Category Archives: New Technologies

Showdown! The iSAT vs. the 9555!

Inmarsat launched their first handheld phone the iSAT Phone Pro in July.

The iSAT Phone Pro was/is heralded as the lower cost satellite phone alternative to some of the higher-priced solutions in the marketplace. That’s the polite way of saying ‘We’re going after Iridium.” Competition is great for consumers, creating more choice, however as I wrote in this column shortly after the launch, there is not much of a comparison between these two satellite phones. Both provide satellite service, yes, but this is a peanuts to cashews comparison. The iSAT Phone works on Inmarsat’s GEO constellation and Iridium runs a LEO system. That means if you are on the wrong side of the building, tree-line or mountain, your iSAT Phone simply will not work.

My experience was that the iSAT phone took longer to turn on/register with the network and while the quality of calls were pretty good, I had to stand in one location and point the antenna in the right direction to get the phone to work properly. Not too good for emergency situations where you may not be able to point to the southeast, northwest or wherever the satellite are.

Frost & Sullivan took on the task of running head to head qualitative and quantitative tests of the iSAT Phone Pro and the Iridium 9555 satellite phones. While testing in three locations and under stricter scientific guidelines than my ‘make a few calls in the back parking lot’, the Frost & Sullivan team did test after test to really see how the two devices performed in the field. Their conclusion is that the 9555 is the superior phone. You can download the report from my website

I admit the iSAT Phone Pro is a nifty little phone. Will it threaten Iridium’s core business? I doubt it. When Globalstar comes back to full service in June 2011, I see more of a battle there. For now Iridium is pretty safe. I see iSAT as a god option for users near the equator (where the service will be best) or for seasonal use in northern or southern hemispheres. Thanks for reading!

Testing an Inmarsat iSAT Phone Pro

There certainly has been no shortage of attention drawn to the fact that Inmarsat has brought its first handheld satellite phone to the market. The iSAT Phone Pro has been much anticipated, having been on the drawing board and in the testing lab for some time now.

I received my iSAT Phone and charged it up overnight, ready to make calls. I went outside GlobaFone’s office, pressed the power button and rotated the antenna……

I had heard and read a great deal about this satellite phone and how it worked/didn’t work. I was determined to not let the good/not so good news influence me.

The phone took a couple of minutes to acquire the GPS fix and then the satellite network. I dialed my cell, the office, some other people, etc. Here’s what I noted:
• There is a faint background noise that resembles someone answering the call. I said ‘hello’ several times, only to hear another ring.
• The calls have similar latency to calls made on the Iridium 9555 – that somewhat slurry speech, making you sound like you’ve been drinking. Not too bad but noticable.
• The biggest issue was that if you turn your head, the phone displays a message to turn back towards the satellite.

And this last point has been my biggest concern: Four GEO satellites cannot provide as robust an experience as 66 orbiting LEO satellites. If you are far north aor south and are on the northside of the ridge, building, tree stand, mountain, you will not be able to make satellite phone calls.

My conclusions:
• The iSAT Phone Pro is a great little phone and works pretty well. I think it poses very little threat to Iridium’s 9555 or 9505A satellite phones.
• I see a bigger threat to Globalstar’s satellite system, given their issues these days. Yes, they are due to launch a new constellation but with the roll-out of the iSAT Phone which offers more coverage at comparable prices, the question remains: Can they recover their lost client base? (Actualy people have been asking that for quite some time now) It will certainly be interesting to see what happens.
• I see the iSAT Phone expanding an existing/new client base that generally does not buy satellite phones, given the cost; seasonal boaters come to mind. Is it worth $1,500 plus service ($40/month) to have a phone on your boat? Maybe, but for $700 and $25/month, sure, sign ’em up!

We’ll certainly keep an eye on iSAT satellite phone throughout the rest of the year. The launch comes at a critical time – during hurricane season. Having thousands of iSAT Phones depoyed in the after math of a hurricane’s wreckage will be the ultimate test.

All in all iSAT is a nice little phone for the price as ,ong as you understand its limitations.

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