IridiumGO Review for Cruising Sailors
30/08/15 07:17 Filed in: Communications | Offshore sailing
Do you want to stay connected while at Sea? To send photos back home from your adventure? Email, social media, weather info and more? This is now possible (with conditions)!! Read on…
For most of our 26 years of cruising Sheryl and I have kept in touch and got our weather forecast updates through our SSB and Ham radio. Voice forecasts and radio nets provided basic communication and updates to the weather so we could make weather routing decisions.
Now that satellite communications is available we can do all that and more through a satellite internet connection. But its important to realize that satellite is naturally going to be slower and more costly than the modern 3G and 4G connections we have become dependent on ashore. The question is - does it meet your needs?
Our first try at Satellite communications at sea was back in 2012 when we bought an Inmarsat handset for use in the ARC. Used as a phone it was quite acceptable, but trying to make it also work for data was frustrating. We had hoped to receive GRIB files at sea but had very little success. One day we spent $25 on “data air time” and didn’t receive anything. Admittedly this was not what it was meant for but an overenthusiastic dealer promised more than was really workable.
After the passage we didn’t use the unit again…
Fast-forward to 2015 and we’re getting ready for our next ocean crossing. I’ve heard about the IridiumGO unit which sounds like the perfect device designed for data and voice, and with an “unlimited data” plan so you don’t have to worry about high per-minute data charges. Since we planned a big passage-making year with 2 Atlantic crossings, we decided to try it out.
What is IridiumGO?
The IridiumGO is a hotspot that lets you access the Iridium network for satellite communications. Your smartphone can make phone-calls, and apps on the smartphone can access email, texts, data, weather and more. There is an App to compress and send photos, and, probably most exciting for us is the Predictwind App that lets us get weather routing and GRIB files (more on this to follow in an upcoming review).
What it isn’t…IridiumGO uses a data connection via Satellite that is quite slow - just over 2kbs. This is quite a bit slower than "dialup" as you may recall from a few years ago. You cannot “do your banking” or browser the internet. So although this is for us ocean sailors a revelation to connect to the internet at sea, it is at a speed that will not allow normal use of the internet we have become accustomed to ashore with 3G and 4G cellphones. Having said that, it is a REVELATION to be in touch offshore, as anyone on a passage can attest. We were able to send photos, texts, emails, position reports and access very high quality weather info (through the Offshore App from PredictWind - purpose-designed to work with the Iridium GO! )
PhotosSending a photo from Mid-Atlantic is something that was high on our “like-todo” list (our business is to film and document the cruising life). Iridium-GO has a photo sending app built in that neatly compresses photos down to a manageable size (20-40KB) and sends them as an email. We tested this MANY times and it was quite reliable - taking just a few minutes to send one.
TextsWe do not send a lot of texts, but we did test this and it works fine.
Telephone callsVery handy and quite amazing. Suddenly my iPhone can call from anywhere. We made perhaps 20 phone calls so far and have not had any problems. Call quality was excellent! Although I had worried about delay, we found calls had an almost imperceptible delay. We received a few calls just fine as well. Magic that now our cellphones can now work anywhere! Below is the Iridium Phone app on Sheryl's iPhone as we call ahead to the marina in Flores Azores.
GPS TrackingIridiumGO can transmit regular position updates so friends and family can see where you are. We used this feature to display our position with a map right on our website. Predictwind offer this on a neat website interface all ready to go. Check out our last 3 month of cruising here on our homepage!
What Does it Cost?IridiumGO units are sold through resellers such as Predictwind, and our test unit from them included an external antenna, connectors and cables etc - on sale now for $1150. Then you need a connection/airtime package from Iridium. We had the unlimited data plan for $125/month.
The Bottom Line
We recommend the IridiumGO to be in touch, send photos, email, twitter and get weather information. With the "unlimited data minutes" plan you can do all this without incurring a huge bill. It revolutionized the ocean passage for us and we look forward to our next passage - staying in touch!
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