Monday, August 01, 2011

Possible sat phone alternative

DeLorme is a U.S. firm that got its start making paper maps, then got into digital maps and software, and now makes handheld GPS receivers in addition to maps. I've used their products over the years and they're pretty good with excellent customer support. The company recently announced a new product that may provide an affordable alternative to sat phones for field use. inReach is a small device that serves as an interface between an Android operating system cellular phone and the Iridium satellite network. It provides two-way, text-based communication through the mobile phone (an iPhone compatible version is supposed to be in the works). In addition the gadget also has GPS navigation and mapping functionality.

Pricing is supposed to be around $250 US for the device, with monthly plans starting at $9.95. This is considerably cheaper than an Iridium sat phone (around $1,000) and $30 to $40 monthly fees, plus airtime. Scheduled availability is sometime in the fall of 2011. There's more information about inReach, including photos, here.

Technology always looks good on paper before it's released and it's best to wait a bit and pay attention to the early reviews before purchasing a significant number of new electronic devices.

As a note, one downside to Iridium is coverage is blocked in certain parts of the world due to U.S. regulations (currently that includes Taliban controlled Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan). I suspect Thuraya, which has more of a foothold within the humanitarian community (and so far has offered more rugged handsets) will also get into this market and other similar, competitive devices will emerge. Speaking of Thuraya, the British TV show Gadget did an un-scientific comparison of Iridium and Thuraya handsets last year. Check it out on YouTube.



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