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What Makes Satellite Phone Web Browsing Practical and Affordable?

What Makes Satellite Phone Web Browsing Practical and Affordable?

Understanding what makes compressed satellite phone web browsing practical and affordable can be confusing. Some help is in order when you consider the complexity of the equipment, compression, latency, the type of page being downloaded, encryption, links, math and money. There are many ways to go, but we can help point you in the right direction.

Read on to learn the different directions you can take to browse the web with XGate over handheld satellite phones and broadband equipment.

Here’s the executive summary:

1. Handheld satellite phone data service –

With Xweb services and the Optimizer, it is possible to browse the web over handheld satellite phones like the Iridium 9555 or (less so) IsatPhone Pro – but it can be prohibitively expensive, even with compression. In certain cases some still choose to purchase compression based web services for handheld phones with the understanding that the cost is high, both in dollars spent and airtime consumed.

2. “Always-on” satellite broadband service –

Satellite broadband service (Inmarsat FleetBroadband, BGAN, Iridium Pilot, Thuraya IP) can cost more up front in hardware, but overall is more desirable, efficient and affordable, when used with a satellite firewall and Wi-Fi device like Optimizer and XWeb web acceleration service.

Here’s the details:

The standard for comparison is old-fashioned dial up rate which is 56 kbps (kilobits per second) with a latency of .1 seconds.  This standard is used because no matter how you cut it, even compressed satellite phone web browsing is SLOW.

The Iridium stated uncompressed data transfer rate  is 2.4 KBps or 2400 Baud. With the Optimizer this goes up to 2.8-2.9 kbps without compression.

Iridium latency is 1.4 seconds.  Latency is the time it takes for airtime turn arounds and is often referred to as dead airtime.

XWeb compression will afford 3-5x faster browsing.  So what does all this mean?

56kbps/2.7 = 20.7 times slower data transfers over satellite before compression. After compression it is 6.9 to 4.2 times slower than dial up. BUT you still have latency.

So take a page with 10 links on it which is a total of 60 kbytes.  For a land line dial up that will take

.1 latency per link in seconds X 10 links = 1 second + 60 kilobytes/360 kbytes per minute/60 seconds per minute = 11 seconds to load the page.

For Iridium:

You have 14 seconds in latency with 60 kilobytes/75 kilobytes per minute/60 seconds per minute (5X compression) which yields 62 seconds to load the page. Which for this example is  5.6 x slower than a dial up connection to load the page.

For IsatPhone:
Note that the math for isaphone is simliar but the latency is 5 seconds so for this example you have 50 seconds of dead airtime.  Also the raw rate is 12 Kbytes per minute…

50+60 kilobytes/60 kilobytes per minute (compressed) /60 seconds per minute = 110 seconds which is 10 times slower than a dial up connection.

The actual speed up depends on the compressability of the data and the number of links on the page and the latency of the satellite link.  The compressibility of the data is important as is the number of links on the page as seen clearly in the IsatPhone example.  Encrypted data such as bank sites or google search are impossible to compress and thus are prohibitively expensive to download.

How do people successfully use web compression for handheld phones?

People who successfully use web browsing are very judicious in its use.  One example is a group of fishermen we serve off the coast of Australia.  The weather data they need is one of the very few sources not available through the WeatherNet service, so they choose to pay for the download to their site and are appreciative that such data is available at sea.

Others may choose to occasionally download important home school information or a particular page with an important repair part for their vessel.

But the theme is always the same, general web browsing is expensive, yet it is a real step forward to have the web available when you really need it at sea.  For more information on this please see our previous blog on “Can I Surf the Web with My IsatPhone Pro?”

If you really need true satellite web browsing at sea, satellite broadband is the answer.

Cost:  Satellite broadband systems have fairly expensive airtime, but with XWeb compression it becomes affordable.  For example a low end fleet broadband subscription charges about $20 per megabyte.  XWeb compresses pages by a factor of 3 to 5 which means effective cost goes down by a factor of 3 to 5. So $20 now converts to $4 per megabyte.

Speed:  Broadband connections are fairly slow, but with XWeb compression they rival land based broadband connections.  For example, an Iridium OpenPort is a maximun of 2x a dial up connection. A FleetBroadband 150 is a maximum of 3 x dial up.  So the systems are considerably slower than connections you might have at home.  But by decreasing the amount of data you transfer with Xweb, you increase the speed by a factor of 3 to 5.  So now something that is as slow as 2x a dial up connection rivals a land based broadband connection.

Security:  By using compression based web browsing it is possible to configure firewalls over our satellite firewall Optimizer to prevent all traffic over the broadband links except the pages you want to see.  This eliminates expensive, unmonitored and unwanted traffic such as automatic operating system updates, virus scan software updates, etc.


For occasional specific web browsing, handheld units like Iridium and Inmarsat systems are possible but expensive.

For more robust web browsing similar to land based use, one will want to consider Broadband at sea.

For a comprehensive look at different broadband units for individual cruisers, check out our free guide to affordable satellite broadband:


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