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.

Please feel free to send your comments to l.altman@globafone.com.