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The ultimate Wi-Fi hotspot

May 19, 2014

With the technological leaps in modern transportation and communications we tend to think of our world as a pretty small place, however with the recent disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, with 239 souls on board it turns out this is only the case when we maintain an electronic communications leash. Cut that leash and the largest man-carrying vehicles can disappear into a figurative black hole. The latest Iridium product, known as GO, short for Global Online, aims to help with this problem.

Just what is Iridium GO? It is a compact, rugged and portable unit (4.5” x 3.25” x 1.25”) that uses the world’s farthest-reaching network (Iridium) to create a reliable global satellite connection for voice and data communications on up to five smartphones, laptops or tablets. In other words it provides a Wi-Fi hotspot anywhere on the planet for existing portable devices compatible with Apple and Android operating systems. The Wi-Fi hotspot range is about a 100-foot radius using the Iridium GO application, which makes it perfect for multiple people to use on board a typical yacht.

After writing about a satellite communicator that used the Iridium system back in January 2012, I wondered how long it would take until Iridium would come up with a similar but more capable device. The Iridium GO is that device and it is scheduled for launch sometime at the end of June 2014. There are a few major differences, however. The first difference is the price, which is approximately $800 for the Iridium device.

GO is not only good for texting, but for two-way voice as well. Iridium estimates that voice and data service plans will begin around $35/month on the low end and approximately $130/month on the high end, which includes unlimited data.

To provide added context, the $35/month package would allow a user 150 e-mails, 15 voice minutes and additional data to access services like weather updates, send pictures and text messages. Service plan pricing is based on the time it would take to send data over the network. Again the really big difference between the Iridium GO and any competition is the world-wide voice capability.

The Iridium GO is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket and as easy to use as flipping up its integrated antenna. This activates the battery-powered unit. It then connects quickly and automatically to the Iridium Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation. The small size means that when you are not using it on board your vessel, it can go with you on your terrestrial travels, allowing it to bridge the gaps in cellular phone coverage. It could come in handy when you are off grid with a flat tire or other mechanical emergency and your cell phone displays that infamous “no service” message!

Some of the many capabilities of Iridium’s GO are voice calls, e-mail access, applications, social networking, photo sharing, SMS two-way, GPS tracking and SOS alert. As long as your boat has a workable Global Online system you will be on an electronic leash that prevents you from disappearing into oblivion, no matter how small your boat may be, or how far away from civilization it may take you!
 
I would like to thank Ashley Eames, public relations manager for Iridium in McLean, Va., for providing me some important information concerning this new product.

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Fredrick Gary Hareland holds an AAS degree in rescue and survival operations and in avionic systems technology and is a certified marine electronics technician and NARTE certified telecommunications technician. He has served in the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, the Military Sealift Command-Pacific and has worked for Maersk Line Limited and Norwegian Cruise Line. Hareland currently works at China Lake Naval Air Warfare Station as a microwave-communications technician. He lives in Ridgecrest, Calif.

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