The Ultimate Guide to Using Iridium Handsets and GO!

go-9555

In the last chapter I reviewed the Iridium GO! and compared it to Iridium handsets. Now I'm going to follow on from that with some tips for the use of both devices. I'm going to focus on the data side of things since I figure you already know how to make a phone call!

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Ann

Another simple alternative for monitoring a shore-based email account while at sea is Sailmail’s Shadowmail feature. I’ve used it with a 9555 Iridium handset/laptop with good success and it’s easy to set up. It doesn’t do attachments, but, you can monitor your email and choose which messages to download. You can also respond to email to look like it’s from your shore-based address as well.

Max Fletcher

For an inexpensive mount for the Iridium 9555, I used the Auxiliary Antenna Adapter which came with the phone and bolted it to a Ram B-101U mount ($25) using a thin insert nut (so the back of the phone rests flush against the cradle). The mount works fine and was a lot cheaper than store bought options (it is similar to the Ocens Ramdock which lists for $190).

Ulrich

Hi John,
do you have any experience with satphone.me sold by satphonestore? This looks promising and is much cheaper than sailmail.com.

Max Shaw

Thanks John. Great timing as we are just starting the install of our new Go in prep for our NZ to Fiji to Marshalls cruising intentions (rather low latitude cruising as we go back across the Equator again).

Max
SV Fluenta

Bob Hinden

I got the litedock for my Iridium extreme. This doc comes with a RAM mount. I got a few RAM extensions, it makes for a solid installation. It’s much less expensive that the other ones. I am finishing up the installation of the external antenna. I plan to use it with Sailmail to compliment my SSB/Pactor.

Bob

Bob Hinden

John,

The litedock also came with a small GPS antenna. It’s not mean to be mounted outside, but it seems to work well enough inside of my boat to see enough satellites to get a position.

Bob

Andreas

Hi John,

Great article and perfect timing, because I’m in the process of buying gear now.

A few weeks ago I was in touch with PredictWind to buy a GO! directly from them, because they make it easy to bump the speed up and down.
Based on what you’ve written here, I see that I can do the same independently, so we’ll see what I do.

PredictWind Support said something interesting, when I asked about using the external antenna, but mounting the GO! unit inside an aluminum boat:
“This is a limitation of the Iridium GO! – no external antenna for the GPS. In most boats this is not a big issue, as GPS signal will penetrate the deck/windows, however it will be an issue on an aluminium boat. Rather than mount the main unit below decks, the only alternative practical solution is to install the Iridium GO! unit in a plastic case (eg http://www.pelican.com/) with a cable gland for the power cable. If the unit is mounted on deck in the waterproof case you will not need the external antenna.”

I asked if them about reception quality without an antenna and they replied:
“The external antenna is bigger, and by virtue of it size the reception is slightly better. However the main reason for getting the external antenna is that most users have the main unit below decks.”

So in their experience an external antenna isn’t necessary, if you have the unit on deck. What are your comments on this advice?

My original plan was to use an external antenna (mounted on the Ovni arch) and mount the GO! inside right by a porthole/side hatch, so that I would hopefully get some GPS reception. Using a Pelican case with a cable gland will be a lot easier and cheaper … and if the difference in reception quality is negligible…

I’m interested in hearing how others with aluminum boats have fared with the GO! installed inside and how reception have been for those using it without an external antenna? Of course a side by side comparison, with one using the antenna and one without, in the same conditions, would be very interesting to see how the reception varied.

– Andreas

Ulrich

Hi Andreas,
I can only comment on uding the GO! without antenna. In last December I’ve crossed the Atlantic on a large cat. In almost all cases I’ve been unable to download the data for the PredictWind offshore app. Even though I’ve tried ALL possible positions many times on the cat deck. Email and SMS worked most of the time. I’ve called PW Support after the crossing and they’ve told me that it will not work without external antenna… I will now switch to an Email on PC based solution to download Grib-Files and to load them into Maxsea.
Ulrich

Geir ove

Thanks a lot John, just what i needed. very good info, and it is send to the FB page of friends how are sailing away this summer. and the once ho plan to. Hope you get more readers, this is info i like a lot.
i think now i will go for a 9575.

Hans Böbs

Hi all,
for mounting my Iridium 9555 I simply used the auxiliary antenna bracket that came with the set and made a small teak board with a groove to accomodate the antenna cable, so that it can be fitted flush to a bulkhead, probably in much the same way as described by Max Fletcher above. I use the aux antenna with sufficient success, although an external antenna would be a lot more reliable and comfortable.
For a service provider I have a contract with the UK-based AST (www.satcomms.com) , they offer – among others – contracts with a minimum duration of 3 month at $ 49,-/ month , $ 1,40/min. mobile to fixed and $1,10/min. e-mail . They appear to have a contract with uuplus so that their customers can use the uuplus software (it’s called onsatmail in that case) free of charge.

Andreas

Hello all,

In spite of a lot of people seeming to favor handsets, I think I’m going to buy the GO! (with the external antenna) with an unlimited subscription. This is based on itinerary: circumnavigating South-America with a pit-stop in Antarctica, followed by the milk-run through the South Pacific. We’ll be spending a lot of time passagemaking, and in areas with no other chance to get weather/e-mail than through sat com (or SSB).

If the only passagemaking was a trip across the Atlantic, then the Iridium 9575 stocked up with minutes, would be my choice, but because we’ll be using sat com as primary for downloading weather for many months, that option will be too expensive.

In order to get an idea of other people’s usage: when you connect, to get weather/emails, how long do you normally stay connected (if you have planned properly and are ready to send&receive when you connect)?

The only other alternative I’m contemplating is getting the SSB (that is installed, but not connected or set up) working and having an Iridium 9575 as back-up. Though in this case I’ll have to buy both a Pactor modem and a 9575.

Alan Teale

Hi Andreas and John, Re backup satcomms for emergency use it is well worth considering the Inmarsat Isatphone2. This assumes that your only emergency requirement is for voice and SMS. The Inmarsat handset is less expensive than the Iridium sets and battery life is significantly longer. Most importantly prepaid airtime packages are very flexible allowing one to just cover sea time without being penalised for holding an inactive SIM between voyages. And when an Inmarsat SIM is reactivated (with no reactivation cost) for a voyage, your number does not change (this is not the case after a 3 month lapse with Iridium).
We have a fixed Iridium installation (Sailor SC4000), but carry an Isatphone2 for the grab bag and for going ashore in remote areas.
The only downside that I can see is that Inmarsat does not cover the polar regions. That said I have seen reports of good service in the high latitudes that most of us are talking about. And of course because of the differences in satellite constellations and positioning, dropped calls are said to be less frequent with Inmarsat than with Iridium.
A final thing to consider is that with a primary Iridium system and an Inmarsat backup you are properly covering the bases as far as the satellite systems are concerned.
Alan

Alan Teale

Hi John, I should perhaps clarify, especially regarding airtime options. One obviously can’t fully personalise the airtime on an Inmarsat prepaid voucher to cover a particular voyage, although I am sure you would have guessed that. But with the provider we use we can go down to 30 days/25 Units, and less expensively than with an equivalent Iridium voucher (it works out at about 2/3 the cost after taking account of what an Inmarsat voucher unit is in terms of voice time). The usual options follow, e.g., 90 days/50 units and so on upwards. The SIM flexibility (or perhaps permanency) of Inmarsat in terms of active v. inactive service is definitely better than with Iridium. So for me the bottom line is that while Iridium takes some beating where there is a requirement for data capability, the Isatphone2 comes out on top for emergency and shore-going applications where voice and SMS do the job. Alan

Andreas

Hi Alan,
Thank you for that information.
I actually have a FleetBroadBand 150 on my boat, but it’s way too expensive to use. The monthly subscription is $375, but they empasized that it included 25MB of data. Calling prices are slightly cheaper than Iridium, but not enough to warrant paying a lot more in monthly subscription. On FleetBroadBand it’s not possible to buy minutes anymore: you have to have a subscription. You can deactivate and reactivate it without cost, but with the actual subscription being 3x more expansive than the unlimited GO! subscription it’s a no go for my budget.
The Inmarsat Isatphone2 sounds like a much better option, but for sailing in high latitudes: going to Antarctica, you’re either outside or just on the edge of the satellite footprint, so for me that’s a no go for me.
– Andreas

Alan Teale

Hi Andreas, Although Inmarsat claim coverage of the Antarctic peninsula, as they also do for almost all of the NW passage, you are right to be sceptical about performance on the extreme margins. As with most things it’s ‘horses for courses’. But for most of the globe the Isatphone2 will do fine for voice and text and is less costly to purchase and more economical to run than an Iridium system. And for emergency use Iridium sets don’t come close on battery life. Alan

Andreas

Hi John,

Thank you for the recommendation.

The ICOM IC-M7000 was already installed onboard when I bought the boat, but it’s never been used, isn’t grounded and lacks the PACTOR modem.

If you got the impression that I was willing to spend a good chunk of change on the SSB, it was only because I thought that it might be the cheapest option, since I already had the SSB. Trust me when I say that we are very much on a budget. After reading through the articles you sent, I’ve shelved the SSB idea.

I’m a bit unsure at the end of your reply, because it sounds like you are recommending the 9575 over the GO! even for my use. In your article https://www.morganscloud.com/2011/11/17/weather-system-gribs/ you stipulate $100 for 12 days of Iridium use on a passage. We’re looking at at least 5-6 months in the coming year of passagemaking and spending time in remote anchorages, where we will be using sat com … With the 9575 the monthly cost will land somewhere around $250 … while the Iridium comes in at half of that. Did I misunderstand you?

Andreas

The second to last sentence is supposed to say: … while the Iridium GO! comes in at half of that.

Andreas

Hi John,

This decision making process has been a rollercoaster 🙂 Thank you very much for you input. I’ve also plowed through a bunch of your other articles and have come to the same conclusion that you did in your comment above: 9575 with external antenna and a prepaid card is the way to go. I can breath out in relief, now that the decision has been made.

I was looking at external antennas and noticed that there are a few choices, most notably one external antenna which is both a GPS and antenna for the 9575. Is that nice to have, or not worth the extra expense over just an external antenna unit?

Andreas

Hi John,
I’ve talked to Jeff at Ocens and like you he recommends the dual antenna, except if you’re going to high latitudes, because there you are much better off with an antenna like this one: http://www.ocens.com/Iridium-External-Antenna-High-Performance-P46C36.aspx
It will give you better performance, especially north of N/S 50 degrees.
– Andreas

Michael

I decided after hearing how great the GO was, to stick with my extreme. The problem I was having was the small hockey puck antenna was almost useless for Data. At around $2.50/minute, it hurts when after Six minutes, you get a “TelNet Timeout”! And you have to start over! They don’t tell you but an external antenna is mandatory for data. I like the Sailmail protocol that automatically dials from my PC, Emails and weather including PredictWind.
I’ve been told the GO has the same speed processor as the extreme but when you use it to generate WiFi it slows down even more.
I’m sticking with the extreme and the folks at Sailmail!

Espen

Hi John, and all of you in the long comments thread!
Thank you for a very useful review. It’s obvious that this is a topic causing a lot of headake!

I myself, as Andreas and Geir Ove, are in the process of considering and bying gear, and after having read your blog along with all the comments, I am now at the 9575 + antenna kit.

My question left is (after having an ongoing dialog with the guys as Mailasail): Do one need an “optimization” box between the satelite handheld phone and computer, serving as, citing mailasail: “an aggressive firewall stopping all incoming/outgoing ‘data’ trying to funnel through your Satellite Internet connection when sending and receiving emails, saving you download time which equates to money over a satellite link”. Mailasail has a product they call RedBox (http://www.mailasail.com/Shop/Red-Box), iridium apparently has a similar optimization box available. Both also offers wi-fi connection, although this is not really a buying argument to me, rather unnecessary luxury. Does the UUplus software cope handle this “firewall” task? Meaning, are you plugging Your 9575 directly into Your computer? Would appreciate your comments on this!
Espen

Espen

Hi John,
Thank you very much for your answer. This have now made me conclude on the hardware-exercise!

Alan Teale

Hi Espen, I would only add that you can get both hardware and airtime at significantly lower costs elsewhere than at MailaSail. It may pay to look around. If you were to choose Telemar for airtime, for example, you would also get their excellent mail client ‘Skyfile’ at no cost, but if you wish to use Sailmail you will need to use something else such as John’s suggested mail clients. Again, by way of example, Ashbury Satcom are very competitive (and very helpful) for handsets in the UK. Alan

Espen

Hi Alan, thank you very much for your advice!

Henning

I would like to add my experience form a 12 month sabbatical cruise in 2013-2014 from northern Europe to the Canaries and back via the Azores.

I decided on before the start but didn’t buy at the time an iridium 9555 handset and a Beam Intellidock in order to connect the external antenna. I later learned that the 9555 handset includes a holder that allows to connect the external antenna so the dock was probably not needed. However, you do need a headset of some sort if you want to make voice calls below with the phone in the dock. I would say that’s also the case when using just the supplied holder because the LMR400 cable will not allow flexing (you could easily dangle the phone in its holder from the end of it) or its solid copper core will break if it is repeatedly flexed. The Intellidock provides Bluetooth connectivity for a small headset (like some people use with their smartphones) but I guess there are other ways. Also keep in mind that you probably will not make many voice calls on the phone other than in an emergency because your voice will sound completely drunken to the other party and if they are friends, you will notice on their voice how concerned they are about your condition and maybe the call should be postponed until you have sobered up.

Because of the high frequency, cable loss is a huge issue. I pondered whether to place the external antenna under the dodger with minimum cable run to the nav station almost directly below or on a radar pole at the stern. Under the dodger would mean lots of stuff around to block the signal, such as the boom, but on the radar pole would mean, in my case, a cable run of 14 meters/45ft.
A helicopter pilot-friend told me about serious issues they had with the iridium antenna on the main body of the helicopter because of blanketing by the main rotor. They had success with moving the antenna to the end of the tail, meaning an 8 meter cable run.
Because of this and after consulting with the supplier of my Beam external antenna I decided on the radar pole.
I retrospect that apparently was a poor decision as I have had consistently rotten reception with this setup and ended up using the supplied patch antenna *inside* because, while very poor, this was still better than the external antenna. This is even so I invested lots of time in getting the absolute best LMR400-like cable and connectors I could source (from a HF specialist store which assured me that I have the best that money can buy), used “Wet Protect” in he connectors and generally did everything I could to get a first-class installation. For example I avoided a connector at the stern below deck and instead left a loop of 2meters so as to be able to take down the radar pole. There are only two connectors, one at the antenna and one to the phone/docking station.
So unless I discover in 6 months that a rat ate the cable somewhere in the cockpit locker, I have to conclude that 14m/45ft will not work, period. But this is what you will end up with a 45ft aft cockpit average white boat when mounting on a pole at the stern.
Voice conversations with either external or patch antenna from below were impossible. When taking the phone from the holder into the cockpit, it was OK.
I still have the phone (since the Go! there is no more market for a Handset, at least not a 9555 – another advantage of this setup!) and I intend to move the antenna to under the dodger – I have to do something to make my installation work.

I only managed to buy the phone and docking station while on the way out in the UK (I got the antenna 6 months before so I could install it), which, given the above, was a mistake (as John and others have said multiple times). However, AST Communications, UK, helped me substantially by shipping the equipment and the 500 minute prepaid card to Guernsey where there is no VAT, saving me 20% on everything.
The late purchased resulted in us not having daily weather while crossing Biscay.

I finally installed in Rabat, Morocco. I had no reception whatsoever. The AST support asked me for photos of the boat and antenna in all 4 directions N-E-S-W. They then told me that the horizon east and west were blocked with buildings and that that clearly prevented any kind of connection. During this I understood that because of the orbits of the satellites, unless you happen to be directly below a satellite path, the satellites will pass north to south just barely above the horizon at 8° to 12° elevation and because of the microscopic signal strength, even trees in that area will block the signal. What this means is that you have to install in port, then go out to sea to test.
By comparison I helped another boat to set up their Inmarsat phone for email and weather (with Onsatmail) and to my surprise, their phone connected with no problem in port in Angra Do Heroismo, Terceira, Azores – even next to rock cliffs blocking most of the horizon.
So begin the install and test a full six months before departure and make this a priority high enough to take precedence over such things as health insurance. This stuff will not just work!

Also in Rabat I learned the UUPlus software (Named Onsatmail in my case as I bought my minutes from AST). I have commented on UUPlus elsewhere around here and just want to repeat that (a) I would (or will?) buy it again and (b) you really do need some serious learning time, both to get it to work initially and to be able to access the more esoteric but very interesting features such as getting *any* file on the internet ad-hoc, while at sea, within just one connection.

After Rabat it worked, more or less. I have no experience with another installation at sea so can’t compare but found it very frustrating to have multiple failed attempts just to get one single 30Kb weather file email. I can remember only one instance where an entire weather mail came through in one go. Often I had to give up after 5 failed attempts and get to it again a few hours later.
I wondered if there were some “satellite pass prediction program” similar to HF propagation programs but apparently there isn’t.
We did have twice daily weather every day we were at sea after Rabat and we stayed connected with family and friends but what an agony! I felt like having to fight and claw for every single kilobyte! At least 75% of the connect time was wasted uselessly in connects with ridiculously low transfer rates. And every re-connect takes about 2 minutes until the data connection is established. 2 minutes just to find out that the rate was again useless. I must have spent a combined total of 24 hours staring at the bar graph on the phone and trying to time the next attempt while it is on the rise so as to have the best reception when the connection is up and data is flowing. But in spite of my efforts, I often found signal strength to drop to zero a second after I had hit “connect”. Another 2 minutes wasted…
This is in comparison to a French boat we met in Rabat where the skipper (and builder of the large cat) told me “why, it just works”. He was using a direct (live) IP download from Meteofrance from within zyGrib, he had meticulously disabled every single Windows update service manually and he just placed the phone by the window without an external antenna. And he used the original old iridium phone that someone gave him for free.
I must say that I feel like an idiot next to this (and some of the other reports on this thread) and I am an IT professional with above average understanding of networking.
It would certainly help my ego if a rat just ate my cable…

Last paragraph: prepaid card. We had to abandon the goal of reaching the Caribbean for medical reasons (and it also transpired on me that that would have been quite a stretch and possibly paid for with just too much stress) and as a result about 300 of our 500 minutes expired unused.

May some of you benefit from this “user story” and next time around, I guess things will be about 10 times easier.

RDE

Real time report from a GO user just completing a circumnavigation:
http://www.sailingtotem.com/2016/04/weather-and-communications-on-the-passage.html

Andreas

Hello John,

I have an antenna question. I was looking at buying an external antenna with the Iridium bundle and have run into some murky waters. Ocens recommended their High Performance antenna (http://www.ocens.com/Iridium-External-Antenna-High-Performance-P46C36.aspx) for High Latitude sailing, saying: “The high performance antenna provides all of the benefits of the Standard plus better performance in situations where Iridium satellites are at consistently high sky elevations relative to the antenna (ie at high latitudes above 55 N/S)”

To me this sounded worthwhile spending an extra $100 on, until I talked to AST Systems in the UK. They told me: “I have checked the specification on the Ocens ‘High Performance’ Antenna, and also checked with our Technical team on this. They have confirmed all Iridium Antennas have the same frequency and the Iridium network is completely Global – so all antennas will work the same, unless there are obstructions from the antenna to the satellite and the set up and cabling is different in comparison.”

Basically I’m being told that the High Performance antenna, isn’t going to perform any better than any other passive iridium antenna. Since they are saying opposing things, I asked Atlantic Radio Telephone about the difference between the antennas and was told: “No. It’s too simple to complicate or improve more so than another models. It’s copper and wire in a water proof plastic container.”

This leaves me with 2 vendors (that don’t sell any “high performance” antennas) saying that there’s no point in buying a “high performance” antenna for high latitude sailing, while a third (whom sells such antennas) is saying that it does.

What do you think? … I’m very curious what experiences others here have had with the reception on their Iridium devices when using external antennas, particularly in higher latitudes? … Are the standard antennas that AST and ART sufficient/equally good at high latitudes?

Alan Teale

Hi Andreas and John, I suppose that strictly speaking Andreas’ advisors are all correct, or at least partially correct. Ocens are right about satellite elevations because, as John points out, the Iridium constellation is polar orbiting. Thus, on average, elevations will be higher the closer one is to either pole. The other advisors are almost certainly right in that the elevation effect is unlikely to be material in influencing Iridium antenna performance. Like John, I wouldn’t pay a premium for a so-called ‘high-performance’ Iridium antenna. Alan

Neil McCubbin

Great info in John’s article and the comments from actual users, particularly since we are approaching purchase of a sat phone or modem.
We have an aluminium boat. Most experts advise an external antenna, but two issues bother me. Firstly the cable supplied with the Go is long and a pig to run. My HAM experience tells me that signal strength is lost at the Iridium frequencies, even with top quality cable. We could mount the Go Under the deck with a cable under a foot long and the antenna under the canvas dodger, or just in front of it. Iridium dealers say we cannot cut the cable but John shows it is practical to do so.
Alternatively, the Go in a plastic box on deck, just above the chart table, with only the built in antenna
Comments please on such antenna arrangements.
We like the unlimited data offered for the Go, because it is hard to stop people talking, texting and emailing. This is not a technical issue, but is real for many families . Also, if connection is poor and wastes time, unlimited has an obvious advantage.
I am rather dismayed by all the comments on sketchy connection. My only experience was an Iridium 9555 for data. Connected first time every day for a month, no hassle. We were north of 70, so perhaps benefited from that.

Joannes Boele

Hi John

thanks for the article. I am about to activate my Iridium Go with Predict wind. Need to decide which email server either UU Plus or Sail mail. You seem to be happy with your sail mail. How do I decide or is there not much difference except for the price.

Cheers

Joannes

Neil McCubbin

Update please on software for the GO
Based on the advice above, we have ordered a GO with external antenna from Predictwind, due to arrive this week. We will use the $125/month unlimited package
Next issue is what to do about software.
John’s commets on UUPlus vs SailMail and the buggy Iridium software are clear, the Shard’s experience is relatively positive.
We get at Saildocs text-only web info and gribs very successfully on Winlink. Can we benefit from that?
Is the current Iridium mail handling software still lousy?
Do we need the iPhone 6 to work well with the GO? (we have a 5 and a 4S)
Comments based on recent experience would be welcome

Terry Thatcher

Recent info from your sources. I just purchased an iridium set up from Atlantic Radio. Helpful folks. They did not tell me however, that’s Iridium desperately needs new satellites. I learned that from John at UUPlus. Worse, however, Johbn has discovered that new Windows computers using Windows 10 will not run his UUPlus system. And Microsoft or Iridium, whomever is responsible, has declined to fix the problem. You can run UUPlus on a Mac,but then, you can’t get Grib files from Sails Docs. I was going to use UUPlus because of speed, but may not be able to since I only have one Windows computer, my son’s, and it is brand new with new software. Competition is great, until the companies produce incompatible products. Then, at my age, I recall AT& T’s and Mother Bell’s monopoly with some fondness.

Marc Dacey

It’s not difficult to acquire a Windows 7-8.1 machine, and all you’d need is a netbook. But thanks for reminding me why I didn’t “upgrade”.

Ulrich Weibel

Guts
I do not agree to what has been claimed here. I have an Iridium Go with external antenna, UUplus software on Windows10 and it all works perfect. We are just about to leave the Mediterranean after having explored it for 2 month. So, test it before spreading such bad news…

Bob Hinden

Glad it is working for you. According to the UUplus web site ( http://www.uuplus.com) there is a problem with the Iridium driver on Win10. It says:

“If you have an Iridium 9555 or 9575 and Windows 10 there is a problem. There is a bug in the 10 year old Iridium USB driver that prevents Iridium RUDICS connects from passing data. We informed Iridium and they confirmed it a few months after Win10 came out. Iridium will be releasing a new driver sometime in the next 6 months to fix the issue.”

I am still running Win7 for this reason.

Terry Thatcher

I have the sat phone, etc. will soon set up with UUPlus or sailmail. I will be sailing in Mexico and south to panama, galopagos, then home through Hawaii. Do I buy a service to ship me weather maps? NOAA won’t help me south of the border. Please advise how to acquire weather info now I have the hardware on board. Thanks.

Natalie

Hi John,
Thank you for your 4000 words on the Go. I was wondering if in the time since you have written this article if your opinion has changed at all? Are you still very unhappy with the speed, ease of use, etc. You mentioned that the company was intending to upgrade – do you know if this has happened?
Cheers Natalie

Natalie

Thanks John, It is very difficult to make the decision as you said there are pros and cons for both options. Btw I really enjoy all of your articles and respect all the time and care you take to prepare them. They are informative and factual but still peppered with a sense of humour. 🙂

Neil McCubbin

We have used a GO for 6 months now, and feel is it OK value for money, for our purposes.
We use only the basic Iridium apps on iThings.
It rarely fails to connect when at sea, but is less reliable with hills around
We sometimes have to make a second connection attempt, because the Iridium software is like the weaker 1995 dial-up software that was not able to re-try automatically.
Overall the Iridium email software is pre-1995 in features. Incredible from a company which has put up such a sophisticated communications system
One huge weakness is that large mail items at put into a “BigMail” box, and your have only the choice of reading them or deleting them. No opportunity to leave them in the Big Box and review later on the web.
Thus, if your cousin sends you a multi Mb photo of her new puppies, with the subject line “You must read this” , you will likely try to download it.
The file will take a few hours to download, with several manual restarts by you. Problem is that once started, you cannot read any other email till it finishes.
For us, the ONLY reason that the GO is good is the $129US/month flat rate data plan.
We use it as much as we want, and do not worry about costs, or what our guests may do.
Iridium gives us 150 minutes/month free voce calls too. However, there is a hooker. The recipient is billed a few dollars/minute to answer. Perhaps up to $13.84Canadinan if recipient is on Bell Canada. It take a lot of web digging to determine these costs for each carrier.
Calling Verizon, AT&T etc. on the issue is a lost cause, because few reps can even spell Iridium, far less advise on it.
We did use this to good effect when we had a fight with T-mobile on another account. Like most cellphone companies, they put us on hold hoping we would go away. We sat on line and let them pay the $xxx/minute.

Voice call quality is not great, essentially equivalent to calling a landline with Skype

In summary, the GO is OK, if it suits your wants. The current email software is poor, but not as bad as when John reviewed it.

Richard Hudson

I cruised pretty steadily from 2014-2016 with an early Iridium Go! as my only means of long-distance communications. I updated the firmware and had lots of connection problems until I got an external antenna (which required a machinist to make a mount for, since the “standard” one-inch thread on used on the antennas can be difficult to find on anything but long pieces of pipe in many parts of the world). After that, the system generally worked well, in high and low latitudes.

Though I’ve used UUPlus software in the past, this time I used XGate software (on a windows laptop).

I used 1000 minutes of prepaid airtime (it was about $600, it is more now) per year (1 year expiry on the minutes). That was enough to send minimal emails and keep a blog updated. I noticed that picture uploads took about 30% more airtime than they did with my old Iridium phone.

I wasn’t aware of the possibility of getting unlimited data for less than 12 months–that’s a great idea I will likely use next time. As I was using the Go most months of the year, it was cheaper for my last trip to buy 1000 prepaid minutes a year.

Of course, using non-unlimited airtime makes one care about minimizing airtime. After sending and receiving the mail, while the XGate software would send a signal to the Iridium Go to hang up the call and tell you it had done so, the Iridium Go would ignore that request and leave the call up, wasting airtime until you noticed, or until there was some event causing the call to drop. I would have to stay by the computer during mail send/receive, waiting for it to finish, then close the antenna (or use the buttons and menus) on the Iridium Go to turn it off. That was workable, but the distractions of running a boat often caused me to move away from the computer during the call and waste airtime by not shutting down the Go as soon as the call was finished.

An unexpected problem related to closing the antenna after calls occurred towards the end of my trip. I mounted the Go in an out-of-the way place, where spray would not reach it, and where people could not bump it, and where it’s display could still be seen. This meant reaching at arm’s length to operate it. Doing this at sea, with the boat movement, resulted in often accidentally touching a little antenna adapter wire that went from the TNC connector on the Iridium Go to a BNC connector on the antenna cable. Over the course of many months of usage, this caused the TNC-BNC antenna adapter wire to become very position-sensitive (the wire inside is probably broken), and to require frequent messing with it to have the unit get a good signal. The TNC-BNC antenna adapter wire really needed replacing, but I didn’t figure this out until I was on a long ocean passage 🙂 .

Have you noticed if the UUPlus software actually does get the Iridium Go to hang up the call when finished?

Richard Hudson

Hi John,

Thanks very much.
I emailed UUPlus support as you suggested and they very quickly got back to me to say that during development and testing, the Go had reliably hung up in response to the hangup signal. Also that they had not had any problem reports about it from users.

Richard

Richard Hudson

Hi John,

Thanks. At your suggestion, I emailed UUPlus Support, and they very quickly replied to me (as you say, their support really is great), to say that in development and testing, the Iridium Go had responded to the call hangup signals correctly, and that they had no user reports of problems about that.

UUPlus subsequently emailed me to quantify just how much faster RUDICS-capable device calls were than using the Go. They said they were seeing 15 second call connections and up to 340 uncompressed characters per second speeds with calls using RUDICS, versus 170 characters per second uncompressed maximum speeds with the Iridium Go.

Richard

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Please move this question to another location if wished. I looked around and this seemed the best of many possibilities. I tried searching for the answer, but did not find this particular question addressed in the archives.
Thanks, Dick
Hi all,
I am installing an Iridium Satphone and wish to get feedback/confirmation on emergency phone numbers.
Is there any consensus on the best numbers to be programmed into one’s cell or sat phone. I will include a couple of numbers I have programmed in (never used) over the years with the caveat that everyone should check the numbers out for themselves and not to rely on me.
For Northern Europe waters, I have always had Falmouth CG, 0044-132-631-7575 in my cell phone. (I understand that, in addition to maritime emergencies) they will link a medical emergency call to Portsmouth Hosp. where there are Drs. experienced in medical emergencies at sea.)
I have not been in my home waters of the US in a decade, but I believe that USCG emergency # is 800-323-7233 (I have a handful of other #s). There are regional emergency phone numbers as well.
Offshore I have always used SSB maritime & Ham radio and always gotten through to the Ham maritime net or the USCG when needed. With a new Satphone, I want to be able to use the phone in emergencies as well as the radio and wish for phone numbers where there will always be a person on the end of the line 24/7 and, hopefully, be recorded.
I would also like suggestions as to the emergency numbers one might consider on a route back to North America via the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and into maritime Canada.
Thanks for the help, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Francisco Moreno

I’d like to add to Neil McCubbin’s great report.

Yes, the Iridium-provided e-mail service has exactly the issues he mentions. This is why one may wish to consider not using the free Iridium e-mail accounts for critical communications.

In our case, our official on the water e-mail account is our sailmail account, which we access via Iridium GO!. Fast, reliable, and no possibility of “big mail” multi-hour service blockages or of actually missing a key e-mail for “big mail” reasons. The people we care about, and any customs or marina or service people we actually need to contact from the water get our sailmail account address, and this way we know each important e-mail is going to get through, and quickly.

Now, as to any charges billed to the receiving party of an Iridium call, this is big, important news, and something I had never heard of. In fact, one might even think it illegal, as the international calling system has been, for many, many decades, of the type “calling party pays,” unless the call was specifically requested “collect”. Is there additional information on this issue Neil has highlighted?

Cheers,

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
(This may be best placed elsewhere??)
Having just finished a trans-Atlantic crossing via the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland with significant stops in each, I thought various AAC streams might benefit from some observations.
In the SSB vs Sat-phone debate:
I still stand by all I said in support of SSB (with Pactor) comm, but in a choice between SSB and Sat-phone for these regions, you are absolutely correct in asserting: choose Sat-phone every day.
Weather and email via Winlink/Sailmail and SSB voice benefit greatly the cruising community. That said, SSB/Winlink comm in the higher lats had many challenging elements. Propagation for distance is best around dusk and dawn, which are the middle of the night (if it exists at all) in these lats in the summer. Distances are great to stations where weather/emails/gribs are to be had and some of the data necessary for safe cruising are large size (ice charts for ex). I suspect I could have made it work, but not without great effort, a good degree of frustration and a degree of uncertainty that I may not have all the data available for safe movement that would be hard to tolerate. Most times I am ok with not having all my data bases covered but the down side of Greenland unpreparedness would be high. Also, my (admittedly casual) attempts to contact both Iceland and Greenland on mf and hf radio met with no response (I was putting out as I had talked with South America recently.) Their VHF/Coast Guard coverage was impressive in the waters off and near shore while sometimes disappearing when in the fjords.
As John reports, the Sat-phone covered all the bases. With shore support to compress ice charts and turn some chart data into text, we were able to have all/most information ready at hand. It was a great security blanket and much appreciated. The ability, when wishing for really timely information, say from Ice Patrol in Greenland, to pick up the phone and call was immensely re-assuring. It also was notable that our degree of isolation on the east coast of Greenland, especially while waiting for ice to clear so we could move was profound: a big leap from anything we had faced before. Having the Sat-phone was re-assuring for this as well.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Ps. Using UUplus was a great suggestion. Terrific people and great support.

Geir ove Bø

We used Uuplus, on our way over the Atlantic from east to west, nov2016, and it worked fine, On our way Back going east, i got a RedBox and Xgate. used it for 30 days, It did not work as good as Uuplus, and i noted it also used 3 times as many minutes of my costly sattime
So in the middel of atlantic i mailed Uuplus, and told them to put be online again for 3 more months,
i have sold the Redbox, and will keep on using Uuplus
Recomended higly. works fine and best value for hard earned bucks 🙂

Andrea

Hi John,

I realise that uuPlus woud be great to have, but I think it might become a bit too expensive, on top of the monthly unlimited data plan.
So, if I went without uuPlus, would I still manage to run good weather apps? (Weather 4d?)
Though I haven’t decided yet, I think I will go for a PC as my navigation/weather computer.

Thanks!

Andrea

Thanks John.

I did more reading, like you suggested.
Given that I do have an Iridium phone (Extreme), I think I will not buy a Go!. Besides saving on the cost of the Go!, I think I will be able to save on air time as well, considering that the unlimited plan with the Go! costs 1500 $ per year! That’s a lot of minutes for the Iridium phone, considering I don’t really need to email much at all while at sea

cheers
a

andrea

Hi John,

I am looking to buy an external antenna for my iridium extreme.
Would it be a “passive” antenna? I have encountered this on line a few times.

Also, The only one I could find is Ocens, but was wondering if you, or anyone else, know of other websites where I could find antennas.

Thanks!
Andrea

Andrea

Hi John,

thanks for that. I did and they have it. Only problem, shipping is 190 USD! (To Europe).

I’ll keep looking for some more convenient shipping alternatives

Cheers
a

Andrea

Hi John,

they have three antennas, are you familiar with them?
They look a little different than the one that is being bundled with the go (nb: I would use it for an Iridium Phone, the Extreme)..

Two are here:
http://www.mailasail.com/Communication/Iridium-Antennas

And one is here:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1piXd7TZIvC6pYOQGBoozsNKpzxUmbtC5

Thanks!

andrea

Thanks!

Dick Stevenson

Hi everyone,
Just an update:
Last year, I asked for help finding a new service provider for my SatPhone as I had found Atlantic Radio Telephone, The Satellite Phone Store, very difficult to work with. A couple of others shared similar misgivings.
I found Preferred Communications which I wrote here to AAC gave me good service and a good feel when I made initial contact and helped me figure a contract that fit my cruising plans. For starters, they answered the phone rather than bumping me into a complicated phone tree.
This season, I ran into a question on the use of my equipment that I could not solve and was loathe to contact Atlantic Radio Telephone, who had sold me the equipment, because of past experiences. I also felt the answer was something simple and dumb, some setting that I had tweaked unknowingly.
I decided to call Preferred Communications. Their phones are still answered by a real person. My go-to person was unavailable so I was given a tech person. He was unfamiliar with my below-decks docking equipment (remember, they did not sell me this equipment), but said he would do some research based on a picture I sent of my docking station and get back to me. He did, with- in and hour or so, with an email from our go-to person, Carlyn. We were quickly back to normal.
So, they were not only responsive, but they were responsive to questions pertaining to equipment they had not sold me and were willing to extend themselves to do some research.
Another pleasant and helpful gesture: a short period before my contract started I received an email with a primer on getting the satphone up and running after the winter lay-up and with a new contract. For those of us at an age where memory is an undependable commodity those kinds of crib-sheets are a blessing.
For those interested, my contact person is Carlyn, moc.ratstas@sivad.nylrac, 877-589-9800, http://www.satstar.com.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

I really appreciate “real-life” endorsements/experience-relating of this type, Dick. Thank you. The offshore cruising community is a rather small subset of the overall recreational sailing market, and it’s personal stories like this that help to make decisions when choosing providers and services.

David

Hi John,

Looking to do some extended cruising in the Bahamas this Winter and then up the Eastern Seaboard as weather warms. We will not be full time, but will likely be onboard and moving about for 2-3 weeks at a time. I took a brief look at renting a handset and with the caveat of needing to use it with an external antenna, that pushes the price of a phone and antenna up to around $130/mo. Plus, if I am renting the antenna, it cannot be permanently mounted. I really care not about emails. They can pile up and await our return to shore, but I would like to have weather data and the comfort of being able to call either for medical emergencies or to touch base with family as needed. I am leaning towards buying a handset and doing the requisite external antenna install, then finding a provider that allows for monthly or set airtime charges. With the advertised satellite upgrades coming, I’m inclined to buy the newer version in case the older sets can’t take advantage of the speed upgrades. Given my parameters, does this make sense to you? Is there anything else that comes to mind?

David

Thanks John. What about getting weather files? Can that be done with a cell phone amp and regular email isp? I’ve never downloaded a grib file, even at home. I guess that’s probably a good exercise. So, I would still need Sailmail or UUPlus and a viewer to allow me to download the weather files, right?

David

Thank you John for your invaluable feedback. You and your website are a wealth of information that I use on a regular basis. It’s well worth the modest subscription. Whenever I can, I sing your praises and urge anyone who is listening to join AAC. I hope I’m not wearing out my welcome here, but I have a few more questions, observations. I have read the whole online book, but obviously need to go back and do it again! And then begin to practice building my own weather reports. Re Mac vs PC, I’m computer agnostic and having used a PC for more than 30 years, there is a certain comfort level, but I own an iPhone and an iPad, which are both wonderful tools. I need to buy a new laptop, as our old one was woefully inadequate and the Macbook Pros have come up in online best of searches as highly rated, albeit a bit more pricey than a Windows machine. It seems like the right fit for use with the cell phone as my weather file receiver and viewer among other things. Then LuckGRIB is the proper choice for viewing the weather files. All good so far? Finally, I took a look at cell phone amps and came across a new product by Wilson Amplifiers called the weBoost Drive 4G. It is a single user amp with cradle for $200. A marine external antenna is another $200 or so. The units that handle multiple users are closer to $400, plus I would still need an external antenna. I don’t see the benefit, unless I had a boat full of device junkies as guests. My wife and I like to unplug when cruising, so the cell phone would primarily be for weather and for emergencies. Once again, your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Max Shaw

Wow. So much good information in this article and then in the comments as usual.

We use https://sarcontacts.info/ to update our RCC numbers in our satphone. We always have the RCC numbers for they areas we are traveling programmed in as well as our “home” Halifax RCC. I have them programmed in our Iridium handheld that lives in our ditch bag and into the contact info for the Iridium Go.

A warning for anyone who has, or thinks they still have, an Iridium Emergency plan as we discovered that ours was cancelled a few months ago and we were never contacted. We are trying to get a new sim card shipped out to Fiji but rather under the gun to get moving north again before cyclone season sets in. I put together a quick blog post here: https://sv-fluenta.blogspot.com/2018/10/cautionary-tale-iridium-emergency-plan.html describing what happened as well as an overview of our emergency comms plan.

Thanks for all the great work. I have cancelled all my old magazine subscriptions etc but only retained Morgan’s Cloud and Practical Sailor.

Cheers,

Max
SV Fluenta

Rob DesMarais

I have a 9555 on a new boat. I haven’t used it yet. I’ve read most of your stuff but am missing the interface between the 9555 and a laptop? I am not on the boat presently and wanted to get some data (email and weather at least) for move from West Palm Beach to Annapolis on the 18th of this month. I wanted to make sure computers are updated, minutes are purchased and I have the hardware needed.

Thanks for everything.

Rob

Rob DesMarais

Hi John-The connection between 9555 and laptop was the question. USB to USB? I’m just not on the boat so I needed to ask someone! I’ll only have a couple of days to get boat ready to move north so I wanted to get what I can do done now. You did make clear the Go was WiFi. On our trip down south we rented a Go and it was a bust. Connection issues, personal brain defects and they never included a cable to use the boats Iridium antanae… I am trying to get what is on the boat to work first. On that note-do you have a link for what software I can download to get the SSB to download a Grib file?

I appreciate all the information you have compiled and your support.