Satellite phones might have an advantage over traditional cellphones in that they can be used virtually anywhere on the planet, even when there isn’t a tower within several hundred miles, but they do have one major disadvantage: For anyone used to the functionality of a smartphone, a satellite phone seems almost archaic. Satellite phones are primarily for making telephone calls and sending short text messages. Sure, you can post to Facebook and Twitter using the text message function, but forget accessing the full applications on a typical satellite phone.
But a new device from the satellite network Iridium aims to bridge the gap between satellite phones and smartphones. The Iridium Go! is a pocket-sized mobile device that creates a satellite Wi-Fi hotspot for your phone, tablet or computer. Whether you are on the top of a remote mountain in the Canadian wilderness or without power after a storm in a major city, you’ll be able to get online and stay in touch with the rest of the world using your mobile device.
Go, Go, Gadget Hotspot!
According to Iridium, while cellphones seem ubiquitous, the existing cellular network only covers about 10 percent of the Earth. That means that in most of the world, it is impossible to use a standard cell phone or smartphone.
The Iridium Go! changes that. The device, which measures about 4.5 inches long, 3.5 inches wide and 1.25 inches think (about the size of a vehicle GPS unit), uses Iridium’s low Earth orbit satellite network to create a hotspot wherever you happen to be. Simply place the unit on a flat surface with a clear view of the sky and raise the antenna, and any device in a 100-foot radius can connect to the Wi-Fi network. Because the Go! is designed to be used anywhere, they are more rugged than the cellular hotspot devices that most of us are used to— the Go! is designed to withstand heat, cold, wind, rain, sand and shock. It can also be used with almost any mobile device and by up to five devices at a time. For a family on a back country camping trip, this means that Dad can check in with the office for any important emails, while the kids update their Facebook statuses and Mom checks the weather — all at the same time, without waiting to take turns.
Another difference between the Go! and standard hotspot or mobile Wi-Fi services? The price. While specific numbers have not yet been released, the initial price for the device is expected to run about $800, with monthly service plans ranging from $10 to $100 depending on use. Experts predict that most consumers will rent the device from a leading satellite phone rental company for those times when they can’t use their mobile devices, such as cruise vacations.
Sorry, No Flappy Bird
The Iridium Go! is designed to expand the connectivity of the standard smartphone, not to serve as superfast Internet service or replace your wireless service. It will allow you to make calls, send emails, update social media and share photos. It’s not ideal for heavy-duty Web surfing, streaming videos or online gaming, as the connection speed is too slow.
To account for the fact that not every application can perform at an optimal level, Iridium is working with developers to create Go!-specific applications that will allow users to perform certain vital functions quickly and easily. For example, the device come pre-programmed with a GPS locator service that allows you to send your exact location at the touch of a button, as well as a distress signal function. Other applications that are in development or ready for purchase include apps for weather, news, connectivity, communication and even an application to allow for the device’s use while in-flight.
Despite the cost and the limitations of the services, the Iridium Go! is largely designed for the consumer market, particularly avid travelers who do not want to rent a satellite phone for every trip or the hassle of adapting their wireless coverage overseas. Iridium expects the device to be popular with business travelers as well as emergency services and first responders who need reliable communication.
The Iridium Go! represents the future of satellite communication, allowing customers to stay connected wherever they happen to be. It will be released in spring 2014 and while it may never replace traditional satellite phones, it will change the way we stay in touch and use our mobile devices.
About the Author: Steve Manley is the owner of Globalcom Satellite Communications, a Texas-based provider of satellite communications services. He can’t wait to try the new Go! service on his summer camping trips.