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Old 25-12-2006, 21:22   #1
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Expensive SSB Comm...? Any better...?

We have been customers of WLO for the last 6 years:

They provide VHF and HF (SSB) phone patches from abroad to the US.
The first few years they waived the annual fee as we were members of SSCA. Then the radio station changed owners and the annual fee went to $25.00, but we still payed $2.99 per minutte chatting on the SSB.

Okay, alright, whatever...

A few days ago I got a credit card charge for $60.00 from WLO.
The annual fee went up a few hundred percent, and the charge per minutte went to $3.99.
Called 'em on the phone and got a crying story about their expenses and their over-head was up again due to the hurricanes, etc.

I cancelled my deal with WLO right there and then.

Anybody else have info on a better deal, either SSB or Sat Phone?
We only need the long range comm once a year when we sail from Florida to the Exuma islands and my wife needs to talk to her sister and mother on a daily basis.
$150.00 per month would fit my check-book for that kind of chat, but not $210.00 as the WLO deal would cost with the recent increases.

WLO claim they are the only station providing long range comm....True..?

Any info on buying cell phone "chips" in the Bahamas?As in inserting the chip in a Cingular Motorola Razor phone?

in May/June this year we sailed and communicated as above and ended up paying $300.00 US for chatting on the SSB and on the cell phone in the Nassau area.
Guess I am not savy enough with regards to communications.
Sat phone anybody.....?
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Old 26-12-2006, 03:14   #2
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If you can forego the phone connections during the crossing, then I would recommend buying a Bahamian cell phone, particularly if you plan to go every year. We bought ours at Batelco in Staniel Cay for $89. There is no contract, because you buy prepaid phone cards in whatever amount you choose. Calls to the U.S. cost 56 cents a minute. Just be sure that you buy the phone south of Nassau, because the only thing they sell is GSM, which does not work in the out islands yet. Our phone worked great while we were there. I don't know about Cingular, but you might want to check with them about one of their international plans. A friend of ours has that and is planning to use it in the Bahamas and beyond - that is, if we ever get a weather window to get out of Miami!
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Old 26-12-2006, 09:02   #3
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Thanks for the reply on buying a Bahamian cell phone.

I do have a Cingular phone with the International plan, and used it in the Nasseu area last year, but it was rather expensive, the bill came to hundreds of dollars. The charge per minutte was the same as WLO on SSB: $2.99 per minutte, or slightly more.

The phone I have sports 4 frequencies, or bands incuding GSM and can be used all over the world, but to get the price down, I need to insert a local chip, perhaps
those chips are what you mentioned here:

Quote:
There is no contract, because you buy prepaid phone cards in whatever amount you choose.
Are those phone cards the size of a fingernail that you insert underneath the battery in the phone?

Good luck on the weather window to cross the stream, I have crossed 46 times and know what it is like waiting for the seas to settle...Sometimes it can take weeks. Once the winds turn SE @ 10 to 15 it should be okay..
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Old 26-12-2006, 15:58   #4
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"As in inserting the chip in a Cingular Motorola Razor phone?" Basically, every cell phone that you can buy from every US carrier is "carrier subsidy locked". That is, it has been preprogrammed so it will only work on the network of that one carrier, with their SIM cards. It just won't work with anything else.
With GSM phones, you can often find an independent cell phone shop (or take your chances on the internet) and they will charge you $25 to unlock the phone. This is done by entering an unlock code into the phone, either from a service menu or via computer cable.

If you bought the phone "retail" at full price, those are often sold expressly as 'unlocked' but because of carrier differences...usually a given model only works with one or two carriers anyway, in the US. For instance, a Razr for Verizon just won't work on Cingular, there are internal differences in the phone systems.

Odds are that if your Razr *is* GSM, and *if* those other carriers use the same flavor of GPS, that you can unlock the phone and then use it there, possibly just with a prepaid local SIM chip there. With all the FUD that the cell phone industry throws up, I'd try it that way, and if the local merchant down there can't set you up with just a prepaid chip, then you'd need the prepaid phone. (In the US, some of the carriers won't even provide prepaid-vs-regular service to the same phones. they'll force you to buy new ones. Nice, huh?)

The other option might be to try ham radio. The FCC has dropped the morse code requirement and the new terms (no code) are expected to go into effect sometime in February, 30 days after they are officially published "real soon". Hams often set up phone patches and pass message traffic as a courtesy. Might cost you $500-2000 for the ham radio, depending on how far you go, but that's another option now.
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Old 26-12-2006, 18:56   #5
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Hellosaior:

Intersting post, much appreaciated.

As for my RAZR phone:
I bought it locked, but the Cingular store promised to "un-lock" it for free after I kept if for 3 months.
Have not done it yet, but I can in a second as the store is next door and they will remember my face. (They better)

As for Ham.
Good idea, I will go after the ham license, and I already have the Ham bands on my SSB. (I think)

Never tried to do Ham on my SEA 235R, but if I remember correctly, the frequencies are available on the radio.
Again, if my memory is correct, the ICOM people wanted $200.00 extra to un-lock the Ham bands on their 710, and that was one of the reasons I bought the SEA.

Good point, I will look into that..
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Old 26-12-2006, 19:18   #6
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For voice communications, satphone isn't a bad way to go. Once you have the phone, you can buy pre-paid minutes, without any additional charges. Iridium costs about $1.50 a minute. The pre-paid time is good for one year. The current deal is if you buy time in 500-minute blocks, the unused time rolls over when you buy another 500-min block. If you buy smaller chunks, any unused amount is lost after 365 days.

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Old 26-12-2006, 19:21   #7
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"Amateur bands with "ham" operating system built-in "
Apparently so! So now with a little studying and $14 for the exam fee, you can use them.
ARRLWeb: ARRL Home Page is a good place to start, they also have "online learning" courses to get you started with ham radio, and local club contacts can often give you a course in your area, free of charge.
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Old 26-12-2006, 20:11   #8
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Quote:
Hams often set up phone patches and pass message traffic as a courtesy.
Is this something I can count on for the occasional phone patch, or is subject to numerous factors and finding a friendly ham guy now and then?

Quote:
So now with a little studying and $14 for the exam fee, you can use them.
A little studying and $14.00 is no biggie.
Holding pilot licenses from 4 different Nations and several US Coast Guard tickets and an FCC marine radio license, I am used to taking written tests and could probably pass a ham tests.

Again, good idea and much appreciated, but can I depend on a timely phone patch whenever I need one, or is it subject to the time of the day and searching for a fellow ham to help out?

Quote:
For voice communications, satphone isn't a bad way to go. Once you have the phone, you can buy pre-paid minutes, without any additional charges.
I bought a Sat phone for some friends a few years ago.
It was a West Marine special and cost $500.00.
Have not been in the market since.
Wonder what the latest deals are like?
Have prices come down or is it still fairly expensive for the hardware?
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Old 26-12-2006, 20:31   #9
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Satphone prices are still pretty steep. I've used "Outfitter Satellite":http://www.outfittersatellite.com/iridium.htm, and they have prices and rate plans for several systems. A new Iridium phone is $1375, and used ones are $1045. I haven't looked at the other satphone system prices, but different systems have different global coverage, so make sure that you will have service where you will be sailing. Different systems also have different per-minute charges, and different data-connection speeds.

Ham radio phone-patches won't be a particularly reliable form of communications, but perhaps there are some "phonepatch nets"? It's been decades since I've done phonepatches, and I will be interested to hear what the current situation is.
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