Hi Folks, MailASail here.
Thanks for the kind words! Much appreciated!
Ok, the way we like to look at these debates (long range communications) is to get the customer to take a big step back and really look at their *requirements*. eg what I notice sometimes is a tendency to get focused on "featuritis" and specs - our opinion is that we figure out what you *need* or *want* to achieve and then try and find equipment
which meets those goals
So for example Iridium and SSB both have specific feature sets which work well for various requirements, but increasingly people pick altogether different options such as Iridium Pilot, FleetBroadband or VSAT depending on their requirements...
First thing I would say is that vanilla SSB and "Phone", offer quite different features and in an ideal world, one would have *both*, and I would gently encourage that SSB is fantastic for "ship to ship communication", and phones are great for "ship to shore communication". Where there is an overlap is in the data/email side and there of course both devices offer "similar" capabilities, the difference is really down to ease of setup and perceived running costs. Remember an Iridium is just a cell phone
, where the provider floated the base station 500 miles up instead of on top of the nearest hill/building - most of what you know about (older) cell phones applies to using satellite
Also note that MailASail can sell SSB radios, but we don't typically because it's not an area that we support and so we want customers to go to specialist dealers who can give them proper installation for such equipment. As such you should read this message assuming I have a bias and "aim off" appropriately. I will try and be as independent as I can though!
So, we like "phones" to cover distress
situations. If you close your eyes and imagine "distress" it usually involves shouting mayday into something while something else is chucking buckets of water
over you and possibly flickering flames, etc. The reality we find with "a phone" is that there is very low inhibition to pick one up and "do something". So in fact we average around 1-3 customers a year get off their yachts in the middle of an ocean, but the stories are largely "boring". And this is simply because they "do something" very much earlier, before the situation becomes "interesting" and worthy of comment.
Radio is great for ship to ship though. I might argue that with costs of satellite
between 30p to 90p per min, for flat rate calls anywhere in the world, it's not huge to money
, but clearly for effectively nearly free you can call ship to ship on SSB!
Sadly we see the biggest barrier to fitting ship to ship SSB as being the up front cost. So handwaving numbers might be £4-6,000 for an SSB set, installed and you trained up. In contrast a basic Iridium hand held probably comes in around £2,000, perhaps £2,500 including airtime for a year or so. (these numbers assume you came and talked to us and we bullied you to get all the external antennas and proper setup - lots of people skimp on the details, IMHO it's worth it to make the system robust and reliable)
I would say that average running costs for Iridium satellite are about a median of £40-60/month for our customers. That's obviously looking over a year, the ocean passages will typically consume (much) more and less while you are near shore (typically it's still used - we are *trying* to unshackle you from wifi, get out and explore...)
However, the funny
thing is that we observe that budgets are very personal and the theoretical running cost of equipment is irrelevant. For example we observe that if the equipment is more expensive to use then people simply use it less... Curiously if the customer picks the next solution up (Iridium Pilot), which is about 10% of the running cost, then usually they still spend the same (or usually more) each year... We interpret this as people having fixed budgets and emotionally they allocate an amount to each piece of equipment as it's "worth it" to them. So interestingly as equipment gets lower running costs it appears to be "more satisfactory" and so it gets a larger slice of the budget
. However, the takeaway is if it's cheaper to run then it mainly gets used more up to around the same budget
level, hence people are sort of fixing their spend in each area and keeping the budget approximately the same.
Does that empirical observation help?
So, equipment wise we see all options really being on a scale. As you pay more the equipment is easier to setup and "does more". There are no right/wrong answers here, it's down to budget, largely you will be more satisfied if you buy bigger equipment, but that's at odds with the capital costs
So, ignoring the cost of the main SSB purchase
, we can roughly position the main options:
1) Pactor modem - arguably usually the most tricky to setup and most will argue slightly slower than an Iridium handset. Incremental cost of usage is lowest though. I observe it seems to take 1-2 years for people to get good with on and hence perhaps best for longer term cruisers, those on a 1 year circuit may find they finish before the learning
2) Iridium handhelds - please feel extremely encouraged to get proper antennas and do a decent install and very importantly buy from someone who can give you support - few people get these setup really well without experienced advice. Circa £1-2K for an install. Running costs about 90p/min and a good setup should be doing 10-20 emails per minute (if you don't get that it's *your* install and it needs tuning - it's NOT the equipment's fault!). Part of the setup is that you will need some kind of optimisation software
alert: our teleport-it email compression service)
Resale values are high on Iridium gear
, so total cost of ownership
(buy - sell price) is usually much lower than people expect when only staring at the new prices.
3) Iridium Pilot - Super system. About £3,500 to purchase
, physically larger than an Iridium H/H. Zero monthly line rental costs, data is about 10% of the cost of the basic Iridium, speed is about 50x faster (close to low end 3G speeds), vastly simpler setup (like home broadband
in the cable), and currently there is an offer to earn 1,000 mins free calls after you buy a terminal (which depending how you value the 1,000 mins closes the gap a lot with the basic Iridium).
We see the Pilot as being the current
sweetspot for purchases in terms of running costs, speed and ease of setup. However, the capital cost needs to fit...
4) Inmarsat FleetBroadband. Circa £4K for the equipment, although there is a newly launched FB-One coming shortly. It's a tricky proposition. Whilst nominally "better" than a Pilot, it's also more expensive to run. Largely we would position the FB for those who *need* good quality web browsing. If you just want "emergency web browsing" and good quality weather and email, then the Pilot fits those requirements very nicely.
So, the takeaway I'm shooting for is
- that there is no right answer here. Look carefully at your requirements, not the specs on the box
- Buy from reputable sellers who can give you support. Seriously I have an inbox full of sad souls who argue "but I got a good price
from xxx, but now I can't make it work"... What you bought was an expensive paperweight if you can't make it do what you want it to. Make sure your seller can join the dots.
- Even more frustrating is the "but the cheapest seller told me it will do xxx, what do you mean it won't" - a decent seller is going to talk to you openly about limitations to make sure it fits your needs - if you aren't hearing both good/bad then you aren't properly evaluating it as a fit for your needs (and likely you aren't hearing about how the seller will help you get your complete setup working...)
- Don't focus on running costs (or specs). You are going to adjust your use to fit the equipment and your budget. However, for sure if it's cheaper and easier to use then likely you will use it more (not less).
Hopefully this helps? Obviously always happy to take specific questions, but I need to be careful to keep posts here independent, so feel free to contact us directly for advice or opinion (it's free!)
Good luck with your trip! Have fun!