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September 25, 2013

Credit Card Processing Over Satellite: Equipment, Airtime, and Cost

Credit card processing via satelliteDo you sell items on a cruise ship? How about out on safari or hunting trips? Or gone to a trade show in a remote area and needed to run credit cards in real-time? 

Credit card processing is increasingly necessary - even in the most remote locations on the planet. 

For years GMN has offered real-time satellite credit card processing services for cruise ships, but we've had increasing requests for information about land-based credit card processing in remote land-based locations. 

Here is what you need to know to process credit cards in remote locations, whether by land or by sea. 

Iridium Pilot for processing credit cards via satelliteThe Basics of Remote Credit Card Processing Via Satellite

Maritime Satellite

  • VX570 Verifone Terminal (or other internet-based processor)
  • An account with a merchant service provider
  • Iridium Pilot, Inmarsat Fleetbroadband, or VSAT satellite broadband unit
  • Satellite airtime for your broadband unit

We offer packages for this setup where we will take care of everything for you, including setting up a merchant services account and sending you the credit card processing terminal. Contact us for more information.

Inmarsat BGAN for credit card processing via satelliteLand-Based Satellite

  • VX570 Verifone Terminal (or other internet-based processor)
  • An account with a merchant service provider
  • Inmarsat BGAN satellite broadband terminal* **
  • Satellite airtime for your broadband unit

*You may also use Thuraya IP broadband satellite terminal, but note that Thuraya only offers regional coverage, primarily in Europe and the Middle East. Inmarsat has much broader coverage, although it does thin out after 70° latitude.

** For fixed land-based remote installations, an Iridium Pilot is also an excellent choice. Although it is not portable, a Pilot provides global coverage and reliable connections. We have seen Pilots successfully installed in hunting lodges, for example, to provide WiFi for guests.  


Hardware Costs for Credit Card Processing Over Satellite

Maritime Satellite

You will need an Iridium Pilot ($4,495), Inmarsat Fleetbroadband (the Sailor 150 is $6,250 although there are many different models to choose from), or VSAT unit (approx $16,000). 

Note that for larger systems, like the Fleetbroadband 500 or KVH Mini VSAT, you would need an installer to install the equipment for you. 

Land-Based Satellite

A good BGAN unit for satellite credit card processing is the BGAN 9202 (currently $2,999). There are many different BGAN models beyond the 9202, although the 9202 is a great system for mobile land-based satellite credit card processing because it is small, portable, and quite fast.

A similar Thuraya setup (if you are covered in their satellite range) is the Thuraya IP. It runs at about $3,000. 

Airtime Costs for Credit Card Processing Over Satellite

Maritime Satellite

Airtime for marine satellite credit card processing entirely depends on the system you have on your ship.

You can see Iridium Pilot airtime here and Inmarsat Fleetbroadband airtime here. 

For an explanation on the differences between prepaid and postpaid satellite check out this blog post. 

BGAN prepaid airtime for credit card processing via satelliteLand-Based Satellite

Airtime for BGAN can be either prepaid or postpaid, but a good plan for credit card processing via satellite is a 100 unit card with 2-year validity (currently $75.44). 

How Credit Card Processing Works Over Satellite

Once you have your satellite equipment, you can hook your credit card processor directly up to your broadband unit and process credit cards that way, or you can hook your credit card processor up to your computer and run them through your computer.

If you use your computer, however, you will absolutely want an Optimizer. This little router makes a firewall that will block all activity over your satellite unit that doesn't go through XGate or XWeb (we can program it to also allow activity from your credit card processing machine). This way your airtime bill won't explode if your computer does an automatic update or something without you knowing (we've seen airtime bills when that happens. They can be in the realm of several tens of thousands of dollars). Optimizer is $149. 

What is the Per-Transaction Cost For Credit Card Over Satellite?

Cost per transaction of processing credit cards over satellite

A single real-time process of a credit card is about 5kb. If there is back-and-forth (say, if the card is denied), then there will be a little more data used. If there are also connection costs, those will take a small portion the of satellite airtime.

A prepaid 100 unit BGAN card will get approximately 10 MB of data. In an ideal situation where all of the credit cards go through, you would get 2,048 transactions before needing to buy more airtime. 

Of course, in real time, with connection costs and denials, etc, it will be less than that. We estimate that you could get about 1,600 transactions before buying more airtime. That would put you at approximately $0.05 cents per transaction (in terms of airtime). 

Depending on your airtime plan (and there are lots, and lots of different satellite airtime plans), that number could get as low as $0 (with an unlimited "all-you-can-eat" plan with Inmarsat). It's safe to say, however, that even with a plan with high data rates, you wouldn't be paying more than about $0.10 a transaction. 

Other Things To Keep In Mind

Connection costs are definitely something to keep in mind. When you start up a BGAN unit, for example, you have a minimum 100 kb charge - just for connecting. With a prepaid BGAN card that's about $0.60. But if you're on a Fleetbroadband with high MB overage, that could be as much as $2. 

To mitigate those costs, you will want to keep your unit on (another reason to use Optimizer!) and not incur the high costs of turning it on and off throughout the day. 

In Conclusion...

Credit card processing via satellite can be expensive, but if you know your equipment and are smart about how you buy airtime, you can make those satellite transactions a helpful and necessary part of a global business. 

Have any more questions about credit card processing via satellite (or anything else related to satellite communications? Feel free to contact us. We're happy to help. 

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