Inmarsat & the IsatPhone Pro

I’ve used an Iridium satellite telephone for years. It’s an insurance policy - I travel all over the world, and to remote areas in the US and having the ability to have simple and reliable two-way communications is worth the $40 per month standing charge (and about $1.50 per minute).

Iridium uses a constellation of 66 operational satellites in low Earth orbit, and is the only satellite telephone communications company that gives complete global coverage, even at the poles.

My handset, a Motorola 9505, is large, bulky, heavy and slow - it’s starting to show its age. After a software upgrade a few years ago, it’ll now send SMS messages and emails, and there is also a data connection kit (with a DB-9 serial connection), though at a maximum of 2.4kbps, it’s barely usable and once I had the ability to send SMS messages and emails, I gave up using it.

I put up with both the age of the handset and almost $500 per year of standing charges as there were no other options (other providers didn’t give the coverage I require).

Lately, however, Inmarsat, a well-know satellite communications company unveiled their new satellite phone, the IsatPhone Pro. It’s still like a cell phone from the year 2000, but it’s lighter, faster and more compact than the Motorola 9505. It uses the Inmarsat 4 constellation of satellites, 3 birds in geosynchronous orbit to give almost global coverage (the exception being the polar regions). These are the same satellites that provide the BGAN service.

As well as the phone being better, the service is also cheaper - the basic service is $20 per month, so it’s half the cost of the Iridium service.

This convinced me to get one. In July 2010, you can find brand new ones for around $500.

IsatPhone Pro

My quick testing shows that it performs well, though as I’ll only ever be in the footprint of one satellite (and you get the best service if you point the antenna at the satellite - so you need to have a general idea of where it is), the coverage in more challenging areas (canyons, forest, etc.) may not be as good as the Iridium network.

Out of the box it comes with the ability to send both SMS messages and emails, and has a built-in (Navstar) GPS, from which you can email position data (a fantastic feature from a safety and security perspective). Sending and receiving both SMS messages and emails is speedy, with a delay of just a few seconds between sending and receiving.

In summary the IsatPhone Pro is better, faster and cheaper than the Iridium/Motorola 9505. I’m liking it so far, and I think it’ll make satellite phone ownership available to more people.

Recommended. Field testing from Central America coming up soon!