What to look for when selecting a satellite airtime service?

What to look for when selecting a satellite airtime service?

The Contention Ratio

The contention ratio tells how many others you are sharing the service with. Usually, the contention ratio will be 10:1, which means you share the service with 10 others. This also means that you will only experience 1/10th of the speed if all use the service at the same time. The contention ratio could be higher than 10:1, so be sure to ask the service provider. A more expensive service with a lower contention ratio may pay off, depending on your needs. Generally, the lower the contention rate, the better.

Maximum Information Rate (MIR) and Committed Information Rate (CIR)

The Maximum Information Rate, known as MIR, is the maximum speed you experience if no one else is using the service. So whereas the MIR is the service speed you pay for, the Committed Information Rate (CIR) is the speed you experience if everyone you share the service with is using the data connection at the same time, e.g. 1/10th of the MIR if the contention ratio is 10:1. With a contention ratio of 1:1, the MIR and the CIR will be the same.

Guaranteed Bandwidth

You may want to use applications that need a certain bandwidth to function properly, e.g. Voice over IP. To ensure you get the minimum bandwidth needed for the application, look for a provider that can dedicate the required bandwidth. Some applications are outside of the service provider’s services, and may be banned by the provider for their high bandwidth usage.

Satellite Coverage Areas

Make sure to choose a service with the right satellite coverage. Look at the service provider’s coverage map and align with your required areas.

VSAT Experience

VSAT is a growing market with many new players. When looking for the right service provider, it is advisable to choose one with VSAT experience. They should have their own networks, a Network Operations Centre (NOC), redundant systems, 24/7 support and monitoring. You can ask for average uptime figures to confirm that the service they offer is reliable, and they may be confident enough to provide downtime credits. Likewise, it is relevant to look into the service provider’s support infrastructure. Do they have the capacity to provide swift, high-quality support?

Their client base offers good insight about what kind of VSAT service they provide, and it may be beneficial to choose a VSAT service provider with knowledge of your business area.

Airtime Packages

There are two types of airtime packages. Limited data packages at a fixed monthly price and flat rate plans with unlimited data. Your airtime package should reflect your data usage. Flat rate plans are more expensive but make sense if your data usage is very high, while a limited data package is the best choice if you do not exceed a certain amount of data per month. 

Contract and Service - Fixed or Flexible?

The difference between a fixed and a flexible contract is payment. With a fixed contract, you pay every month, whereas with a flexible contract, you pay for the service when you need it and then cut the service when you do not need it. Generally, a flexible contract is preferred.

Contract periods vary from 12 months to 24 months and 36 months, with the shorter contracts more expensive than the longer ones. Be sure to receive recommendations or take references before signing up for the long contracts, and remember to read through the fine print. It is also possible to get a flexible service – different from a flexible contract – which allows you to increase the size of the data pipe for a period of time if the need arises.

Below Deck Equipment

A VSAT system requires several pieces of equipment, most of which you will buy from the service provider. However, some of the equipment – the below deck equipment - may be included in the monthly price of the service, and is worth looking for when choosing a service provider. By including the below deck equipment in the service plan, you are ensured a lifetime warranty and ongoing service for this equipment. Be aware of the quality and serviceability of the provided equipment – the preferred solution would be a high-quality modem with test and support equipment like a laptop and an uninterrupted power supply for optimal functionality. 

The Right Choice

When choosing the right service provider for your VSAT system, price is not the only factor to take into account. The total cost of service and ownership is made up of many things. Consider the different elements, look into and compare several service providers and make sure to ask for references.