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One of our loyal readers sent me a private message to say that he was worried about us. When I inquired why, he said that with our hinting that we might head west this season, and the fact that he has heard internet access is much more difficult to acquire that direction, we might be unable to keep up with our pretty-consistent daily posting schedule. I told him to fear not, that we’d explore alternative solutions before it came to that.

One such solution for connectivity is of course Sat. Phones. Just as cel phones have dropped from their original selling price of several thousand dollars 20 years ago to almost giveaways these days, Sat. Phones and their associated charges have come down quite a bit as well. I remember bookmarking the Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro Satellite Phone before we set off, thinking that it might be a good addition to our kit, especially if they could provide a reasonable data plan to go with them.

Anyone have any insight into this technology, or alternatives, that they’d like to share?

22 Comments

  1. One question is: Will SPOT work in the middle of nowhere?

  2. This is a great topic…..Looking forward to the “net” result from the comments

  3. Mike, here’s a blog post from a fellow cruiser about another brand and some feedback on a couple of the sat phone options that are available. Good luck with your decision, because I’d hate to not get updates on your adventure. http://marazuladventures.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/beam-oceana-800-evaluation/

  4. Have you considered getting a SSB and Sailmail? You could update the blog via email.

  5. This gets discussed elsewhere quite a lot. Here are two threads that may help:-

    http://www.multihulls4us.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4032&highlight=Inmarsat
    This one gives a lot of information.

    http://www.multihulls4us.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3894&highlight=Inmarsat
    This shorter and simpler.

    Hope those help.

    Mike

  6. Here’s a recent post that gets into airtime expense and transfer time examples.
    While it discusses downloading weather GRIBs, the insights into connection time caveats and real life costs should be applicable to other content.

    http://web.globalmarinenet.com/blog/bid/111695/IsatPhone-or-Iridium-Cheaper-for-Gribs-at-Sea-with-Mac-iOS

    Other factors to concern oneself with include compression services (such as offered by Xgate) and a wireless hotspot/optimizer so as to facilitate multiple users and efficient usage of costly sat com time.

    http://web.globalmarinenet.com/blog/bid/119884/Optimize-IsatPhone-Pro-Satellite-Phone-Data

    • It sounds like I should have another cup of coffee before I click on those links. Would you agree?

      • Hi Mike. Cruisers are selling their PACTOR-3 modems all the time. We bought ours in Georgetown Bahamas for $350 US. There was one for sale on the Grenada VHF net just last week.
        I have a Canadian Amateur Radio (Ham) licence so the service costs me nothing. If you use the commercial SAILMAIL service the subscription is $250 per year.

        That being said, PACTOR data communications via SSB does not have the bandwidth for uploading web browsing or sending pictures…it’s strictly for sending and receiving text, grib files and e-mail. We get our weather update from Chris Parker twice a day this way. We can update our sailblogs.com via SSB PACTOR without a WiFi connection.

        • When I purchased the SSB, a Kenwood TKM-707, Bill Trayfors told me that it is “not great” for data communication. Perhaps when I get to Grenada you can spend a bit of time with me and we can test it out. And I am a Ham, VA3ZTC. Note the vanity Ham call sign. 🙂

      • OK. Here’s the cliff notes.

        Factors to consider are:

        1) There’s a certain satellite connection setup time involved before you start transmitting/receiving. Be advised you don’t just connect in a second or two.
        You PAY for that setup time … and Inmarsat charges in certain discrete increments of connection time (i.e. NOT per second)

        2) Likely you’ll want/need a device that allows wireless access to the SatCom link AND a device that also filters out anything but the info transfer you desire. Otherwise things such as AntiVirus upates,Windows Updates,Browser updates.Flash updates might occur unknowing to you and you’re connection time will swell due to that substantial extra traffic.
        The article above describes a device that combines those two functions.

        3) Compression services (e.g such as provided by Xgate) could substantially lower your connection times and save you enough to warrant there additional monthly cost.

        Before forking out $ 1K+ for a new toy you can surely find the time to pour yourself a cup or two and investigate this … keeping in mind the points I’ve outlined above.

        • Thanks Burney, both for the original post and the cliff notes version. Rest assured that I will definitely be researching the subject fully before shelling over a thousand bucks, starting with your posts and the other info added to this thread.

  7. Mike,

    For email blog posts in a pinch we have used a Kindle web browser to connect. We have the old-style Second Generation Kindles, with a 3G connection (not the newer version that has wifi). We have been able to connect to email and do very very limited web browsing on the Kindle in every destination we have traveled since Florida. Of course it does not work when you are out at sea and away from cell towers. It can be a slow way to post, and doesn’t allow for photo uploads. But the good news is that it is free. It may be some sort of loop-hole, but Amazon doesn’t really seem to care and we have not been charged, other than for the books we purchase. Don’t know if the good cell coverage will continue once out of the Eastern Caribbean.

    Elaine
    M/V Mar Azul

    • When we purchased our two Kindle’s we got one with 3G just in case we wanted to use it for something like that. I have not had reason to test it though. I wonder how that would work in the western Carib?

  8. The Isatphone will work almost anywhere. After you get one, it’s about a buck a minute. Voice or data. A grib file download is about 2 minutes.

    SSB and Pactor will also work. I think there is a substantial annual charge if you are not a ham, otherwise once you have the equipment it’s free.

    The acquisition cost is far less for satellite than SSB. And it goes in the ditch bag. You have to look at how much you think you will use the voice part and the additional Pactor cost for data on SSB.

    Basic portable sat phones = Pactor SSB. Except you have to go outside to use the handheld sat phones.

    Bob Ebaugh
    M/V Mar Azul
    KE4JOX

    • I doubt we would use the voice part at all, except in maybe an emergency situation. I do have my Ham license so, if I had the equipment, I could use the radio to transmit email for free. An additional issue that just occurred to me is that we use only Mac computers. I’m not so sure there are Mac applications which integrate with the radio.

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