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What is a VSAT? Exploring Fixed, Portable, and Marine VSAT Units

VSAT Stands For ‘Very Small Aperture Terminal’

Mobil Satellite Technologies provides all types of VSAT systems for government, commercial, and consumer use. We’ve broken down the different types of VSAT below, but if you know what you’re looking for just follow one of the following links.

Technically, VSAT refers to any two-way satellite ground mounted or a stabilized maritime VSAT antenna with an antenna (dish) that is smaller than 3 meters; people generally use the term VSAT to refer to any two-way satellite Internet terminal that is not a teleport Earth Station.

A pair of VSAT antennas undergoing maintenance.

VSAT antennas can be vehicle mounted, maritime stabilized, fixed, or portable.

There are a number of different manufactures of VSAT hardware within each category above, so that each satellite company can design a VSAT to meet their customers specifications and the requirements of a the selected satellite network.

Satellite networks each have their own individual characteristics which vary from network to network, and each network has its own requirements as to dish size and transmit power. Scientific calculations based on geographic location, desired IP data rate, and circuit reliability and survivability from environmental conditions are called Link Budgets. The minimum size of a VSAT antenna that will meet a particular customer’s needs is determined by each satellite network operator’s Link Budget calculations.

Portable VSAT

Portable VSATs are commonly called Flyaway VSAT Units. For every size VSAT there are a number of different manufacturers, and just like automobiles (weight class, wheelbase, etc.) there can be huge differences between the features, quality, and cost of the different brands.

Military portable VSAT units, both trailer-mounted and flyaway.

Generally, within any particular antenna size class the more portable (light weight, small size) the Flyaway VSAT antenna, is the more it will cost. This is due to the additional engineering necessary to achieve the smaller form factor, and the additional costs for the Mil-Spec quality quick-disconnect components that allow it to assemble and disassemble without any tools.

For most Flyaway VSATs, the objective is for each case to be airline checkable.

Marine VSAT

Marine VSATs are gyroscopically stabilized so that no matter how the boat moves, the VSAT antenna “tracks” and maintains a precise aim to the desired satellite.

Marine VSATs include domes to protect from the elements.

Marine VSAT antennas are all housed within a special fiberglass radome designed to prevent the very delicate and precise aiming of the antenna from being affected by wind or other environmental conditions, as well as to protect the sensitive electronics from the harsh and unforgiving environments that maritime VSAT antennas sometimes operate in.

Vehicle Mounted Mobile VSAT

Vehicle-mounted auto-acquire VSATs also come in a variety of sizes, with a model to fit almost every satellite network and need. Vehicle mounted VSAT systems normally start as small as .75 meters and go up to 1.2 meters, which is enough for most applications. For broadcast applications there is another type of VSAT called an SNG antenna, short for satelite news gathering.

A DataSat 840 installed on the roof of a sprinter van.

Vehicle-mounted auto-acquire VSATs all deploy and stow with the push of a single button on the automatic satellite controller that is located inside of the vehicle, and are typically deployed and online within just a few minutes. Vehicle mounted VSAT antennas are very popular with Emergency Management professionals, as they allow quickly establishment of on-scene voice, video, and data communications.

There are also 1.8 and 2.4 meter auto-deploy vehicle-mount VSAT antennas, but these are so large that they normally require that the reflector be made with removableside panels so as to reduce the overall width of the antenna as the vehicle goes down the road so that it is no wider than the vehicle that it is mounted on.

Fixed VSAT

For a fixed location, VSAT antennas are the very best- and sometimes only- way to bring broadband to areas that are underserved by landline, cellular, or other technologies. As long as the fixed VSAT antenna can be installed in a location that has a clear view of the Southern sky, it will deliver have high speed Internet. For commercail buildings with flat roofs there are non-penetrating roof mount that are ballasted by concrete blocks, and there are also non-penetratingridge-mount mounts for peaked roofs. For ground mounting it is normally best to mount a steel pole into buried concrete. For fixed antennas that will be exposed to harsh winter conditions, it is recommended to also install a de-icing system so that the dish and essential electronic components do not freeze over.

A De-icing unit on a fixed VSAT terminal.

VSAT broadband service plans are always available in different service levels, with less expensive packages for smaller consumer usage up to larger packages to support dozens of workers, with options like Voice over IP and managed Virtual Private Network that can be added.

Whether on a vehicle, a vessel, or at fixed location, VSAT antennas help solve connectivity problems for scientists, explorers, race teams, Government Agencies, businesses, and even consumer RV owners. Please let us know how we can help you select the VSAT antenna that best meets your needs.

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