UK troops pay $90 to access Skype from Afghanistan
By Stewart Mitchell
Posted on 10 Dec 2012 at 10:30
UK troops serving in Afghanistan have to pay $90 a month for internet access of a sufficient quality to enable them to Skype family back home.
Although services based in outposts such as Camp Bastion get free access to basic web services via satellite connections, a sturdier web connection allowing services such as Skype costs a substantial $90 a month, with one MP saying access should be improved.
"The other communications issue I wish to touch on is a localised one to do with Afghanistan and Camp Bastion in particular," said Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt during a parliamentary debate on defence personnel.
Being able to Skype back home will become even more important as troops pull out
"During Operation Herrick 9, our armed forces had free access to the internet, and although they have some access now, it is limited and they have to pay $90 a month to access wider broadband services, such as those that allow them to Skype their family," she noted.
"As transition continues and welfare issues get pared down ... being able to Skype back home will become even more important as troops pull out."
According to one satellite provider, the issue is the two types of system being used: BGAN satellite connections are significantly cheaper but have limited bandwidth, while VSAT connections scale up much better but cost significantly more to install.
Free access and minutes
The company that provides the access facilities for troops has dismissed the claims, saying that troops already get plenty of access to communications for contacting family and friends.
Under its contract with Paradigm, Ministry of Defence troops are allowed 33 minutes a week of calls from wherever they are deployed to wherever they want to call. In addition to that, they can buy top-up minutes.
"In terms of data, that is access to the internet, every service personnel stationed away for over a certain period of time – which is very short - is entitled to free access to the internet," said a spokesperson for the company.
"That free access is done in a number of different ways. For smaller outposts, it's through a satellite telephone connected to a laptop for access to the web," he said. "In big bases it's done through cabins, with up to ten PCs in the cabin and via Wi-Fi in their bed spaces. That is cost free."
However, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the access available under the plan is limited in bandwidth due to the satellite technology being used, which rules out many services, including VoIP calls, while the faster service isn't directly under MoD control.
"The service that's been laid on in that camp - the faster one, is now in place and service personnel can pay to have faster service and more bandwidth, although it's still through a satellite," an MoD spokesperson said. "It's not actually a contract with the MoD, but it's been put there by the base."
According to the MoD, the free connections it provides will remain available until the troops return, but anyone wanting to talk for more than half an hour a week to family will have to dig deep.
Despite this, one recently returned servicemen within the MoD communications team told PC Pro a lack of Skype was not a common gripe among troops.
"I was in a tent with nine other soldiers and no-one ever griped about not being able to Skype," he said. "To be able to Hotmail from your bunk - considering you're in the middle of Afghanistan - is pretty incredible really."
I imagine that
whatever kind of snooping they're planning under the Snooper's Charter probably pales by comparison with the kind of monitoring that they need to do on an Internet connection direct from the front line of a war zone.
By revsorg on 10 Dec 2012
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