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Thread: Satellite Phones & Service

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    Satellite Phones & Service

    First off thanks Fluid for making this forum, and responding so quickly

    I figure since I asked for this forum I guess I should make the inaugural post, so here goes.

    I got hold of a Iridium Motorola 9505 on bitmit for only 230 euros with lots of accessories but no sim card which I bought for $12 + shipping on ebay.

    After some research I found out that Iridium's prepaid is rather expensive compared to Inmarsat (Globalstar has no prepaid that I can find but has reasonable postpaid plans, though I read online that their service is spotty).

    I've seen unlocked sat phones on ebay, but research on google has yielded no info on unlocking them to use on the other carriers, can anyone provide more info on doing this?

    Conscript

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    Great to see this forum. I hope it gets lots of use. Iridium is a bit more expensive than the other options. It has the advantage of being truly global (except N. Korea). I had a postpaid Iridium account several (10) years ago, when you could keep an account active for $25/month. When the monthly rates went up I decided that it was more of a toy than a necessity and dropped the service. I now have an unactivated SIM that I can activate on about 24 hours notice. I have also bought a prepaid SIM that had about a month left before expiration to take on a camping trip to a remote location.

    I have not kept up with GlobalStar and their problems. Their system design goal was to build the satellites on the cheap, putting the intelligence in the ground stations. They also left local licensing issues to their regional operators. They ended up with a collection of regional services, covering maybe 50% of the earth's surface with high inter-region roaming rates. They also had a satellite problem in that they built them too cheap and the RF front ends started going bad long before the end of the design service life. This left them with a collection of regional coverages, each of which looked like swiss cheese. I don't know if they've managed to resolve any of these question.

    Thuraya might be a good choice for travel in the Eastern Hemisphere (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia) but provides no coverage in the Western Hemisphere. I understand that Thuraya has roaming agreements with many GSM carriers. In theory you should be able to slip a GSM SIM into a Thuraya handset for occasional use. This might be particularly handy for checking SMS in remote areas.

    INMARSAT's IsatPhone Pro provides nearly global coverage (except the polar regions). Both Thuraya and INMARSAT are based on large geosynchronous satellites. You need a clear view toward the satellite (which is in a fixed location) for it to work. This means that in far northern or southern regions you must have a clear horizon looking toward the equator. A hill between you and the satellite will kill the signal.

    Iridium is just the opposite. The satellites are always in motion. There is great coverage at the poles but at the equator you need to have a clear horizon for 360 degrees to keep a lock on the satellites. OTOH, you can be behind something and get intermittent service adequate to send and receive texts.
    Last edited by DRNewcomb; 07-29-2013 at 08:52 AM.
    Donald Newcomb

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    Great waste of space this has been, only one reply in three weeks, oh well.
    Anyways, I recieved my phone and have been playing with it, so far it won't register or place calls other than emergency.
    Research from a post I found claims that it can't be unlocked without the software and hardware, is this true?

    Conscript

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    I wish that this section saw more activity to be honest. I don't know much about satellite service and the such, but I hope that you are able to get your phone issue worked out.
    Current Device: Apple iPhone 5S
    Space Grey - 32GB

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    Quote Originally Posted by conscript View Post
    Great waste of space this has been, only one reply in three weeks, oh well.
    Anyways, I recieved my phone and have been playing with it, so far it won't register or place calls other than emergency.
    Research from a post I found claims that it can't be unlocked without the software and hardware, is this true?
    Sorry but it looks like there are very few people around here who actually know anything about the subject of satellite phones.

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    I have an Iridium 9555 that I use in remote regions of North America, specifically in Alaska and the Yukon territories. Before that I used Globalstar but their service deteriorated to the point of uselessness. Basically, I have been a Satellite user for the past 15 years and have not come across the fact of unlocking the phones to use on other providers. Is that even possible?

    If you can deal with the lag of signal acquisition of the Immarsat IsatPhone Pro then it is by far the cheaper option than any of Iridium's offerings. To be honest, I couldn't deal with the frustration of signal acquisition from the IsatPhone Pro thus I stayed with Iridium and have not looked back. I have the annual Emergency Plan from yesteryear so I don't pay the outrageous prices of today.

    Let me ask my dealer to see if it is possible use an unlocked sat phone for other providers. I would love for Iridium to come out with a GSM/Satellite hybrid phone that is rugged.

    I'm glad to see the subject of Satellite Phones being addressed in HoFo but I doubt the forum will ever pick up.

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    Well I see sat phones advertised as "unlocked" on ebay, but who knows if they really are.
    The 9505 has an option to use cellular or satellite, but without service I have no way to test it.
    What does it mean when it says "insert cassette?"

    Conscript

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    Quote Originally Posted by t6821hn View Post
    Basically, I have been a Satellite user for the past 15 years and have not come across the fact of unlocking the phones to use on other providers. Is that even possible?
    My old Iridium phone will work with any SIM, the problem is that Iridium doesn't have any known* roaming agreements, so it isn't much use. Some GlobalStar regional operators have roaming agreements with various GSM carriers but the trick is that you have to have a non-US GlobalStar phone with a SIM slot. The US GSP-1600 won't work. Thuraya has roaming agreements with many GSM operators but Thuraya only covers Eurasia and northern Africa. I don't know about INMARSAT. TerreStar has some sort of tie-in with ATT. You could get their service with an ATT business account but I don't know the details.

    *I did read something about Iridium working with some Australian carriers but don't know the details.

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    Quote Originally Posted by conscript View Post
    What does it mean when it says "insert cassette?"
    My guess. Some Iridium phones had a cellular "cassette" for different standards: GSM-900, Analog, etc. The idea was that you would carry around this huge brick of a phone and use it on cellular when it was available and satellite when cellular was not available. This was at a time that cell phones we becoming small enough to carry in a shirt pocket and no one actually wanted to carry a huge brick in cellular coverage. Iridium wised up and did away with the dual mode and became a satellite-only company. Not sure if the 9505 had the cassette or not. The military's Iridium phones have a security cassette that provides encryption.

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    Quote Originally Posted by conscript View Post
    I've seen unlocked sat phones on ebay, but research on google has yielded no info on unlocking them to use on the other carriers, can anyone provide more info on doing this?

    Conscript
    AFAIK the Iridium 9505 can only work with the Iridium Satellite constellation. Can not be flashed or programmed for others. The 9500 and 9505 models could take cellular cassettes for terrestial use....but the cassettes are very hard to come by and they are antiquated and bulky. Varieties I'm aware of were:
    Nextel Iden (will no longer work in US)
    CDMA/AMPS (will work on Verizon or possibly others in an older CDMA digital mode; Analog AMPS discontinued)
    TDMA (will no longer work in US)
    GSM (only works on 900/1800 mhz frequencies found outside North America).
    Only other cassette I'm aware of was a military encryption cassette that would encrypt the satellite signal.

    In all cases, a new cellphone would be lighter, better, and more functional for accessing local cell towers rather than a cellular cassette in the satphone. A better use for the Iridium handset if it's only for occasional use is to buy a short term prepaid card (global or regional cover) when you need to have a live satphone...then just put it away until the next needed use. This still would be cheaper than a rental handset because you own the equipment and would be able to buy minutes at more competitive rates than a rental would have.

    Used a Motorola Iridium 9500 handset from 2001 until the end of April 2013, when I switched over to an Inmarsat Isatphone Pro on a prepaid card. Cheaper per month and per minute than the postpaid plan I was on Iridium or the prepaid Iridium equivalent (in 2001 it was $20 plus fees for postpaid with no included minutes; by 2013 Iridium was $50 plus fees). Plus lighter, easier to get parts for, has bluetooth and wired headset, supports 2 way SMS, etc. Waited to switch over to Inmarsat because prepaid for North American isatphone pro subscribers was only a recent addition.

    Iridium, Inmarsat and Globalstar are all launching new satellites and pricing and services will likely change...including higher speed data services to be offered for the first two. Other live satphone carriers I'm aware of are Thuraya (Europe/Asia/Africa in sat mode), SkyTerra MSAT (North America and waters).

    Plan on using the Inmarsat phone as a supplement to a Telna mobile sim chip in a regular dual sim smartphone in the non-US Caribbean later this year. Other uses for my satphone are maritime away from cell tower range, rural area cellular dead zones, emergency usage when cell towers out of commission in storms or other disaster scenario.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GadgetKen View Post
    Iridium, Inmarsat and Globalstar are all launching new satellites and pricing and services will likely change...including higher speed data services to be offered for the first two. Other live satphone carriers I'm aware of are Thuraya (Europe/Asia/Africa in sat mode), SkyTerra MSAT (North America and waters).
    I wonder if other sat operators are considering a phone sleeve?

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    Quote Originally Posted by 503ducati View Post
    I wonder if other sat operators are considering a phone sleeve?
    The idea has been around a long time. The first Kyocera Iridium phones came in two flavors. The first was a satellite-only handset. The other was a cell phone that slipped into satellite sleeve. Neither of these phones proved successful. The satellite sleeve manufacturer has a big problem. They either have to manufacture their own cell phone part (huge investment with little payback) or they have to build their sleeve to fit another manufacturer's phone. Now, most people who have the money for satellite service will probably have the money to change their cellular phones every couple of years. What's to say that the new phone will fit the old sleeve? The sleeve manufacturer is completely at the mercy of the phone manufacturer. Not a good position.

    Satellite service is still specialized (and expensive) enough that one does not just switch from cellular to satellite without some consideration. For this reason I don't really see much of a real need for integrating the two, at this point in time. Maybe in the future.

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    More practical than a sleeve for most people would be a bluetooth or wi-fi link to a satphone or a simpler satellite data device.

    Globalstar Spot Connect service does have a bluetooth connect device to allow limited text messaging, GPS position reporting, etc.: http://www.findmespot.ca/en/index.ph...nerMainConnect

    A relabeled Cradlepoint PH300 battery powered wifi router can be used with some more modern Iridium handsets.

    An Inmarsat isatphone has bluetooth capabilities so I have a mini bluetooth handset that I pair to my satphone(could do the same thing with my MacBook Pro if need be since it has BT). There is also a Redport Optimizer router that can be hooked up to the isatphone but did not get that because isatphone data speeds are slow and require data compression software to make effective use of that particular router.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GadgetKen View Post
    More practical than a sleeve for most people would be a bluetooth or wi-fi link to a satphone or a simpler satellite data device.
    I've wondered what is actually saved by a device like the SPOT Connect vs something more like a two-way pager. The disadvantage to this system is that you now have two battery powered devices that need to be kept charged, rather than just one. At one time you could buy a GPS unit that could send e-mail via the Orbcomm constellation but that was long ago and the service no longer seems to be offered. The issues with the Orbcomm system was that, being store-and-forward, it could take up to 90 minutes for the message to be delivered, the early-'90s device was somewhat bulky and (AFAIK) you had to know which specific one of the 40+ satellites to query to retrieve your incoming e-mails.

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    Orbcomm email devices never really took off (pun intended). From what I remember dealers that carried those satellite email devices quietly shelved them due to reliability problems. Orbcomm instead shifted their focus to the M2M market for tracking mobile assets (trucks, ships, airplanes, etc.). New satellites according to wikipedia should provide more advance features.

    Think Spot advantage over a two way pager is satellite coverage in areas where no pager or cellular network. Spot devices typically have a Help button that can send position and SOS info to recipient (even to search and rescue or roadside assistance). Connect adds connection to phone or laptop. Two device issue still exists if you have a cellphone and a satphone, but think more realistic than a combo sort of device.

    Still prefer actual voice service via satellite (currently isatphone for myself) for flexibility and to communicate with some non-tech savvy people I speak with (who don't know how to use text messaging and have little or no computer knowledge)...a plain phone call sometimes is the easiest.

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