Satphone Shootout — SPOT-Globalstar VS Iridium


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
The three phones, left to right: Iridium 9555, Iridium 9575 Extreme, SPOT/Globalstar

The three phones are similar in size, left to right: Iridium 9555, Iridium 9575 Extreme, SPOT/Globalstar. Iridium antennas slide in with thick area still protruding from phone, Globalstar is much more compact since the antenna folds completely into the phone.

I’ve been evaluating three satphones for a couple months: Iridium 9555 & 9575, along with SPOT-Globalstar GSP-1700 (which we will usually call “Globalstar” or “SPOT-Globalstar” to prevent confusion of SPOT-Globlastar phone with SPOT emergency location device.)

SPOT-Globalstar phone does work, but not without a few interface problems. Of greatest concern is how easily the raised buttons are pressed and triggered during storage -- especially the power button.

Globalstar phone does work, but not without a few interface problems. Of greatest concern is how easily the raised buttons are pressed and triggered during storage -- especially the power button (indicated by red arrow). Mine turned on accidentally inside my backpack. What's more, the illuminated numerals on the buttons are tiny and may be quite difficult to see clearly. Still, the phone worked well in our testing here in Colorado. Just be careful how you pack it, and perhaps bring reading glasses. The Globalstar is small, with a long antenna when extended (shown to right). Packed size is very nice for stowage in the average backcountry day-pack, though you'd probably need to store the phone in some kind of lightly padded and hardened case. Click image to enlarge.

Iridium is more expensive (see prices below) and has a much more extensive satellite network than Globalstar, yet surprisingly I found that the Globalstar gets me quicker connections in Colorado valleys where all satphones have a difficult time, and I get fewer dropped calls. On the other hand, Iridium works anywhere on the planet, while SPOT-Globalstar only has voice coverage over or near major land masses, excluding far south and north latitudes. For example, at this time I would not recommend using a Globalstar phone on Denali, or for Antarctica adventures.

Iridium 9555 Weight: 9.7 oz, 274 gr — Globalstar is 7.2 oz, 202 gr (Globalstar is noticeably lighter)

Iridium LCD diag: 1 7/8, 48 mm — Globalstar LCD is 5/16, 35 mm (Iridium significantly larger, text virtually same size)

Iridium sends text: 160 characters but difficult to use, Globalstar will NOT send text

Iridium receives text: 160 characters, Globalstar receives text, 35 characters (Iridium character count includes return address)

Iridium Battery life: about 30 hours standby, Globalstar claims 36 hours standby (a wash in my opinion, as age of battery and temperature will vary your mileage significantly). Spare batteries for both phones cost around $100.

Note, Iridium Extreme 9575 is mostly a cosmetic upgrade from 9555. It’s more water resistant, has an emergent message system, and weighs 8.8 oz, 250 grams so it’s about an ounce lighter than 9555, but still heavier than Spot-Globalstar. That said, you can not connect a charger to the 9575 without a big klutzy adapter that weighs .9 ounce, making the 9575 essentially the same weight as 9555. Disappointing to put it mildly.

Extreme adds GPS and an SOS button, otherwise the firmware is nearly identical to 9555. (Built-in GPS is of course essential with an SOS button.) Seriously, it’s a satphone so the SOS button could be a gimmick. Or is it? Since Iridium phones are tough to text from and may not get immediate and reliable connections with satellites, perhaps the addition of an SOS button solves a big problem. Read below for more about that.

Iridium 9575 satphone SOS button invokes persistent messaging via both text and phone dialing, hands off.

Iridium 9575 satphone SOS button invokes persistent messaging via both text and phone dialing, hands off.

The SOS button can be set up to send your GPS coords and an emergency message to any phone number you want, but the Extreme does give you the option of registering with GEOS Emergency Response Center (just as an SOS from a SPOT emergency devices does). The beauty of having your emergency message sent to GEOS is you don’t have to have local EMS numbers available for making an emergency call — which can be a real gotcha if you travel much. But more importantly, since getting a voice call or text done on an Iridium can be frustrating due to dropped connections, the “press it and forget it” functionality of an SOS button could solve a big problem.

Indeed, I’m fairly impressed with the emergency functionality of the 9575. Though in typical Iridium style they make it confusing and could have done better.

First, Iridium 9575 has a red button under a cap on top of the phone. When pressed, this initiates “Emergency Mode” which causes the phone to persistently attempt to call one pre-programmed recipient and text up to three pre-programmed recipients. The text message includes GPS coords. Strangely, the red button on my test unit did nothing, perhaps because I was using the SIM card from my 9555. Whatever, the manual says the red button does indeed trigger emergency mode, so I’ll take Iridium at their word.

Second, oddly buried under Settings/Location-Options in the 9575 firmware you’ll find an option for “Emergency Mode.” This triggers things the same way pressing the red button does. But it’s here in the firmware where you’ll find all your options for configuring Emergency Mode. Using these options worked for me and I was able to fully test Emergency Mode. It worked well, main disappointment being that the 9575 doesn’t have an “OK” message option which uses the same persistent hands-off dialing.

For Iridium, who didn’t even have a question mark in their texting character set till a few years ago, the way this all works borders on miraculous.

Iridium Extreme seems like it might be a bit smaller and lighter -- until you realize you need to carry around yet another piece of the phone if you want to be capable of charging it.

Iridium Extreme seems like it might be a bit smaller and lighter -- until you realize you need to carry around yet another piece of the phone if you want to be capable of charging it. Granted, it could be considered a bonus to have parts that come off to make the phone lighter, but in this case the pieces and parts seem too finicky -- and I don't even want to think about how much that adapter costs to replace.


Names and technology:

As far as I know, Iridium phones are only branded as Iridium, though Iridium does contract out to texting devices such as Delorme inReach.

Iridium satellites talk to each other in similar fashion as ground based cell phone towers. If you have a fairly clear view of the sky, the Iridium sats pass your phone call off to each other for continuous talking. The Iridium satellites pass overhead quickly (8 minutes with level horizon such as ocean), so if you don’t have enough sky the sat you connect with will not be able to transfer your call before it goes out of contact behind the horizon. I’ve found this to be a significant problem with Iridium. In most valley locations where I’ve used the phone my calls tend to be cut off within minutes, and it can take up to 6 minutes for the phone to establish a connection. Six minutes can seem like a lifetime in a medical emergency, since you have to stand there staring at the phone so you can invoke a call when it finds a satellite. The least Iridium could have done with this is to provide an audio chime connection notification. Nope. Your only indication of a connection is a tiny bars icon like a cell phone. Got a magnifying glass?

Globalstar phones are sold under the Globalstar badge as well as SPOT. There is no difference in performance between the two. Unlike Iridium, completing a 2-way voice call on a Globalstar satphone requires both a satellite and a ground station the satellite can connect to. This makes global coverage problematic if not impossible (e.g., needing a ground station in Antarctica, or in the middle of the Atlantic.)

Globalstar coverage map as of fall 2013, the yellow and blue are fringe areas where limited view of the sky would probably cause the phone to be virtually unusable for voice communication.

Globalstar coverage map as of fall 2013, the yellow and blue are fringe areas where limited view of the sky would likely cause the phone to be virtually unusable for voice communication.

Handling and size:
Spot/G-star is virtually the same thickness and width as the Iridium 9555, but significantly shorter due to the 100% stowable antenna as well as the unit body being 1 cm shorter. Iridium easily stands vertically on a flat surface, while Globalstar does not (with antenna raised, as it needs to be). Since it’s essential to have any satphone antenna oriented vertically while establishing a connection, you want to be able to set your phone on a table or whatever and not have to hold it. Very poor industrial design on the Globalstar in this respect, though overall the phone feels good in the hand.

Ease of use:
The keys on the SPOT-Globalstar pick up so much glare at certain angles as to be illegible. More, the illuminated numbers are so small and glow in such as way as to be nearly illegible to my eyesight (which is admittedly not perfect, but still, I shouldn’t need glasses to use a satphone.) Not so the Iridium, which has nicely raised keys featuring large white numbers and letters. Both keypads illuminate. One trick with backcountry satphone use is you want all possible contact numbers pre-installed in your phonebook. Both phones have functional contact lists, though they’re much less featured than you’re used to on your smartphone.

How the power buttons operate is another issue. Iridium’s power buttons are small and nearly impossible to activate by accidents such as how the phone is stored in your backpack. Conversely, the location of the Iridium power buttons is not intuitive and may take a non-trained user some time to figure out. Globalstar is opposite. Power button is similar to some brands of cell phones: on the keypad and obvious. But the Globalstar power button can be accidentally pressed and powered up during storage, resulting in a dead phone when you need it.

Connection sensitivity and reliability:
It is easy to know who wins this contest. My Iridium frequently connects inside my house — with the antenna collapsed. SPOT-Globalstar just sits there displaying its “Looking for Service” message. That’s not saying you’d want to try and talk on a satphone inside a building (unlike how Hollywood portrays the situation), but it is an interesting test. More, this is just a guess but my impression is that the Iridium 9575 has a better antenna than the 9555 as it hooks up from indoors much more frequently.

Cost:
Iridium is incredibly expensive. There are too many ways to pay (pay, and pay) for us to detail here (see these charts), but figure you’ll need to come up with a minimum of around $300 a year if you want to keep the same phone number — but that’s the “Emergency Plan” with NO pre-paid minutes and $4.50 a minute!

You can buy prepaid Iridium cards but they expire, thus possibly resulting in an unbelievably expensive phone call if you use it once. For example, their least expensive prepaid is 75 minutes for $160.00 — that’s $2.10 a minute and it expires in just 4 weeks!

Keep your Iridium phone available for 12 months a year prepaid you’ll still spend nearly $700/year. Their best comparo to a minimal but still practical Spot/G-star plan is probably the Iridium “Annual 120 Plan” which has 120 minutes at $599.00, at $1.29 per minute once you run out of the prepaid.

If you want your SPOT-Globalstar available 12 months a year, it’ll cost you about $300/year (120 minutes). With additional minutes at $1.99 instead of the stunning Iridium price of $4.50/minute.

Essentially, SPOT-Globalstar will cost you about half what Iridium does for minutes, and about half for the phone. In other words it is significantly more affordable.

In summary: Using the minimal 12 month plan, carrying the Globalstar as an emergency rig will cost you $300 a year and you can even make the occasional call for a ride from a trailhead without the giant sucking sound you’ll hear if you try to do that with Iridium. In our view, as mentioned elsewhere in this review the biggest downsides of SPOT-Globalstar is that it won’t function reliably or at all in many areas of the globe, including on Denali, and you cannot text from it without additional equipment.

Accessories:
Iridium accessories must be made of gold with embedded diamonds. Via Amazon, an Iridium car charger is $78.00. You could probably make one with Amazon sourced parts for about $6.00. Globalstar wants $50.00 for theirs (still, is it made of silver or something?). If you need multiple accessories (say, for being sure you have chargers at different locations), you could save quite a bit of money by using Globalstar provided you don’t need a divorced antenna. But if you do need an external antenna for that Globalstar, well, read on and keep your hands on your wallet.

If you use a satphone much, you’ll find yourself wanting an external antenna you can mount on a car roof or outside a snowcave. Iridium does sell such antennas, and you can get them in the aftermarket, but the antenna connection on the Iridium 9555 is ghetto — fragile and you never know if it’s really connected or not. Extreme model is better, with a real threaded connector — though note you’ll need yet another phone adapter that includes the external antenna connector!

Globalstar GSP-1700 fails in the external antenna area. Yes, you can connect an external antenna but you need an incredibly expensive “car kit” to do it. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I couldn’t find anything that will connect an antenna for under $500! That is patently ridiculous, though if you do use their pricy kits you supposedly get a boost in transmit power for all that coin.

Data:
Both phones are data capable to some degree, but require setup and a computer or other type of interface to do so (for example, the Redport Optimizer). Neither will web browse in valley or canyon terrain due to the high angled horizon interrupting your satellite connections. You can email from either phone, again provided you’re hooked up to a computer or other type of interface running specialized software. Smaller images can be sent and received the same way, but don’t plan on transmitting larger graphics unless you’ve got a solid connection and lots of minutes available on your plan. Data connections through satphones are slow slow slow.

Important note: Iridium phones do NOT have persistent texting, meaning if you don’t have a connection your text will not be queued up for an automatic send once you do get connected. Instead, your text message will end up being archived and is challenging to find and re-send unless you know the phone firmware quite well. This is incredibly annoying and even downright dangerous, as with limited voice capability a clear concise text is the best way to communicate in an emergency. (When hooked to a computer using third party connection software, you do get persistent email or texting.) Adding to this tragic state of affairs, you can’t text from a SPOT-Globalstar phone whatsoever! (Note that both brands will receive texts sent by various methods, most reliable and easiest way is to just use their website “send a message” page.)

Conclusion:
If you’re only planning on using a satphone in an area where you’re sure SPOT-Globalstar will work, I’d tend to recommend Globalstar over Iridium simply because it’s so much more affordable. The fact that you can’t text from SPOT-Globalstar (without a computer hooked up, anyway) is a huge black mark, and prevents me from the hands-down recommend I could probably otherwise present. On the other hand, due to the Iridium phone’s lack of persistent texting, I’m not particularly fond of it either.

Shop for a Spot Globalstar phone!

Comments

40 Responses to “Satphone Shootout — SPOT-Globalstar VS Iridium”

  1. Greg October 1st, 2013 11:07 am

    Yep, I think I’ll just stick with my inReach.

  2. Lou Dawson October 1st, 2013 11:18 am

    Yep, in our view inReach is a pretty good solution if it’s set up well and practiced with.

    Here is a permalink to Joe’s inReach review:

    http://www.wildsnow.com/7796/inreach-delorme-review-reach/

    Lou

  3. Korpijaakko October 2nd, 2013 5:21 am

    Nice write-up. Some questions:

    - Do you need the big and bulky connector also to charge the Iridium 9575? If so, that is a big minus. But being able to charge via USB is a plus in my opinion, makes some system lighter and easier compared to 12V.
    - What about Inmarsat and Thuraya phones? Any change of doing comparison with them?

    And as stated above, if you don’t need voice or data connection, go for something else than a sat phone. Yellowbrick YB v3 is an excellent option for the InReach though now that InReach has come up with the SE it’s little more difficult to choose between the two.

  4. Neil October 2nd, 2013 6:30 am

    Picked up the inReach SE a couple of months ago rather than an EPIRB. Cheaper than a satphone, easy to set up and more flexible than an EPIRB and with teh SE version, the weak link or a paired smart phone is eliminated.

  5. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2013 6:59 am

    Neil, I totally agree that inReach SE is one of the best solutions out there. Only downside is that sometimes using voice instead of text works better, for example when the person you’re communicating with only has a land line. But on average, it’s going to work terrific for just about anything. Reasonable pricing as well.

    http://www.rei.com/search?query=delorme+inreach

  6. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2013 7:23 am

    Korpijaak, YES, the stupid bulky Iridium Extreme 9575 adapter/connector is 100% necessary for charging the phone either from wall charger or vehicle 12 volt. Moreover, the phone does NOT charge with USB.

    The need for this adapter is why I did not upgrade my 9555 to a 9575. It is ridiculous. And get this: The standard adapter does NOT have an external antenna connection, you have to have yet another adapter for external antenna! Thus, if you want the phone to have full capabilities, you have to carry two adapters (since the one with the antenna connector disables the regular antenna.)

    And if you forget your adapter, you can NOT charge the phone. It will become an expensive brick.

    Iridium has a history of substandard design, in my opinion. This is just another example. My 9555 has plenty of design problems as well.

    As for the other satphone companies, I don’t have any reviews scheduled soon but I’m always pursuing telecommunications and the reviews will be ongoing.

    Thuraya could be promising. Iridium is the standard because of its 100% global coverage. Whether you’re at the tip of South America or in an Alaskan Range valley, you can communicate on Iridium. Thuraya, for example, doesn’t cover the whole globe and as far as I know doesn’t cover North America, or does it now? Anyone have Thuraya coverage info? I can’t get a clear answer with Google search.

    Thuraya offers one phone that is both satphone and cell phone, as well as a “sleeve” that makes in iPhone into a satphone! This of course makes one wonder if we’ll see some smartphones soon that can be enabled for various satellite phone systems. My guess is that companies such as Iridium and Globalstar are frantically working on this as they desperately need the revenue that could be created by at least providing some limited satellite communication functionality to normal smartphones.

    As usual, be prepared to upgrade!

    Lou

  7. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2013 8:01 am

    Doing quite a bit of editing and re-writing on this review, suggestions appreciated. What a can of worms these satphones are!

    Groan, whatever happened to the days of leaving a note in an old tea kettle nailed to a tree, like we used to do at NOLS in the Wind Rivers, Wyoming? I used to love that. So cool to be in the wilderness for weeks, hike to a camp, and dig up a week-old message from an instructor friend on another NOLS course. Meet you at Lonesome Lake for a few rock climbs!

    Lou

  8. Jack October 2nd, 2013 9:11 am

    Well, I can read these (much appreciated) messages sitting on my *** at my desk, rather than hiking…. uh wait a minute, I see a problem here….. being a computery desk jockey DOESN’T really build fitness….time for a major rethink. %^).

  9. Murray Chapman October 2nd, 2013 10:08 am

    Thuraya coverage seems to be Europe, Africa (apart from southern Africa), Asia and Australia. Unless they launch another satellite that won’t change.

    http://www.thuraya.com/network-coverage

  10. Korpijaakko October 2nd, 2013 12:40 pm

    Thanks for your swift reply, Lou!

    The adapter stuff with Iridium is plain stupid… But as long as they’re the only company offering true global coverage, they can get away with sub-par products. At least I don’t have too many options here.

    I read from here http://forrestmccarthy.blogspot.fi/2013/06/electronics-for-backcountry.html that the 9575 can be charged via USB. Now I’m wondering as Iridium site also only speaks of “USB data cable”… USB changing would be a big plus for me. Another plus is the sturdier antenna in the 9575. I’ve already snapped one antenna from a 9555 and would hate that happening again. (It’s not user replacable, and the repair ain’t cheap.)

    Seems also that Thuray doesn’t have coverage in the America. As I mostly operate on high latitudes (in Europe) I go for Iridium but I know many climbers on the Himalayas use Thuray as it has cheaper pricing and faster data. Inmarsat has only recently expanded on the handset market but seems to cover most of the globe (but not the polar regions): http://www.inmarsat.com/corporate/our-satellites/our-coverage/index.htm

    And at least Adaia is working on rugged Android smartphone with integrated satellite comms but it’ll be via Globalstar and thus be very limited (a SPOT Connect in a smartphone), at least from my perspective.

    Unfortunately I don’t know anyone working on new tea kettles to be nailed to trees. ;)

  11. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2013 12:51 pm

    Korp, I was wrong, I’d not bothered hooking up USB because I made the mistake of reading the manual (grin). I just hooked up the 9575 via USB to my computer and yes it does charge via USB. Sorry about the confusion. BUT, the USB connection does require the ridiculous kludgy huge adapter. Absurd. Lou

  12. Gav October 3rd, 2013 9:29 am

    Iridium in Canada is a bit cheaper to run the phone all year. I use the 6 month cards and as long as I purchase the minutes before the expiry of the old ones they roll over. This way I end up with a large bank of minutes to use in the winter when I need the phone the most. I have set up an auto credit card renewal to avoid missing the date. I have tested both types of phones in the Coast range of BC and have had limited success with Globalstar phones, August 2013 in deep valleys here.

  13. John Baldwin October 3rd, 2013 10:29 pm

    Check those yellow areas on the coverage map carefully. We used a SPOT device on the Juneau Icefield in May. If I’m correct, I think the SPOT uses the same satelites as the Globalstar phone? The coverage is very poor in the north. We sent an I’m ok message every night for 20 days (leaving the SPOT on for at least 1 hour each time). Only about 3 messages went through. I tried the SPOT when we got home and got an e-mail 15 minutes after turning it on so there was no problem with device or the batteries. I’ve heard the Iridium coverage is much better in the north.

  14. travis October 4th, 2013 10:27 am

    I’ve had similar experiences to John with SPOT, but here in the Sierra where the map implies good coverage. InReach SE has been performing much better, including in deep valleys in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. And at least when the InReach doesn’t send a signal, I know it hasn’t sent!

  15. Ziggy October 6th, 2013 10:09 pm

    Also take a look at IsatphonePro with Inmarsat. There’s over 100k of those in use.

  16. AVIATOR November 1st, 2013 4:48 pm

    wow Lou, great info here , love the detail !

  17. AVIATOR November 1st, 2013 4:59 pm

    Weve been over this before but it needs to be repeated.
    Inmarsat and Thuraya are not valid options in the mountains in most cases.
    Def not in north america and europe.
    The reason is their sats are fixed over the equator.
    In many valleys and northern slopes you cant get connected ever, no matter how long you wait.
    They work better the closer you are to the equator, hence why people use them anyway on Everest for example.
    Iridium and Globalstar sats are in orbit, sooner or later one will fly over you, even in the deepest valley, even if the time window is short, at least you have a chance.

  18. Ziggy November 1st, 2013 7:26 pm

    Re Inmarsat, true. If the northern horizon where I am in the south of Australia is around 50º or higher then I can’t connect. No drama as I’m usually on mountain plateaux and ridges or in the outback so it’s a perfectly valid option for me; you have to do the research on what works in your circumstances.

  19. AVIATOR November 2nd, 2013 1:34 am

    Good on ya mate.

    Most of us want an Inreach or an Iridium satphone for worst case scenarios.
    Whether we know it or not, it’s what we need.
    Murphys law says we will be alone and injured in the deepest hole in the valley, on a northern slope, far north in the northern hemisphere.
    Inmarsat or Thuraya cant help us there, Iridium/Inreach probably can.

    There’s a reason Iridium is expensive, you get what you pay for.
    and that’s why Inreach is such a bargain.
    Do your research indeed y’all.

  20. Ziggy November 2nd, 2013 2:46 pm

    The perennial criticism of Iridium (that the Inreach uses) is drop-outs as a call fails to get transferred to the next LEO sat. For those immobilised at the bottom of a gorge it would be good to know what each degree of arc of open sky provides by way of call time. At a guess the Inreach should work better than a satphone under those circumstances since it only has to ID, connect and shoot 160 chars.

    In Australia the purchase and use costs of an Inreach is extortionate.

  21. Rob November 25th, 2013 4:15 am

    Avoid Iridium. I was sold a faulty phone (new), and they refused to assist me. This was to be used by my mother in emergency situations, as she is in a wheelchair. On the 17th October 2013 bush fires in Sydney AUS impacted her home, and because landline and mobile were out she was unable to use the Iridium due to the fault. Thankfully a fire crew pulled her out. Pathetic thing is the Iridium CEO Matt Desch was aware of this problem for months before, and did nothing. Even AFTER he has done nothing. Iridium isn’t a company you can count on in an emergency.

  22. Lou Dawson November 25th, 2013 7:59 am

    Ziggy, I’ve tried and tried to figure some easy way to predict when an Iridium satellite would be in visible sky so as to know when to make a call. There are plenty of satellite trackers but they require web connections, etc. What the Iridium phone user needs is a piece of paper for their location, stating times that sats will pass overhead. Or, Lord willing, an app on the Iridium phone that predicted sat passes?

    As it is, you are correct, the only way you’re going to get an emergency call out from a deep valley or gorge is to text. But as mentioned in review above, texting is problematic.

    It’s actually somewhat amazing how poorly all this stuff works, when through a few simple modifications to how things function it could all be so much better.

    Lou

  23. AVIATOR November 25th, 2013 9:08 am

    Lou, all that Iridium charging adapter mess aside, the main Iridium texting gotcha is the nonexistent auto-queue-send-retry?
    That you have to manually keep trying to get your text out.
    With that in place texting would be decent on Iridium phones.

    I think it’s very important to point out that the inreach SE has that.
    It keeps trying automatically until the text is sent like we’re used to on our cell phones.
    For me this makes the choice really easy, there really is no alternative to the inreach SE at the moment.

  24. Lou Dawson November 25th, 2013 9:16 am

    Aviator, I would tend to agree Inreach SE is probably the best thing out there for citizen’s emergent comm.

    And yes, the Iridium texting is just simply bogus when you’re in a place without good coverage (anywhere but the ocean, flat desert, or mountain top).

    Nonetheless, Iridium phones do have their uses. We’ve had good results doing data from ours on two Alaskan expeditions now…, with Denali 2010 being a big success for the phone.

    Lou

  25. Ziggy November 25th, 2013 12:29 pm

    Lou, the Iridium guff says that with a clear horizon a given sat will be ‘visible’ for around 7 minutes in its polar orbit. Then it will be followed by another for seamless cover. As best I can make out they’re spaced longitudinally every 60 degrees and they’re about 750 km up. If that’s the case someone can do the geometry (‘fraid I’m math-challenged) to calculate what each degree of open sky in the longitudinal plane allows by way of contact time for our hypothetical bottom-of-gorge emergency. The number for the lat. plane I guess depends on where the gorge is in relation to the sat orbit. All that say for the equator where the coverage is least dense (coverage is most dense the closer you get to the poles given the convergence of sats in their polar orbits).

    I put this question to a satphone broker and he couldn’t (or maybe chose not to) answer it.

    Anyway, I and plenty of other Aussies get good enough results out of our Inmarsat connections (that are much cheaper than Iridium) where the implication of a failure to connect is simple: crawl out of that gorge!

  26. Ziggy November 25th, 2013 12:38 pm

    Rob, sorry to hear of your bad experience. I’m afraid I had a similar problem with an IsatphonePro handset (the only unit that works on the Inmarsat network) and was without a usable phone for months.

    But let’s be clear about the difference between the handset and the network (and indeed those and the handset and airtime provider). Your handset would’ve been a Motorola and you had consumer rights to return it to the retailer for replacement or repair. Your retailer may have been a member of the TIO scheme that can work to conciliate disagreements; otherwise state consumer affairs/admin appeals bodies can be used.

    Of course this is all beside the point when you discover the phone doesn’t work and you need it now.

    Did you consider a Spot Messenger for your mum?

  27. Lou Dawson November 25th, 2013 12:39 pm

    The problem is that it also depends on the satellite’s actual track. Whether it’s directly above you or off to the side. Obvious on any of the sat tracking websites that show real-time map. I looked at the tracking for one of our fixed locations deep in a valley, and there was hardly ever a track directly overhead, which jibs with field experience, when I could only get a 2 or 3 minute connection and sometimes had to wait for more than 7 minutes. Pretty disappointing for a $1,000 phone….

  28. Rob November 25th, 2013 1:11 pm

    Ziggy,

    It goes a lot deeper than that. The retailer said they won’t replace it, and won’t assist me because I use a different airtime provider. So we have asked for a refund. The NSW Dept Fair Trading has told them they are in the wrong, and should refund. Iridium are pushing them not to do so, seemingly “because Iridium doesn’t have problems”.

    An Iridium executive dealing with the case is even making jokes about people being on fire on Twitter in the past few days.

    Matthew Desch’s attitude has been pathetic. When the situation with the fire was brought up in the days afterward, his response was not “glad she is okay” but accusing her of trying to manipulate him by dramatising the situation. The fire destroyed 210 homes, 120 of them within a few hundred metres of her house. She was pulled off the burning property by fire crews…. and his response is that she is dramatising it!

  29. Ziggy November 25th, 2013 2:22 pm

    That’s outrageous Rob.

    Have you considered a complaint to your local member and calling one of the current affairs shows or radio jocks. I think this is a name and shame game. Can you talk to Motorola direct as well?

    PS My IsatphonePro stopped connecting after a firmware upgrade. The retailer said it was out of warranty (by around 6 months). I told him that Australian consumer law had recently changed and protected rights to items of effective or merchantable quality regardless of warranty. Under pressure he took it back, failed to fix it himself and sent it off twice to the phone wholesaler before it was sorted. Coincidentally we mainly needed it to be contacted about my slowly dying mother.

  30. Rob November 25th, 2013 3:09 pm

    Yeah this handset was faulty out of the box, never really worked. Sometimes you’re able to manually register it to the network, pretty hit & miss and not long before it fails again. It was sold unsealed, didn’t think much at the time but we think in hindsight maybe it was an ex-return, etc… Iridiums response has been that ALL mobile phones are handled by retailers before being sold, and that is why it was opened. Rubbish IMO, I’ve bought many mobile phones – including Thuraya – and never had one opened and played with by the retailer before shipping.

    It’s an Extreme 9575, so I don’t think Motorola are involved with those models. It only says Iridium on it.

    I’m partly amazed. I didn’t think it was possible for a company to be quite this heartless. Not a company I’ll be dealing with in the future.

  31. Ziggy November 25th, 2013 3:57 pm

    I think it’s a rebadged Motorola. And maybe the retailer has to open the box to install and activate a SIM.

    Whatever the case, I can recommend clientsat.com.au in WA (no connection).

  32. Marie February 18th, 2014 5:43 am

    Hi Lou,
    I am planing a trip to Southern Africa this coming april and may and going into the bush in far off countries like Namibia, Zimbabwe ,Mozambique ,Botswana. Me and my travel companion will hire a 4×4 with camping gear and hope to find our way around with maps and gps.
    I was wandering if taking a satellite phone would increase our safety in case we really get into some kind of trouble? What’s your opinion and what kind of brand would offer protection? On the other hand if the worst happens like bandits trying to rob or kill us nothing will be of use. We are mid fifties and early sixties so not really reckless.
    Part of the trip will be spent in South Africa but that doesn’t seem so daunting as the rest of the places. I am not technical by any means, I am from Europe and used to coverage everywhere. However in 2009 I was in Colorado, in the Rockies (Nederland and surroundings ) and there was no cell phone coverage. The year after I was prepared for the worst in Tibet, but all around in the Himalaias I could phone to Europe and get calls. I was surprised.

    My travel companion is an American male with travel experience. I don’t want to bother him with my ( typical female ) concerns so maybe you will be so kind as to give me some advise.
    Thank you in advance.
    Marie

  33. Lou Dawson February 18th, 2014 6:37 am

    Marie, you’ve probably thought of all this already, but your situation is in two parts.

    1.)You could indeed have 24/7 communication with an Iridium satphone. In my opinion, that would seem to be an axiomatic requirement for your type of travel. But yes, it’s amazing how prevalent cell phone coverage has become in countries other than the U.S., here it is indeed spotty, which is ridiculous considering but a fact.

    2.) Along with the communication, you’d need to be a “member” of something like globalrescue.com which will coordinate rescue as well as pay for it if you’ve bought the appropriate level of service. Caveat is that outfits such as Global Rescue still have to use local resources, so depending on what country you are in a rescue or help can still take some time or could perhaps even get strange to the point of Global Rescue not being able to do anything remotely.

    My recollection is that the Iridium Extreme model has an “SOS” button that calls a rescue service of your choice without you having to call over and over again if you have a poor connection (you just leave the phone on after you push the button, with antenna deployed and clear view of the sky.)

    If you don’t use a service such as Global Rescue, know that it can get pretty confusing trying to get all the correct local phone numbers for emergency services (if they exist). You can’t just dial 911 or 112 on a satphone, instead, you have to have the full phone numbers of services, and dial them along with country code and everything as if it was an international call.

    Lou

  34. Marie February 18th, 2014 10:24 am

    Thanks for your reply Lou,
    You just wrote what I thought. Depending on local people and resources to get rescued could be a big risk. I will research if South African rescue services can go into the neighbouring countries. This iridium phone either rental or buy is so expensive and then the extra expenses to get connected. Wow! I might as well do as the locals : sacrifice a chicken in each country, make some smoke with the local shaman and hope for the best.
    Thanks again Lou

  35. Ziggy February 18th, 2014 1:10 pm

    FWIW in Australia the authorities recently required satphone network providers to offer emergency calling (000 or 112). That includes those whose phones have an international country code and it was just a matter of a bridge. It may be worth asking what SA does in this respect.

    Inmarsat phone purchase costs are cheaper than Iridium in Australia and affordable prepaid call plans are available. We’re 61 and use one in the outback.

  36. Lou Dawson February 18th, 2014 3:43 pm

    Ziggy, as far as I know, no way they could set it up so you could just dial 911, 000, or 112 on an Iridium phone. The satellite would have to know what country you were in, and they’d have to have some kind of call forwarding system. If you own an Iridium or other satphone, please do a real world test and get back to me.

    Perhaps they require you to dial country code then the emergent number?

    Thanks, Lou

  37. Marie February 18th, 2014 4:06 pm

    Hi Lou,
    I don’t know how it works elsewhere, but in the European Union countries the emergency number is 112 for all the countries. If you dial 112 with your for example French or British cell phone in another EU country you automatically get the closest by emergency central on the line. No country code used.

  38. Ziggy February 18th, 2014 7:50 pm

    Lou, Downunder Iridium numbers are just like cell numbers (operating through our major landline/cell provide) and they’ve been able to get through to emergency with 3 digits for some time. Other network providers assign a ‘national’ code along with the number.

    Subscribers have been specifically told *not* to test it and bother the good folk on the other end, otherwise I certainly would’ve done it.

    How do they do it? Dunno. Maybe each subscriber nation gets a bracket of numbers or maybe the national location is determined by the GPS signal or comm sat signal direction. I know that until recently Inmarsat prepaid SIMs (in the handset called the Isatphone Pro made by Inmarsat, the only one for the network globally) wouldn’t work in the US so some some localised handshaking has been possible.

  39. Lou Dawson February 19th, 2014 9:08 am

    Ziggy, thanks for verifying! That is truly excellent. Of course our 3rd world country here doesn’t have anything of the sort, groan, which is why Iridium Extreme provides the SOS button and you can use Global Rescue service if you want to work it that way. In other words Global Rescue does the 911 call for us if we want to use their service. Me, I just program in the emergency numbers for where I’m recreating. Hassle. Lou

  40. Ziggy February 19th, 2014 1:29 pm

    Yeah, that’s what I’ve had to do as well, though we are lucky with our Flying Doctor Service in Australia. Just a few numbers cover the country for medical and other emergencies. And we can dial direct the organisation that gets the SOS from PLBs and Spots etc.

    The Isatphone Pro handset for Inmarsat has a programmable two-key press option that allows you to send a user-defined message with coords automatically added to a responsible 2nd party back home.

Got something to say? Please do so.





Anti-Spam Quiz:


If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.
:D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
  
Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after we approve it. Once you've had one comment published, your comments will be pre-approved and appear immediately if you're using the same computer and not blocking browser cookies. NOTE however that ALL comments with one or more links in the text will be held for moderation no matter what, again for spam prevention.
Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

All material on this website online magazine is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked.. Permission required for reproduction, electronic or otherwise. This includes publication and display on other websites by whatever means. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

Backcountry skiing is a dangerous sport. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. While the authors and editors of the information on this website make every effort to present useful information about ski mountaineering, due to human error the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions or templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow its owners and contributors of any liability for use of said items for backcountry skiing or any other use.

Switch to our mobile site