmarsat is purportedly fine with it). The sign-up system looks very straightforward and requires no financial commitment…

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…and a customer’s Air Management controls also seem easy, though powerful. The concept here is that you can buy all the airtime you want easily, but also stop whenever you want, and if you use the management tools carefully, you can spend close to zero up to 8 months of no use. Below is an actual LinkWav Usage Status email sent to a customer somewhere on the planet earlier this week. Eric doesn’t think that any other service provider offers this amount of detail, and he’s hoping similar database programming can offer special help to users of the harshly regionalized Fleet One service when LinkWav adds support for it.

Incidentally, some FB150 hardware systems are now under $5,000 ,and I must say that sometimes even a cheap coastal cruiser like me wonders if all the time I spend messing with cell and WiFi connections is worth it. If I ever did want solid satellite communications, what could beat having LinkWav and the guys who run it between Inmarsat and my wallet?

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Similar Posts:


Inmarsat, boxed in by attacks from all sides?
March 12, 2012

Thrane & Thrane, Volvo & VSAT
November 4, 2011

Inmarsat Fleet One, affordable FleetBroadband for real?
June 2, 2014

Inmarsat’s BGAN For Leisure Yachts
August 27, 2004



Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher since 4/12/2005, and now excited to have Ben Stein as a very able colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2018 and beyond.

9 Responses

  1. Don Joyce says:

    Eric is absolutely great. His company Farallon Electronics is the go to location as the importer of Pactor SSB modems. I have my fingers crossed for this venture!
    Cheers
    Don

  2. Ben,
    There is a solution for the cheap Coastal cruiser that you claim to be. Sat-Fi!

  3. Jonathan says:

    Rich,
    Sat-Fi is great for voice and basic email but it isn’t anywhere near as capable for data as an FB.

  4. emsusa says:

    Big rate increases at Inmarsat for post paid plans as of the new year. Up to $33/Mb for data! LinkWav at $10/Mb has a good chance at gaining market share… it is the same Inmarsat service, just a different way of billing!
    Eric Steinberg
    LinkWav

  5. This offering appears to apply to FleetBroadband only, not us real bottom-feeders with 9500-series handsets. Right?

  6. emsusa says:

    LinkWav is specifically for Inmarsat terminals. We currently support Fleet Broadband 150/250/500. We will add support for the Fleet One later this year. When moving data, Fleet Broadband and Fleet One is very competitive with Iridium and a lot less $ than Iridium for voice minutes.
    Iridium being a handheld phone is a good option for a lot of applications.
    Eric Steinberg
    LinkWav

  7. emsusa says:

    News: Inmarsat Fleet One rate area changes and Linkwav adds support…
    Fleet One is the very affordable little brother of Fleet Broadband. Fleet One rates are now $5/Mb for data and 50 cents / minute for voice. Data sessions are limited to the areas outlined in the coverage map, voice calls can originate from anywhere 80n to 80s worldwide. The LinkWav Pay As You Go airtime service is now supporting Fleet One terminals. If you have been using Iridium for data, it may be time to re-evaluate!
    What’s new here? The data coverage is finite, meaning a data connection no longer be made outside the “Home Zone”. Fleet One used to have two rate areas, the Home Zone at $5/Mb and the rest of the planet at $40/Mb! Though the Home Zone is plenty big for many users, the prospect of getting outside the Zone was a little harsh. Also new is the flat rate of 50 cents / minute for voice calls applies worldwide.
    LinkWav added support for Fleet One as soon as Inmarsat made this change.
    Eric – LinkWav

  8. Eric says:

    Will the Fleet Broadband prepaid service end of life affect LinkWav subscribers using those services?

  9. emsusa says:

    Hi Eric. LinkWav customers with activated SIM cards prior to the Feb 1 cutoff date continue to have the LinkWav pay as you go service available to them. For new customers after Feb 1, LinkWav offers a month to month plan that is roughly double the cost of the pay as you go… but it is the least expensive option currently available.
    The old SIM cards can be moved to a new boat and owner, so if you know of an old SIM, it could be quite valuable.
    Note: Fleet One, the slower version of a FB150, now offers prepaid global data service to replace the FBB service that was taken away. LinkWav is working on supporting this new prepaid into our system. The hurdle for most has been you need the Fleet One hardware, so if you already own a FBB, there is additional cost to move to Fleet One. Fleet One Global data is $12/MB (pre-Feb FBB service was $10/MB).

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