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Old 09-04-2011, 08:09   #1
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Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

We are considering buying a SAT phone for weather reports, email, and emergencies and are wondering what your typical monthly bill is as a cruiser.
Are you happy with the reception?
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Old 09-04-2011, 17:38   #2
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

A later clarification-

Global Marine Net quoted me the following for an Isat phone setup:
Phone / Isat pro $595
Maritime active antenna $575
Lite docking station $775
Docking cable $130
Airtime / 1000 minutes $740
Xgate (proprietary) mail subscript'n / 1 year $240
Total outlay: $3055


The total for Irridium is similar to set up, but with more expensive airtime.

This compares with pactor modem route-
Pactor II modem $1205
Pactor III capability $160
Control cable $35
Audio cable $46
Sailmail subscript'n / 1 year $250
total $1701
Add a Windows PC for $500-600: $2300

We're going back and forth about this one. The experience sounds very different between SSB and Sat Phone. But Global Marine Guy is swaying me toward the phone.
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Old 09-04-2011, 20:21   #3
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

Depends how crazy you want to get. $35/month for 20 minutes/month of airtime and hardware costs are $600. I've got a friend crossing the Pacific right now and his ability to get SSB messages out has been ~75% of the time.

http://www.satellitephonestore.com/i...ite-phone.html
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Old 09-04-2011, 23:14   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lorenzo b
Are you happy with the reception?
I have the newest Iridium phone, and am not at all pleased with the reception I've been getting down in the Sea of Cortez.
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Old 09-04-2011, 23:25   #5
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

I met a cruisier in Trinidad in 2003. We've been trading emails via his sailmail account and his ham raido ever since and is currently in the Indian Ocean.

Sat phones may blow your $500 a month cruising budget.
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Old 10-04-2011, 00:15   #6
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

With them prices, it looks like HF/SSB would be way cheaper in the long run...
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Old 10-04-2011, 02:44   #7
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

From your cost numbers it appears that you already have the installed SSB, so adding the pactor modem and computer will definitely be the less expensive way to go.

The numbers you got from Global Marine sound spot-on. They are good people to work with. You may be able to avoid needing the docking station -- I built a simple phone-holder at the navstation, and connected the wires to the phone. It isn't as clean of an installation, but it works fine for me. This was an older Iridium phone, but I suspect that the new ones will be similar. You will definitely want an external antenna if you go the satphone route.

The satphone has some real advantages, but so does SSB. You really need to do your own cost/benefit analysis. If you get a ham license you can use Winlink rather than joining Sailmail, which will save you the $250 / year, but comes with it's own set of issues.

I have and use satphone, Sailmail, and Winlink, but prefer the satphone for email and weather data. However, I am probably less sensitive to budget issues than most.

Some people dispute this, but looking at the satellite orbits I believe that the coverage is less solid near the equator. I have used the satphone within 10 degrees of the equator, and from 20N to 45N, and it does seem slightly better as you head north. But, I have had no real problems getting usable service from any location (as long as I have a clear horizon). Again, this is with an older phone. I would be really surprised if the new phones were significantly worse, but I've been surprised before...
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Old 10-04-2011, 04:12   #8
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

I have a GlobalStar phone and currently they only charge $39/month unlimited airtime but that is probably because they had problems with their satellites and lost a bunch of them a few years ago and wanted to keep their customers by offering the low monthly rate.

They have put up new satellites lately which may have improved the reception but I didn't notice much difference. I think they will drop the $39 rate once things improve.

I also have the docking station and external antenna which makes it nice to use. I use Xgate to receive/send email, works very well.
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Old 11-04-2011, 11:37   #9
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

Im very interested to hear some more answers to this question. Never mind the sat phone vs ssb comments please. There is another thread for that...

Curious to hear what specific equipment folks are using (fixed costs) and what services or plans (variable costs).

If you have the hardware and are paying for the airtime/connection do you really need to also pay for an email service ie; XGate? Cant you just use yahoo or google for email? Or do these take up too much bandwidth? What about text messaging?
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Old 11-04-2011, 19:42   #10
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

GlobalStar: $29.95 USD unlimited time (when Sat's are available). Frankly a pain in the neck system unless you can get by with limited access. Definately not an "Emergency Item". (Our SPOT's 911 function and/or ACR GPEIRB fulfill that roll).

FWIW...
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Old 13-04-2011, 08:55   #11
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

Got my Pactor II Pro with P3 from a swap meet - cheap (like $400). General or higher ham license ($6 to $15 for the exam), then winlink email is free. You can do lots of other things with the computer besides email, so they are good to have around anyway. So - a bit of up front capitalization cost but no on going use costs with winlink...

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Old 13-04-2011, 09:32   #12
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

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Originally Posted by SV Escape Plan View Post
If you have the hardware and are paying for the airtime/connection do you really need to also pay for an email service ie; XGate? Cant you just use yahoo or google for email? Or do these take up too much bandwidth? What about text messaging?
Yes, you do need a satphone-aware email service. What you get with this is a connection protocol that handles the latencies and data losses that come with a satellite link. Normal internet protocol will be virtually unusable in most cases -- it slows down to the point where is essentially stalls.

Also, when a satellite connection drops in mid-connection (it happens fairly often), the regular internet protocol will discard any partially-sent data. You can be 99% of the way through a long GRIB download, and lose it all. The sat-aware protocol saves the data that was received and lets you get that last 1% when you reconnect again.

XGate was developed for satphone service and it works really well. When I first got my Iridium I tried to connect to my existing ISP for email, and it worked so poorly as to be unusable. Signing up for XGate made a huge difference.

There are other services that do the same thing as XGate (so I am told -- I haven't tried these). I believe that you can use a SailMail account with your satphone. I would like to hear from someone who has done this and can compare the performance to XGate.

(I'm just an XGate customer, no other connection.)
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Old 13-04-2011, 10:59   #13
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

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I believe that you can use a SailMail account with your satphone. I would like to hear from someone who has done this and can compare the performance to XGate.
I ran some test of xgate vs sailmail over an irridium - sent and received the same messages thru both. xgate was about 20% faster with both short and long messages (not too surprising since sailmail is optimized for what something like 600 baud). In this test sequence I had perfect connections with sailmail and one connection drop with xgate.
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Old 13-04-2011, 11:31   #14
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

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Originally Posted by estarzinger View Post
I ran some test of xgate vs sailmail over an irridium - sent and received the same messages thru both. xgate was about 20% faster with both short and long messages (not too surprising since sailmail is optimized for what something like 600 baud). In this test sequence I had perfect connections with sailmail and one connection drop with xgate.
Evans, can you describe (or have you already described) your iridium / sailmail setup? Since I've been doing the comms duties for the Pac Cup race, people occasionally ask me about this. All I've been able to say is "I hear that it's possible." Did you use the method described in Sailmail access via Iridium ? I am very curious about how this handles mid-transfer dropped connections.

Thanks,
Paul
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Old 13-04-2011, 17:20   #15
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Re: Monthly SAT Phone Bill?

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Originally Posted by Paul Elliott View Post
Evans, can you describe (or have you already described) your iridium / sailmail setup? Since I've been doing the comms duties for the Pac Cup race, people occasionally ask me about this. All I've been able to say is "I hear that it's possible." Did you use the method described in Sailmail access via Iridium ? I am very curious about how this handles mid-transfer dropped connections.

Thanks,
Paul
Paul, Jim Corenman would be the guy to get your questions answered - he's a terrific and responsive guy.

But, yes, those are the instructions we used. I did this test back in 2007 so the details are a bit vague, but I remember having zero problems - worked first time after following the instructions. It's an easy set-up to test ashore when your computer is connected to the internet.

I was told that sailmail reconnected a mid-transfer drop just like xgate, but I did not have a sailmail drop during the test so did not see it happen.
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