The Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) is a global satellite network with telephony using portable terminals. The terminals are normally used to connect a laptop computer to broadband Internet in remote locations, although as long as line-of-sight to the satellite exists, the terminal can be used anywhere. The value of BGAN terminals is that, unlike other satellite Internet services which require bulky and heavy satellite dishes to connect, a BGAN terminal is about the size of a laptop and thus can be carried easily. The network is provided by Inmarsat and uses three geostationary satellites called I-4 to provide almost global coverage.
High-end BGAN terminals have downlink speeds of 492 Kbps and upload speeds of 300 to 400 Kbps. However, the latency of 1 to 1.5 seconds round trip for the background IP service is an issue. Streaming services are slightly faster at 800 milliseconds to 1 second. Performance-enhancing proxies, software and transmission control protocol packet accelerators are used to boost performance.
Ground-based terminals have similar capabilities but are built by several manufacturers. The most expensive calls are from cell phones, land line phones and satellite phones. But voice quality is high and this is the fastest global data link available. It is easily set up with no user restrictions, other than cost.
Signal acquisition requires line-of-site with the geostationary satellite and requires the user to have a compass and a general idea of the satellite location. Slowly turning the terminal will soon indicate signal capture, which can be done less than a minute for an experienced user with a good signal.
Some limitations include prohibited use on the open ocean in a moving vessel. Regular terminals also cannot be used on aircraft.