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Old 11-08-2010, 09:50   #1
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Inmarsat vs Iridium for a Budget Cruiser

Looking for suggestions on best sat phone option for budget-minded cruiser in Central America/South Pacific.

I have heard a few forum members mention the new Inmarsat Phone (approx $600) as potentially breaking new ground budget wise. I understand they will not have data for WX/email until early 2011, but that is fine for my plans.

I intend to use a Sat Phone for occasional voice, emergencies, and for data/WX reception when I can not receive for whatever reason via HF radio.

This article in Cruising World hints at comparisons, but is inconclusive: Inmarsat, Iridium, & Globalstar...the Horse Race - Cruising World

The $600 price tag for a new Inmarsat is clearly tempting, but I am wondering if it will be as bullet proof an option as Iridium? I realize it gets more complicated as one adds on data accessories, antenna, etc. but any suggestions as to the cheapest reliable path towards getting WX on an inmarsat or iridium without buying too much extra gear is also greatly apreciated.

Thanks.
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Old 11-08-2010, 10:23   #2
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this may not be helpful, but:

there've been a bunch of times when people have challenged me on what i think i "need" and have saved me some money by making me realize what's a necessity and what's not.

so... if you've got HF, you've probably got weather faxes covered - the broadcast stations are quite powerful and i doubt there'll be too many times when you can't receive data.

we're "budget" cruisers too, and have decided that a satphone falls in the luxury column since we've already got HF and an EPIRB.

i realize that doesn't answer your question at all, but just a little perspective that might (or might not) be helpful, depending on how tight the budget really is.
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Old 11-08-2010, 10:54   #3
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I was unclear

I think that is a great suggestion, and I should have been more clear. I *only* have a Kaito HF Receiver for receiving weather, sort of following the minimalist guidelines on threads here for doing so. However the sat-phone for me would be the primary, and only, com link. The desire to receive WX via sat-phone too was just another consideration, however I think (optimistically perhaps) that I'll have pretty decent luck pulling WX info on the Kaito. At the end of the day it's something for the ditch-bag, and something that exists partly to keep family members "sane and happy."

So for these ends, I am wondering if the Inmarsat phone for $600 is worth purchasing new, since it seems to be a bargain compared to the complete Iridium package, although there is always the option of eBay and purchasing used sat phones...I would like to still at least have the option of data/WX so that is why I have focused my question more on recent model Iridiums and the upcoming Inmarsat options.

Thanks!
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Old 11-08-2010, 11:01   #4
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Note that Globalstar is scheduled to begin launching their new satellites late this month. Right now Globalstar service is cheaper than a cell phone. Current coverage is adequate for getting gribs and some internet pages but not reliable for voice. The minute use rates on the other services are killers and globalstar is much faster than iridium for data reception.
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Old 11-08-2010, 11:04   #5
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globalstar

Thanks! - sounds like it might be worth waiting for especially since I am not departing until Feb/Mar 2011.

Do you think the new Globalstar service will provide reliable data on the west coast of Central America as well as the South Pacific? I'll have to do some research on this option, as I had previously heard it dismissed for sketchy coverage...but it sounds like they are coming back strong.
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Old 11-08-2010, 11:15   #6
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Globalstar Data versus Voice Coverage

As you mentioned, sounds like different coverage for Data versus Voice, and no coverage for an ocean crossing, but for spending 1-2 years in Central America as I plan, it may be (by far) the most economical and effecient...the only bummer is the big voice coverage hole over Central America! Still this option obviously merits exploring since the whole kit can be had much cheaper, and the monthly/yearly deals are also excellent.
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Old 11-08-2010, 13:28   #7
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Reliable communication becomes important if you are trying to move in a position to avoid heavy weather. That is the difference between being hunkered down for days in your cabin wondering how long it's going to last or sailing in light gales. We found SSB to be somewhat unreliable this summer with the lack of sunspots. We found the Iridium to be bullet proof. There are times when you want really good equipment.
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Old 11-08-2010, 16:10   #8
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both iridium and inmarsat are good, inmarsat has a very board range of product offerings. I have used both. iridium can be used to access weather faxes, noaa stuff, but you can rack up bills big time. i found on a trans atlantic that with iridium i often had to dial repeatidly to get a connection , or the data connection went down in the middle of the download, since your paying by the minute, this can cause the bills to mouint, inmarsat seems a bit more reliable.

both work well enough though. forget globalstar, not enough coverage and the lack of "bent pipe" technology means the calls get dropped when the sat goes out of view

dave
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Old 11-08-2010, 16:42   #9
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Inmarsat

I am especially interested in the just-released $600 Isat-Phone-Pro, which has the same global coverage as the other Inmarsat offerings (global except for polar regions) but in a relatively affordable price and quite competitive price-wise with a basic or even used Iridium 9505(?) package. A basic email text service is included but details about the data plan (which is relatively slow) are currently sketchy at best.

I wonder if this would be compatible with OCENS Weather.Net Service. I am definitely aware that the costs for these data transmissions can rack up quickly, I have heard a few reports of the dropped Iridium connections.

Anyone know any further details about the Inmarsat Isat-Phone-Pro data plan to be launched in Jan/Feb of 2011?

This site (from where attached image is from) has a lot of the specs (no affiliation whatsoever, just been researching this topic and found this rundown useful): Satellitephonestore.com - Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro Satellite telephone.
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Old 11-08-2010, 17:33   #10
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Am I the only one who sees the irony in a BUDGET cruiser with satellite communications?
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Old 11-08-2010, 17:45   #11
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perhaps...

The irony didn't fail me while typing it, but IMHO a HF Receiver for Free WX and a low-cost or used Sat phone for emergency or family-contact transmitting capability, actually feels (to me) like the best compromise of value. It's also less daunting and much easier to get up and running, than working out the kinks of a robust HF system installation.

I'm sure you've likely read this thread (SSCA Discussion Board • View topic - SatCom KISS approach), ("it is easy to forget how simple and affordable satcom can be, really" is the premise of the O.P. there). I do enjoy the perspectives of people like Beth & Evans who have not gone the SSB route and are happy about it. I'm just not all that excited by SSB, but I suspect it's largely a generational thing although I could not help but be inspired by Bill Trayfor's excellent SSB Presentation I recently took online, so I am somewhat aware of the used HAM/SSB + Dipole route (or other low-cost options), some of which could be argued to be more economical (esp. in the long term) than the pay-to-play sat-phone option. I realize most of the angles of this debate have been covered Ham, $$B, Iridium ? so that is why I was really looking for info on this new inmarsat phone in particular.

$600 for a brand-new ruggedized Inmarsat phone? Does not sound like legitimate satellite com's are out of hands of the budget cruiser...however opinions differ and I would love to hear them.
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Old 12-08-2010, 00:44   #12
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Originally Posted by GordMay View Post
Am I the only one who sees the irony in a BUDGET cruiser with satellite communications?
Some expensive items are currently considered essential even for budget cruisers...like an internal combustion engine for auxiliary power, dingys, dacron sails, etc. I suspect 10 years from now satellite communication will also be considered essential for offshore.

XGate from Global Marine Networks solved our Iridium modem problems. If the call is dropped the reconnect begins to download the data where it was interrupted to generate a complete file. Very few wasted minutes. No user intervention is required except to reconnect the call. BTW, they have superb customer help service.
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Old 12-08-2010, 06:27   #13
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I have an Immarsat F33 unit on board and a Iridum 9555. The Immarsat is by far the better method of downloading weather info. Both have good voice coverage, but the Iridium phone has a weaker signal and sometimes drops calls or doesn't go through. The good thing about Iridium is you can buy a calling card and pay no monthly fees, pay only for the time you use. I get monthly bills for the F33, even when I am not using it. I have tried to use SSB before to download radiofax, but found the charts generally were scrambled when I did get them and nearly useless. Other people may have better experiences with SSB, I realize that software might have been an issue. Your can get an Iridium phone and pay for some shore side weather routing assistance, but that kind of defeats the meaning of budget. When I am on a passage I usually rely on Ocens weather and download grib files. Then I periodically download NOAA Weather charts from time to time. I have on occassion used Commander's weather, and found them excellant. At a minimum, I would suggest you find a way to get NOAA charts downloaded and stored so you can compare changes from day to day. Comparing charts over days gives a lot better feel for what is developing.
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Old 12-08-2010, 09:07   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TEE View Post
I have tried to use SSB before to download radiofax, but found the charts generally were scrambled when I did get them and nearly useless. Other people may have better experiences with SSB, I realize that software might have been an issue.
Could be software, could be the hardware installation, and could be propagation. For a good system and well-chosen frequencies weather fax is as clear as a download and more useful than gribs.

There are lots of variables but at the end of the day it isn't that terribly hard.

If Iridium and Inmarsat are working for you than that's great.
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Old 12-08-2010, 09:16   #15
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Interesting to hear how much your inmarsat system outperforms iridium... There are some good deals around on used or somewhat antiquated iridium units, and it sounds like X-Gate or other compression services really enhance the data side there.

However with the new Inmarsat $600 phone, unlike the Inmarsat Fleet service, it appears that one can purchase a pre-paid card and not be tied to a monthly base charge, but I could be wrong, however what I posted above suggests plans from 1$ a minute and under, which (to me) is well worth it for emergencies, contacting anxious family members, or times of need-to-know wx info. Unfortunately, it does not look like Data was the primary goal of the design of this new inmarsat phone, and it may be slower than iridium but perhaps make up for that in better reliability, less dropped calls, etc...

With OCENS, I think it looks great, do you find that you rack up large bills over time? It appears to be $99/year and then you pay per weather product that you download from OCENS, in addition to your per-minute sat-phone charge? Do I have that correct? I can see that racking up quickly, but as some posters have pointed out on this thread, when you need to know the weather info, you really need to know.

Some great suggestions here. I guess details remain sketchy on this new inmarsat phone because it's so new, hopefully more info will be out soon on their actual performance esp. on the data side. OCENS is selling them, so I imagine that is a good sign if they are endorsing the product.
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