Universal connection

Last December, global satellite communications provider Inmarsat announced the launch of its Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN), bringing the service to the Middle East first. BGAN provides both voice and data services simultaneously at speeds of up to 500Kbps through portable terminals smaller than a laptop. A series of professionals based in the region utilised BGAN terminals for some months, and reported their experiences.

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By  Published  October 31, 2006

The Beginnings of BGAN

The Beginnings of BGAN Inmarsat's business strategy is to pursue a range of new data opportunities at the convergence of information technology, telecoms and mobility, while continuing to serve traditional maritime, aeronautical, landmobile and remote-area markets.

A cornerstone of this strategy is the BGAN service, which launched first in the Middle East in December 2005 and the rest of the world in the first half of 2006.

BGAN provides users with the total communications solution.

It is the only service to offer users an integrated solution for voice, video and broadband data by allowing for these services to be used simultaneously through a single compact and lightweight device at speeds of up to half a megabit per second.

BGAN delivers seamless network coverage covering 85% of the world's landmass, or 98% of the world's population, which makes the service virtually global.

BGAN provides secure communications to users from a range of industry sectors including oil and gas, construction, media, manufacturing, emergency services, aid agencies and government who welcome the superior performance and lighter load of BGAN.

In the Middle East, customers including media organisations, corporate executives and construction personnel who often require web or phone access in isolated areas appreciate BGAN.

Inmarsat has built a global business designing, implementing and operating innovative satellite networks.

Today, Inmarsat embraces the planet as it stands at the forefront of mobile satellite communications, capitalising on more than 26 years' experience to expand access to communications globally across the enterprise, maritime and aeronautical sectors and going beyond the call of duty.

Inmarsat provides communications solutions to the enterprise, maritime and the aeronautical sectors, with over 350,000 mobile satellite users registered worldwide.

Inmarsat delivers its services through a global network of 260 partners, operating in 86 countries, who include some of the world's largest telecoms companies such as France Telecom, KDDI, Stratos, and Telenor.

The distribution network includes more than 440 service providers.

Enterprise Solutions

Inmarsat's enterprise solutions offer a flexible range of services, including the ability to rapidly set up a temporary office environment for individuals or small teams who need access to applications that they would typically have back at their office base - voice, fax, e-mail, internet access and data transfer.

Media companies all over the world file their reports using Inmarsat mobile satellite services.

Oil well and pipeline maintenance teams send operational data back to HQ from Alaska to Angola.

Aid agencies rely on Inmarsat's mobile communications during times of extreme difficulties, for example in war-torn regions or when natural disasters occur.

Maritime Solutions

For over 26 years, Inmarsat has been leading the maritime mobile satellite service sector, enjoying strong growth year on year, providing voice and data services to vessels of all sizes, from yachts through to the biggest ocean going ships.

It is also the only approved operator that continues to underpin emergency communications through the GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System), with services offering vital communications to Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs).

Aeronautical Solutions

Almost 7,000 aircraft are fitted with Inmarsat aeronautical communications systems.

These aircraft encompass airliners, those operated by businesses and private individuals, and by a variety of government agencies, including the military.

Corporate and private users also favour Inmarsat voice and data services for business and personal communications.

Power user: Elias Bou Saab

Elias Bou Saab is the vice president and co-founder of the American University in Dubai.

In 1995 Elias moved to Dubai, which is when he co-founded the American University in Dubai, the first US accredited university in the Gulf region.

Elias is also the co-founder of the Emirati Lebanese Friendship Association and member of board of directors of the Young Arab Leaders.

In the years since establishing the American University in Dubai (AUD), Elias has gained vast experience in international higher education, working in such varied areas as establishing new institutions/programmes; negotiating and implementing educational collaborations with major universities; and advising governments on higher education and other investment projects throughout the Arab world.

Elias' requirements

Elias needs to be able to access important information timely and efficiently.

He started using BGAN in June 2006 just before a vacation trip to Europe (France and Germany).

Even while on leave, it is seldom that Elias is disconnected from business with the AUD.

Instead of having to make a series of trips to hotel business centres, BGAN allowed Elias to access secure and reliable standard desktop applications at speeds matching terrestrial broadband services.

He was able to check his email and browse the internet via a secure virtual private network (VPN) and could make international telephone calls at the same time.

He was also able to keep up with current events by reading the news online and was also able to follow up on the regional and international political and economic developments.

Elias and his family headed to Lebanon following their stay in Europe, where he continued using BGAN to liase on essential matters related to work.

It was during their time in Lebanon that the latest war began.

Local telecoms networks were unreliable or simply non-existent which meant that communication to the rest of the world proved very difficult.

BGAN's ubiquity came into play in this instance, as portability and ease of use made it the useful solution for accessing the reliable and secure Inmarsat network.

Not only could he remain in close touch with the AUD's different departments he was also able to help coordinate the aid effort into Lebanon.

Elias was able to lead and organise the receipt of donations, and the aid distribution campaign organised by the Emirati Lebanese Friendship Association.

Elias had the opportunity to stay connected at all times to organise all procedures and was the contact person in the receipt of goods in Lebanon and the filing of reports back to the UAE listing the required commodities to donors in Dubai.

The office representing the Emirati Lebanese Friendship Association in Beirut, which was set up specifically for the aid distribution campaign purpose, was connected via BGAN at all times, which guaranteed an always-on communication with the team based in Dubai.

“There was no other way to communicate all the details involved in the aid distribution campaign but through BGAN while in Lebanon,” Elias says.

“And there was no other way to stay connected with AUD, to followup on all the necessary requirements and authorisations for the university while in Lebanon, but through BGAN.

It was the right solution at the right place and at the right time.”

Power user: Tawanda Chihota

Tawanda has been tracking the cellular and telecommunications sectors since the beginning of 1999, and has concentrated on telecoms in emerging markets for the past three years.

He has been editor of CommsMEA, the region's leading monthly communications publication since March 2005.

Prior to moving to Dubai to join ITP, Tawanda was the editor of two regional newsletters in London that focussed on the mobile telecommunications industry and were published by Informa Telecoms & Media, part of FTSE-250 listed T&F Informa.

Prior to editing the Middle East and Africa Wireless Analyst and the Central and Eastern Europe Wireless Analyst, Tawanda was deputy editor on a number of cellular newsletters including Global Mobile and 3G Mobile, also published by Informa Telecoms & Media in London.

Tawanda has authored a number of management reports on a range of topics, including the development of the prepaid market globally, and the assessment of investment opportunities within the operator community across the Middle East and Africa.

Tawanda has been a guest speaker and moderator at a number of telecoms events around the world, including in Cape Town, Zagreb and Dubai.

Tawanda's requirements

As editor of the leading monthly telecoms publication in the Middle East region, Tawanda travels regionally and internationally as a matter of course.

While away he is still expected to maintain contact with the office, liase with his assisting staff in Dubai, file copy and check e-mails.

Tawanda was familiar with the BGAN service given the coverage the launch received in CommsMEA at the end of last year.

He was, however, struck by the size, durability and convenience of the terminal, having been exposed to earlier generations of mobile satellite communications terminals during the late 90's.

The first trip the BGAN terminal took in Tawanda's possession was to Hong Kong and China, where Tawanda was set to visit the operations of a leading equipment vendor.

Having been advised that the BGAN terminal should face southwards in order to receive the best signal, it was challenging to determine which direction this was from within a 19th floor room of a high-rise hotel in a foreign city.

It must be mentioned that welldeveloped city centres such as Hong Kong and Shenzen, southern China, are not the natural environment for the efficient delivery of mobile satellite communications, given the availability of cellular services and the multitude of potential interference sources.

Thus connectivity from the hotel rooms Tawanda stayed in proved problematic and led him to seek out a number of interesting locations from which to make the satellite connection within sprawling metropolises.

Once connected, however, the BGAN service was fast and reliable.

A number of international calls were completed, with the sound quality being high and the lag-time between speaking and being heard being minimal.

The broadband connection was also robust, permitting the attachment and transmission of large files without interruption.

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