Two suppliers of email via satelliteAug 31, 2016
The Optimizer and XGate can use satcom to get email.
In coastal waters, email and Internet are often available via Wi-Fi or cellphone coverage; offshore, or in remote areas, voyagers are reliant on satellite connections, often via satellite phones like Iridium and Globalstar. This hardware provides the connection to the satellite, but what software services do voyagers use to gather up their email, weather data, social media, etc.? Two examples of this type of service are RedPort’s XGate and OCENS’ suite of connectivity products like OneMail.
RedPort, a brand of Global Marine Networks, offers a variety of service plans to commercial mariners based on vessel size and customer needs — a tanker having different communications requirements than a coastal fishing vessel. RedPort also sells its communications services to recreational mariners. The primary service is XGate, a suite of software that handles all the various elements of the satcom mix. According to RedPort, XGate “encompasses all the services a sailor needs, including optimizing email, web compression, social media, pinpoint weather forecasts, GRIB file handling via PredictWind Offshore and a robust ecosystem of compatible apps.” The compatible apps include Expedition, SailGRIB, WeatherTrack, Weather4D, iNavX and others.
The Optimizer is also a Wi-Fi router allowing tablets to connect.
Since the bandwidth available to satphone-based systems like Iridium and Globalstar is limited, a key element in an effective system is data compression. With good compression, the throughput of useable data is increased. The general theory of compression is to condense repetitive data into a shorter file. In a picture file, for example, an image of a glacier floating in a blue sea is lots of pixels of white and blue. Rather than repeat the same white pixel value for every pixel location on the glacier, a range of pixels can all be labeled with one white value. Similarly, the blue for the water can be reduced to a range of pixels labeled with blue. There is a limit to the amount of compression possible (HBO’s Silicon Valley show notwithstanding), but with an aggressive compression scheme, it is possible to squeeze files into much smaller sizes and make the limited data bandwidth more useful.
RedPort claims that XGate can compress email up to 95 percent of its original size. RedPort explains it this way: “XGate satellite email is designed to eliminate extraneous email chatting that occurs between servers during a typical email transfer session. XGate packs all the email into one compressed stream of data, such that, on average, XGate is 10 to 15 times faster than other email programs (even faster on some systems).”
RedPort also offers a proprietary router and firewall with Wi-Fi capability called the Optimizer, which allows you to use your smartphone and tablets in Wi-Fi mode on your boat. The Optimizer is connected to the satphone.
One of the prime reasons for connecting offshore via Iridium, Globalstar or VSAT is to get GRIB files for weather. Above are two GRIB views obtained using OCENS OneMail software via an Iridium satphone link.
An example of using XGate offshore comes from the recent Newport-Bermuda Race. The Cal 40 Flyer, owned by Douglas Abbott and navigated by Eric Crawford, finished first in Class 3. Flyer used hardware and services provided by RedPort, including XGate satellite data services, Expedition for navigation and ocean current data, and PredictWind Offshore for downloading weather via Globalstar. “The system was spectacular,” Crawford said. “It did everything I wanted it to do.”
Another option for satphone connection is OCENS (www.ocens.com), a provider of satellite systems and service in Des Moines, Wash. Regular contributor and circumnavigator Ellen Massey Leonard, who is currently sailing in Alaska with her husband Seth, is a fan of OCENS satellite email product OneMail. As she wrote in our recent article on apps (“Voyagers’ app favorites,” July/August 2016): “OneMail is my most-used app on the boat. It’s essentially Gmail for satellite connections, but it’s even better than that. It takes the “From,” subject and (most important) size of each message waiting for you in your Gmail account and downloads only that. Then it automatically disconnects … and you pick which messages you’d like to download and read. You … connect again and it compresses, encrypts and downloads only those.” Leonard also likes how OneMail also automatically compresses any attached photos.
OneMail is a mobile app for iOS and Android and will run on smartphones and tablets. For laptops, OCENS has OCENSMail and OCENSMail for Mac. OCENS also has a variety of other apps and applications: for weather, WeatherNet 4 and GRIB Explorer; for messaging, OneMessage; for news/stocks/sports, QWIP; and more.
Both these firms have devised efficient methods for making the most of a satphone for sending and receiving email offshore.