Our sales staff are frequently asked to quote a portable antenna, but this is a problem, because there are a great many different types of portable antennas with prices that range from a few thousand dollars to half a million dollars, and so without more information from the client it’s impossible to help them. In this blog entry we will give an overview of the basic types of portable or mobile antennas, this is not meant to be an exhaustive study, but a simple comparison of the different technologies.
The most basic and cheapest form of portable antenna is the backpack. This is typically a KU band antenna of less than one meter that can be carried in a backpack and field assembled and ready to transmit within 30 minutes.
These simple antennas often have a built in compass and inclinometer, both items are essential for quick alignment to the satellite. These types of antenna can cost between $6,000 and $10,000 depending on the manufacturer. As an alternative to the backpack design these antennas, the BUCs and modems can be purchased in hard case carriers to help them survive the cargo hold of an airline or a journey over unpaved rural roads.
Although the most common form of this antenna is 1 meter or less, there are also hard case systems that feature antennas as large as 2.4M. These larger antennas and their electronics may need as many as eight cases for storage and transportation.
The antenna shown above is a Vertex product, and has electronics that allow automatic satellite acquisition, this feature removes the problems of antenna alignment. This added convenience comes at a high price; the GDSatcom Vertex antenna costs $77,000 new from the manufacturer.
The next step up the evolutionary scale is the type of mobile antenna most commonly found on TV news trucks. The best known of these type of antennas is made by AVL, but they are not the sole manufactures of this technology and other alternatives such as TracStar and C-Com may be as good.
Although these antenna are most commonly found mounted on vehicles they can also be shipped in carrying cases, but in either case the convenience of this type of antenna is that it may be deployed within a few minutes, typically a motorized automatic alignment system allows the truck operator to select the satellite from a menu on the menu and then wait until the antenna unfolds and automatically searches the sky until it finds the satellite and locks to the precise location. The antennas may be mounted on vehicles or they may be mounted on rugged military style trailers that can be towed to hard to reach locations.
The trailers are equipped with generators in case there is no electrical service available. Some of the manufacturers specialize in military packages and in these cases the prices may jump very quickly to $250,000. The more expensive models have motorized controls that allow a much quicker method of finding the satellite, but they also can be better equipped with a beacon receiver and automatic antenna alignment system. The unit above on the right is manufactured by ND SatCom and is named 2.4, Military Tactical Terminal and in addition to auto acquisition it also features auto tracking for inclined orbit satellites, plus helicopter and rail transportation options.
Arguably the most sophisticated of all mobile antennas are the marine systems. Although there are several manufactures of these shipboard systems, the name that is most recognizable is SeaTel.
In these two photographs you see a SeaTel antenna system installed on a ship, the antenna is housed inside a radome in order to protect the mechanism from the corrosive effects of the salt air. The second photograph shows the complex electro mechanical systems that keep the antenna locked onto the satellite even though the ship may be pitching and rolling. These systems are heavy with weights of 300lb for the smaller units; they are also expensive with prices greater than $50,000 for the entry level packages. However they are the only solution for a ship that needs to provide the crew and passengers with telephone and Internet connection whilst travelling across oceans. The conclusion is that we first need to understand the need that a client is trying to solve in as much detail as possible then with that information we can suggest a solution.