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Old 10-05-2011, 13:15   #1
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Sat Phone Data / Airtime Questions

The admiral and I are looking at getting a sat phone and will probably get something that can live in a cradle below decks with an external antenna. Something like this:

Iridium 9555 Marine Package

I see that with this package I then would buy airtime. Looking like prepaid sim card is probably the way for us to go. We only intend to use it on passages and only when we really need to. Planning to get weather info via SSB reciever connected to laptop.

What Im wondering about is internet access and email via sat phone. Would I use the same prepaid sim card? It looks like I would need maybe a separate data plan? How does the prepaid data work?

Appears like Iridium and Globalstar are the two main players here and that Iridium offers better coverage at a higher price versus globalstar? Initial crusing grounds are Caribbean but after that we are looking at South Pacific and Med. We are intalling a WIFI system to use for internet access when at anchor or close to shore so satphone is really just for passages.

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Old 10-05-2011, 13:34   #2
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Re: Sat Phone Data/airtime Questions

I'm asking myself same questions...
I'll be interested to see what the experts will say.
For what I know internet use on sat phones is not really quick and is quite costly.. more than that I know nothing about it and perhaps I'm wrong?
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Old 10-05-2011, 13:42   #3
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Re: Sat Phone Data/airtime Questions

We used an Iridium 9500 with a data adapter to our laptop to get emails during our last big cruise. Worked fine -- and the minutes come off the same airtime card as talk minutes. It's just connection time, either way.

See if you can find an airtime provider who has a billing increment of 10 seconds, instead of a whole minute. I found that many of our data connections lasted 1:15, or 2:10 or sometime like that, and we got billed for the whole rounded-up minutes. Frustrating.
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Old 10-05-2011, 13:57   #4
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Re: Sat Phone Data/airtime Questions

Looks like the minutes Im seeing are billed in 20sec intervals with inmarsat at 15 sec intervals. Im mostly concerned about data and email. We dont intend to "surf" the internet off shore but do want access to weather and email and cant afford the fleet broadband equipment.
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Old 10-05-2011, 14:09   #5
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Re: Sat Phone Data/airtime Questions

On Liberty we use a Ubiquiti Bullet with omnidirectional antenna for WiFi, and like you're planning we have an Iridium phone we use for email, weather downloading, and the occasional call. I work part time while cruising, so need email access whereever we happen to be anchored. We buy 500 minutes a year (our first year it was about $625, but its over $700 now - the admiral buys handles that). We use X-Gate for email and WeatherNet for weather downloads. Email is about $100 a year, but it has compression software, etc., and has been very reliable. We do not use the Iridium phone for internet.

We also listen to Chris Parker, adn our cruising the last 3 years has been Bahamas, US East Coast and a trip back to Texas last summer/fall/winter (we're back out cruising again, yeah!). B/c of Chris Parker, NOAA when US coastwise, and internet connections (passageweather.com and sailflow.com), we rarely use our WeatherNet to download GRIB files, gulfstream, or other weather, but we still give them $75 every 6 months to keep our account active (its a use it or lose it, and pay by the product/download), so we have something like $300 in the account, but I insist we keep it as a backup/insurance. We've done some moderately long (for our cruising grounds) offshore passages (quite a few 3 to 7 day passages, although a South Pacific cruiser would scoff at that, I know), and I just don't want to be 150 miles from land when the SSB craps out, or something like that. Plus, I like having the sat phone as an emergency device (like EPIRB, flares, etc.).

When we decided to buy the Iridium phone (4 years ago) the alternative was a Pactor modem plus an annual SailMail subscription. The modem was going to be around $1000 or more (with Pactor III upgrade) plus $250/year for sailmail (I need it for work, so can't use the free services over HAM freqs - plus, the HAM licensees on board are my wife and son, not me

The Iridium was around $1500 or maybe more with data kit, plus subscriptions to WeatherNet and X-Gate, but the key advantages are (1) the sat phone goes in the liferaft if Liberty sinks and (2) voice capability, including for calling grandparents and for conference calls.

The 500 minutes a year, even covering some work from remote locations, has consistently been enough.

As for Iridium vs. Globalstar, when we were buying Globalstar was crashing, and I needed dependable service whenever I dialed. Iridium has provided that wonderfully.

There you go.

Dave
SV Liberty
Miami, heading north
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Old 10-05-2011, 14:47   #6
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Re: Sat Phone Data/airtime Questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by SV Liberty View Post
On Liberty we use a Ubiquiti Bullet with omnidirectional antenna for WiFi, and like you're planning we have an Iridium phone we use for email, weather downloading, and the occasional call. I work part time while cruising, so need email access whereever we happen to be anchored. We buy 500 minutes a year (our first year it was about $625, but its over $700 now - the admiral buys handles that). We use X-Gate for email and WeatherNet for weather downloads. Email is about $100 a year, but it has compression software, etc., and has been very reliable. We do not use the Iridium phone for internet.

We also listen to Chris Parker, adn our cruising the last 3 years has been Bahamas, US East Coast and a trip back to Texas last summer/fall/winter (we're back out cruising again, yeah!). B/c of Chris Parker, NOAA when US coastwise, and internet connections (passageweather.com and sailflow.com), we rarely use our WeatherNet to download GRIB files, gulfstream, or other weather, but we still give them $75 every 6 months to keep our account active (its a use it or lose it, and pay by the product/download), so we have something like $300 in the account, but I insist we keep it as a backup/insurance. We've done some moderately long (for our cruising grounds) offshore passages (quite a few 3 to 7 day passages, although a South Pacific cruiser would scoff at that, I know), and I just don't want to be 150 miles from land when the SSB craps out, or something like that. Plus, I like having the sat phone as an emergency device (like EPIRB, flares, etc.).

When we decided to buy the Iridium phone (4 years ago) the alternative was a Pactor modem plus an annual SailMail subscription. The modem was going to be around $1000 or more (with Pactor III upgrade) plus $250/year for sailmail (I need it for work, so can't use the free services over HAM freqs - plus, the HAM licensees on board are my wife and son, not me

The Iridium was around $1500 or maybe more with data kit, plus subscriptions to WeatherNet and X-Gate, but the key advantages are (1) the sat phone goes in the liferaft if Liberty sinks and (2) voice capability, including for calling grandparents and for conference calls.

The 500 minutes a year, even covering some work from remote locations, has consistently been enough.

As for Iridium vs. Globalstar, when we were buying Globalstar was crashing, and I needed dependable service whenever I dialed. Iridium has provided that wonderfully.

There you go.

Dave
SV Liberty
Miami, heading north

Thanks Dave this is very helpful. We will likely be in a very similar circumstances. So x-gate for email works through the iridium phone as does weathernet then? I cant imagine us needing anything other than weather and e-mail access while on passage so this makese sense. Can you elaborate on the Chris Parker comments? Im familiar with passageweather.com and sailflow.com but dont these require an internet connection? Or are you saying you use these site when you have wifi?

Thanks again and give a shout when you are heading through annapolis.
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Old 10-05-2011, 15:06   #7
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Re: Sat Phone Data/airtime Questions

We run an Inmarsat Fleet 33 system. I got tired of all the SSB silliness about sunspots and sun setting rising. Fine if you are just playing but just not dependable enough for me. I buy airtime from KVH. We use the internet connection (SLOW) to download NOAA weather and an occasional parts diagram. We use the email a lot. Our email is a POP system. Google Mail seems to carry a lot of overhead and is very slow. We que up email and then connect, send/receive and disconnect. If we are on the boat for a month and I check mail twice a day and the weather once, the cost is around $165 - $185/month.
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Old 10-05-2011, 15:22   #8
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We have an Iridium with external antennae which makes a bit of difference to keeping the reception alive during downloads.
I looked at getting into the sailor 250 for Internet but the airtime is a killer!
I really like the cheap rates if the Trac vision system and I see the coverage now extends to include the northern Pacific.
I am trying to find out when it will extend to the southern pacific as I would most definitely purchase the system when it does.
Downside is the initial purchase price, but the rates are very cheap comparing.
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Old 11-05-2011, 06:29   #9
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185 per month plus the upfront costs are not in our budget. I guess at tho point I'm wondering about downloading gribs and how much airtime this consumes? Also wondering if the whole cradle charger setup is worth it?
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Old 11-05-2011, 06:59   #10
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Re: Sat Phone Data / Airtime Questions

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Originally Posted by SV Escape Plan View Post
185 per month plus the upfront costs are not in our budget. I guess at tho point I'm wondering about downloading gribs and how much airtime this consumes? Also wondering if the whole cradle charger setup is worth it?
The Iridium with XGATE is less expensive. Plus you can take it with you in the life raft. Download time for a grib depends on the size. I would figure 2 or 3 dollars per grib.

The cradle charger setup is well worth it IMO. Let's you have a solid setup in the nav station rather than trying to collect parts everytime you want to use it. Keeps the battery charged and can use a handset much like a phone. I am sure the external antennae has more gain than the one on the phone which is important for fast downloads.
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Old 11-05-2011, 07:09   #11
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Re: Sat Phone Data/airtime Questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by SV Liberty View Post
On Liberty we use a Ubiquiti Bullet with omnidirectional antenna for WiFi, and like you're planning we have an Iridium phone we use for email, weather downloading, and the occasional call. I work part time while cruising, so need email access whereever we happen to be anchored. We buy 500 minutes a year (our first year it was about $625, but its over $700 now - the admiral buys handles that). We use X-Gate for email and WeatherNet for weather downloads. Email is about $100 a year, but it has compression software, etc., and has been very reliable. We do not use the Iridium phone for internet.

We also listen to Chris Parker, adn our cruising the last 3 years has been Bahamas, US East Coast and a trip back to Texas last summer/fall/winter (we're back out cruising again, yeah!). B/c of Chris Parker, NOAA when US coastwise, and internet connections (passageweather.com and sailflow.com), we rarely use our WeatherNet to download GRIB files, gulfstream, or other weather, but we still give them $75 every 6 months to keep our account active (its a use it or lose it, and pay by the product/download), so we have something like $300 in the account, but I insist we keep it as a backup/insurance. We've done some moderately long (for our cruising grounds) offshore passages (quite a few 3 to 7 day passages, although a South Pacific cruiser would scoff at that, I know), and I just don't want to be 150 miles from land when the SSB craps out, or something like that. Plus, I like having the sat phone as an emergency device (like EPIRB, flares, etc.).

When we decided to buy the Iridium phone (4 years ago) the alternative was a Pactor modem plus an annual SailMail subscription. The modem was going to be around $1000 or more (with Pactor III upgrade) plus $250/year for sailmail (I need it for work, so can't use the free services over HAM freqs - plus, the HAM licensees on board are my wife and son, not me

The Iridium was around $1500 or maybe more with data kit, plus subscriptions to WeatherNet and X-Gate, but the key advantages are (1) the sat phone goes in the liferaft if Liberty sinks and (2) voice capability, including for calling grandparents and for conference calls.

The 500 minutes a year, even covering some work from remote locations, has consistently been enough.

As for Iridium vs. Globalstar, when we were buying Globalstar was crashing, and I needed dependable service whenever I dialed. Iridium has provided that wonderfully.

There you go.

Dave
SV Liberty
Miami, heading north
Very useful post thank you
Can you elaborate on the sat phone equipment you have?
Tks
Alec
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Old 11-05-2011, 07:15   #12
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Re: Sat Phone Data / Airtime Questions

Gribs can vary a lot in size, and thus in download cost. If you get them from saildocs, for instance, and specify your request for a reasonable area (say, just the Bahamas and Florida east coast -- not then entire north Atlantic), the file might be 5-30 KB. We used this basic request, which produced a 7KB file. (You can also request waves, water temp, pressure, etc., which would increase the file size)
gfs:22N,28N,73W,82W|1,1|3,6,12,24,36,48,60,72,96|W IND

We got that report each morning and evening. That plus maybe an average of a half-dozen e-mails received and a few sent, compressed by MailaSail, (as we tried to keep our small business running from afar), used up either 2 or 3 Iridium minutes each morning and evening. As they say, your mileage may vary. . . .
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Old 11-05-2011, 07:24   #13
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Re: Sat Phone Data / Airtime Questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by SV Escape Plan View Post
I guess at tho point I'm wondering about downloading gribs and how much airtime this consumes? Also wondering if the whole cradle charger setup is worth it?
Why use gribs? With an inexpensive SSB receiver and free software along with a very inexpensive hunk of wire as an antenna you can get weather fax -- better information for free.

For those who choose sat-phones, many if not most ultimately get the cradle and external antenna. Some spend the extra money because of poor connectivity of the handheld unit. Some unfortunates do it after drowning the handset and or laptop trying to operate in the cockpit where the signal is better than below.
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Old 11-05-2011, 10:11   #14
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Re: Sat Phone Data / Airtime Questions

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Why use gribs? With an inexpensive SSB receiver and free software along with a very inexpensive hunk of wire as an antenna you can get weather fax -- better information for free.

For those who choose sat-phones, many if not most ultimately get the cradle and external antenna. Some spend the extra money because of poor connectivity of the handheld unit. Some unfortunates do it after drowning the handset and or laptop trying to operate in the cockpit where the signal is better than below.
x2 i agree
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Old 11-05-2011, 10:30   #15
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Re: Sat Phone Data / Airtime Questions

Gribs make sense if you need to have some e-mail communication for whatever reason. Sounded like the OP was going to do both -- get weather via SSB receiver, plus he wanted e-mail ability. To add a 7K grib or two to your daily download doesn't cost much. I found them very convenient, and clearer than the HF weatherfaxes we could get via our SSB receiver (Degen 1103).
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