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Zanshin 02-20-2007 10:41 AM

Satellite phone choices - looking for recommendations
I intend to purchase a satellite phone for occasional voice use and also to connect to my pc for connecting to my mail. I'll be in the Caribbean initially, then off on a typical circumnavigation route. There seem to be a limited amount of systems out there, and I'm having trouble deciding. For a similar "package" of a phone with connectivity for e-mail and a pre-paid 1000 minutes of use I see the following options
  • Iridium $2790
    A 9505A handset with kit $1400, Serial Adaptor $100, 2400Baud transfer rates, 1000 basic minutes valid 2 years for $1290. Coverage 100% of where I want to go. No roaming.
  • Globalstar $1529
    Globalstar GSP-1700 handset with kit $999 includes serial port adapter, USB kit $39.95. 1800 Minutes per year for $530 {special if done before March 1st}. 80% coverage (Indonesia/Thailand/India/Red Sea not covered), roaming outside of the Americas.
  • Thuraya
    I didn't research too far, due to limited coverage (just Europe & Africa).
  • InMarSat BGAN $2365
    Unit with voice unit $1895. Data transfer rates of 384kbps down and 240kbps up. Coverage worldwide. 1year $480 includes 20Mb/Month. VOIP; $6.40/Mb.
  • R-BGAN
    Europe Only

It seems that Globalstar is the least expensive alternative, but recently there have been significant worries about their service. According to their filing with the SEC
Quote: some time in 2008 substantially all of the Company’s currently in-orbit satellites will cease to be able to support two-way communications services...
and I think that data transmissions are duplex and not simplex for this type of comms.

Are there other options out there that I've missed? Any big "gotchas"? I realize that some of these prices can be beat, but I'm using officially published prices for all of them. I did find Globalstar and Iridium units on eBay at great discounts.

camaraderie 02-20-2007 01:08 PM

Zan... I think Iridium is the only safe choice right now for world coverage on a circumnav other than the expensive to own and use Immarsat. Cross globalstar off the list.

Zanshin 02-20-2007 01:40 PM

Cam - thanks for the response! Do you know of other providers/systems?

WRT Globalstar, are you referring to the downgrading of service over the next year? Or other reasons not to go for Globalstar? I've been looking at eBay and it seems I can get Globalstar for about half the price (used) of an Iridium system. The coverage maps for Globalstar look good; but what use is that if the satellites drop out and they run out of reserves? Yet this page does state to the SEC that by the middle of this year they will send up another 7 satellites. Perhaps now, when the prices are down, it might be worth getting discounted minutes. According to Globalstar, the effects would be noticed in "longer times to establish a connection"; if those times aren't charged against my minutes I wouldn't be too bothered.

Valiente 02-20-2007 01:41 PM

Immarsat seems to be the way to go in terms of service, coverage and company stability. But it really depends on where you'll be, doesn't it? Also, I believe the Immarsat antennas are the largest, and you might not have the space on deck, rail or arch for their domes.

Globalstar, irrespective of their satellite issues, is primarily a North America/Caribbean service. I would think there's enough opportunity to just pull into a serviced marina and scoff some wireless access to get data, just as cell phone service is available many places. At the prices you are considering, you are well within the "price point" of a top-end SSB radio and Pactor modem set-up, which would be my choice as the ongoing costs are minimal and the system itself is virtually world-wide under most TX/RX conditions.

The qualifications for marine SSB usage aren't nearly as onerous as they once were, and many people are now opting for the full amateur radio licence, meaning that instead of a "dedicated" marine SSB like the new ICOMs, they can get much cheaper ham rigs like the Kenwood TS50S, which are very durable and cover a greater range of frequencies.

Just my .02.

Zanshin 02-20-2007 01:44 PM

I just read the "Safe Harbor" clause at the end of the URL I posted in the previous message - they are basically saying that the promise to send up 8 more satellites might be pure fiction. Not too promising...

camaraderie 02-20-2007 02:15 PM

Zan...there was a thread on here a couple of weeks ago and also on SSCA and others about Globalstar indicating that the service has ALREADY deteriorated significantly and they are leaving users in the lurch and unable to connect from even close in places. Their customers are screaming. Even with "normal" performance...GStar would not be a great choice for the Pacific/Indian Ocean portion of your voyage as coverage is poor.
I know of nothing other than Iridium and Immarsat that can provide true global coverage and Immarsat is hugely expensive since they charge by the bit. BethLeonard and EvansStarzinger have cruised all over using their iridium and need reliable communication for work purposes. They seem quite satisfied but wish it was cheaper.
You already have an SSB right? If so...Pactor/Sailmail may be a viable lternative as Valiente suggests. If not...I would strongly encourage you about the need for an SSB for your trip. I don't think a phone makes up for one.

Zanshin 02-20-2007 02:23 PM

The SSB is going aboard (I haven't chosen the model, but it looks like I'll go for the expensive ICOM) next month, but I would like a phone as well. This mixes in with the medical preparedness ($400/year for a 24x7 guaranteed immediate doctor on the line service in the UK) plus I also have a business to run and occasionally need to talk instead of communicate via e-mail. Lol, I can envision putting in a SSB at my place of business and having employees talk to me via that method; I'd probably fail the Turing test!

I've gathered that using SSB and a mail system will work, but not all the time. Sometimes I really do need a guaranteed method of quick communication, and I guess I'll have to swallow the price of an Iridium phone.

(Still hoping to hear a chorus of voices stating that Cam is wrong about GlobalStar....)

Freesail99 02-20-2007 02:29 PM

You joke about putting a ssb or ham radio at your place of business, but a ham radio may be cheaper.

camaraderie 02-20-2007 02:36 PM

FreeS...can't do any business on the Ham Bands. It's da law.

Zan...we used sailmail everyday in the caribe with only problem being waiting for others to get off frequency. Not really suitable for business needs though as you can't do any attachments and you are limited to 10 minutes a day.
Sounds like you're better off with just plain old SSB and an Iridium for your needs. FWIW...we had both the Icom710 and the M802 and were happy with both though the 802 is really nice. Bill Trayfors really knows his stuff on SSB so you might PM him as you get ready to buy/install for advice.

Zanshin 02-20-2007 02:42 PM

Freesail - I can just imagine what that will be like :) Almost every single person at work is ex-military and, as I might have intimated in another thread, there are going to be sounds of small-arms going off in the background. Having a conversation might trigger some memories and I won't be talking, I'll be giving sitreps and they won't be asking for raises but for support :) Too funny!

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