There has been a lot of excitement in the offshore cruising world about Iridium Next, the long promised and now completed new constellation of satellites for the system that has, for the last 20 years, been the only viable worldwide satellite communication system for yachts owned by anyone other than the super-rich.
Let's take a look and see if this Next thing is useful for us yachties with limited budgets.
Does anyone have any information, or even an educated guess, about how long GO! might be supported now that CERTUS is live?
Good question Andrew – I think the existing GO (and all 1st gen equipment) could be working as long as Iridium have their older geo-stationary satellites in the sky. But as I understand it, the problem is these older satellites will eventually fall from orbit and burn up. A radio engineer told me at the time of the first Motorola network launch, the satellites would only have an operational life of around 20-25 years, so the business case would be very challenging (re-building your whole infrastructure from scratch every time). So it may be a matter of when Iridium takes the older satellites out of service – Iridium run a huge reputation risk if the old network starts to drop out without warning, given the public safety role their network has for most users, particularly their corporate users. I suspect we will see a transition for everyone within 7 years, but I expect that Iridium will announce their transition plans for users when they launch their new network and devices. Operators hate running two networks, particularly when the earth based equipment will be reaching obsolescence issues for spares and repairs.
I’m near certain the the NEXT satellites service legacy gear, so the fact that the old sats will die should not change anything.
Correct, the NEXT network is backwards-compatible (source: Iridium rep).
In addition, it’s unlikely that consumers like cruisers will see a better deal than the GO! in the next 5 years or so, as this kind of market is just not a priority for the company and not where the revenue is. The Iridium NEXT priority is clearly going to be shipping, aviation, out-of-the-way extractive industry operations, military and various IoT applications such as asset tracking.
Bear in mind that it took the company many many years to start trickle-down solutions like the GO!, so expect the same wait for newer consumer-friendly solutions.
Yup, that’s my guess.
Most of the original Iridium constellation has already been de-orbited. If you are currently using an Iridium GO, you are using it via the Iridium NEXT constellation. Support may eventually be cut off as a business decision, but will certainly not be cut off for technical or compatibility reasons.
My guess is that Iridium will maintain backward compatibility for the foreseeable future. I’m pretty sure that Iridium make the vast majority of their profits from air time, not gear, and therefore there is no benefit to them in making millions (guess) of units obsolete.
Hi Andrew and Rob,
Another reason that Iridium will maintain backward compatibility for legacy gear is that the price of data bandwidth is, on a per MB basis, much higher on the legacy gear than on Cetus, so a nice source of profit.
The key thing to understand in all of this, and the basis of all of my predictions, is that as long as Iridium don’t have a viable competitor in our market segment they will make all decisions to maximize profit not improve service. And there are few things more profitable than milking a legacy market with no alternatives.
The reason they did NEXT was to go after Inmarsat and deep pocket commercial users, not help us light data cheapskates.
By the way, a word for Inmarsat shareholders: SELL.
Thanks for the update – did this come from the boat show you are attending? I was at the Auckland boat show this week and spoke to a marine comms dealer who sells Iridium products. I asked him when we could expect new gear from Iridium to use the new satellites and he said Iridium were being very tight lipped with their channel. His view was we will see new products in the 2nd quarter of 2020 – but they (Iridium) are still in testing mode. He also believed there will be a new GO and when pressed, he expected the data rate increase to be “significant” but wouldn’t guess how much. Given the current data rate is only 12 Kbs – nothing remarkable then and as you say, for most of us – not web-surfing stuff.
PredictWind who promote the GO and an airtime package on their web-site, are predicting (sorry) a ~ 50% boost to download speed to ~ 18 kbs. More importantly I think, they are expecting better global coverage with less drop-outs and so less re-connects. Re-connects accounted for much of the download delays we experienced in the Pacific. Apparently this will also mean better quality voice calls which will be a very positive outcome. The most interesting news from my perspective was the boat show dealer HAD been told that the new Iridium gear would be backwardly compatible, so all ariels and power supplies etc would work , so just a unit swap out. Let’s see.
No, I got this information from other sources, mostly public. I go to the boatshow next week.
Cetus gear is already available at the satphone store, see link in the post and they claim it will ship in 2-3 business days.
As to a new and much faster GO! That would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. Iridium will be totally focused in the high revenue commercial and GMDSS users of Cetus for some time to come since that’s the only way to service the capital that went into NEXT.
And even if we do get a new GO! don’t count on it being very much faster. The reason is that GO! is the only piece of Iridium gear that has unlimited data and the only way that Iridium make that work is because it’s so slow. So if say they made it 100 times faster (technically feasible with NEXT) then they would have to take away unlimited, otherwise the network would be swamped, and up the price hugely, and that would be called…Cetus.
Bottom line, there is no way they will endanger Cetus sales and the high data revenue user base that goes with it, by releasing a much better GO!
So my guess is that they will leave GO! as it is for some years to come, and even if they do upgrade, the speed increase will be modest.
By the way, the real speed of GO!, and all legacy Iridium gear is 2.4kbs. The 12kbs number that Iridium likes to use in marketing BS since it’s the theoretical best rate taking into account compression. But since the data we primarily use (GRIBS) are already compressed, the real rate is 2.4kbs
Got rid of the globalstar and use the Go rarely. Continue to use a Spot for breadcrumbs. Put in a Fleet One Sailor when first offered at 30% off. It works always unlike the other products. Weirdly but fortunately could get SSB when sat phone was intermittent. But now just use the Fleet one on passage for weather and key communications using the SSB for verbal chatting. Verbal phone service on the Sailor is good and we’ve yet to run over allowance. The Fleet one is a huge expense if you use it for anything beyond emails between you and your weather router and occasionally for gribs. Still if used only for passage expense is manageable. When within receiving distance of towers go old school just hotspotting a local phone. So given expense and due to the fact there’s no way with moderate expense to stay on the Internet expect we will continue with this set up. It’s sufficient as you’re coastal a lot and on passage rarely. Enduring problem is recreational boating is a small market and passagemakers a small minute sliver of that group so there’s little incentive to develop services. Don’t expect that to change. Rather we will always be the tail on networks developed for commercial maritime and shipping.
Thanks for the report on Fleet.
That said, for others considering it: I think Fleet One will be a deader at the hands of Cetus very shortly and so I don’t recommend investing in it now. Bottom line, Iridium’s low orbit NEXT satellites are just better tech than Inmarsat geo stationary and now that Iridium is GMDSS certified, Inmarsat has lost its last competitive moat and is a dead man walking.
Keep your eyes on Elan Musk – Starlink is a game changer and is happening very quickly. Musk has a big advantage over all the other vendors as he owns his own rocket launch company. With any luck – we should be seeing some major breakthroughs in price / performance by 2021. Do some googling on Starlink – very interesting!’
I’m betting no Starlink, or anything else, that is useful for as cruisers before 2025 at earliest, maybe a lot later than that. Bet you a beer.
Let’s just say that Elon’s track record of on time delivery of high volume, low margin, consumer stuff (think Tesler 3) is terrible. Starlink is the Tesler 3 of comms and Elon is just not gifted that way. He excels at very high margin low volume stuff like Dragon and landing a rocket back on a barge.
But then I could be wrong, so we have a piece coming from Matt on just that.
I disagree. As an owner of a Tesla Model S – it’s completely disrupted the car industry and been years ahead of its time. SpaceX has also delivered major changes to the Space industry – long ahead o fits rivals.
What I find super exciting about starlink for us sailors is a) low cost antenna – target $200 b) thats possible due to thousands of low orbit satellites (500 kilometres) which results in very low latency comms.
As for when let’s all cross our fingers that it’s well before 2025.
This is a neat video that does a good job explaining their progress and technology.
We don’t disagree. I’m a huge fan of Tesler, SpaceX, and Musk himself, but I’m also realistic about his on time track record!
A beer says nothing for us cruisers available from Starlink before 2025 at the very earliest.
There’s another aspect to this that makes me as sure as I am: Iridium is one of SpaceX’s largest customers, so its strains the bounds of my credibility to believe that SpaceX will release something that will put Iridium out of business so soon after they spent millions to deploy NEXT. Also I can’t believe that Iridium did not huddle with Elon before making the decisions they did.
One thing I have learned in some 45 years in high tech: never underestimate the ability of marketing to screw up and/or delay good technology.
Another prediction for you. No doubt that Musk will go down in history as the father of the viable modern electric car, and Tesler will be out of business, or bought by a competitor, by the end of 2025—innovation does not necessarily end in economic success. Another beer on that.
Iridium signed their contract with SpaceX, spending $492M for 7 flights, in 2010. NEXT was already well into the final design phase by that point, Iridium’s corporate entity had just nine years of post-bankruptcy operation behind it, and the Falcon 9 had made just one flight, on the heels of Falcon 1’s three-in-five failure rate. SpaceX hadn’t even come up with the idea for Starlink yet. Flying with anyone else would have cost Iridium a billion dollars that it simply didn’t have.
Now, in 2019, Falcon 9 has a 97.5% lifetime success rate (100% over the last 50 flights and 3 years), and 40% of all commercial launches worldwide fly with SpaceX. Iridium has not announced any plans for a next-gen constellation to replace NEXT; while it might want to toss its six spare satellites up there at some point, it’ll probably never be a major rocket launch customer again.
SpaceX is a 6400-person company; an organization that size can do more than one thing at a time. Musk may be its public face, and “Elon time” is definitely a thing, but Gwynne Shotwell – a brilliant executive by any standard – is in charge of actually getting the important things done, and she does deliver.
Thanks for the clarification on that. I get that SpaceX is a big company, but Elon’s propensity for going off an tangents before finishing stuff he has committed to makes me pretty sure they have a huge resource crunch. Maybe not as bad as Tesler, but still bad.
Here’s another reason Elon won’t deliver Starlink on time, if ever, at least in a way that will be useful:
The man, like many great innovators, just can’t stay on mission:
The thing with SpaceX Starlink program is that it is an integral part of their Mars mission funding strategy. So, there is plenty of internal pressure to get it cashflow-positive ASAP.
“Cruiser-friendly global sat-data service on 2025 earliest” is a good bet, but we might be surprised.
I agree on Starlink, but actually think that funding need will slow, not speed up, the roll out of Starlink for individual users. The big money will be made from financial companies that will pay hundreds of millions to reduce latency in intercontinental comms over fibre optic cables, and that’s what SpaceX will focus on first, not nickels and dimes from individual users like us. All that stuff about cheap internet for the underprivileged in Africa plays well in marketing, but it’s not where the focus will be. That’s my guess anyway. No one would be happier than me if I’m wrong.
I’d be very happy with a satellite-based weather broadcast service, kind of like satellite TV, something that on a regular repeating cadence transmits GRIBs, surface analyses, forecasts, etc. As a one-way broadcast, it would be much higher data rate than a bi-directional service. Something like https://www.siriusxm.com/sxmmarine but available worldwide, and containing world wide weather data. I always think, “This would be so great, why hasn’t someone done this already?” Then I remember those pesky “market fundamentals.”
At first glance, that idea would appear relatively easy & cheap to implement via UDP Multicast over existing ViaSat, Hughes, and/or Inmarsat satellites. Data integrity via UDP is not guaranteed, but for a one-to-many satellite-to-ground protocol, it would appear to be remarkably efficient, with an actual operating cost (in bandwidth and dollars) roughly equivalent to one high-end yacht terminal to serve an entire hemisphere of the globe. I wonder why nobody’s done it yet?
A small startup, Othernet (previously known as Outernet), has been broadcasting since 2014. No indication they will be including data of value to us cruisers, but their content selection is, at least in theory, crowd specified. Check them out on http://othernet.is
Ooh that is interesting!
“Data integrity via UDP is not guaranteed” – true, but you can ‘layer’ an ARQ protocol over the top of UDP to solve head of line blocking and other such problems. I have been working on some proof of concept ideas in this space.. are you in this industry?
That exists from SirusXM. I have seen it demonstrated and it looks reasonably impressive. That said, it’s limited to the Sirus footprint. For example in the Atlantic it reaches out to Bermuda, but no further. Note: all of the above was as at about five years ago and I have not followed the service since.
Here’s the latest from Panbo: https://www.panbo.com/siriusxm-infolink-new-features-and-lower-priced-siriusxm-weather-receivers/
Too bad about Iridium NEXT, but it’s about what we expected. For Billionaires, it’s a lot better than other global Internets.
I’m not counting on Starlink either. In fact, I believe the primary purpose for Starlink is to provide constant communications for Tesla cars. Especially if/when they become full self-driving robocars.
Aaarrgghhh! You guys are terrifying me. I am sick of hovering next to the SSB and writing down my shorthand weather forecasts at all hours of the freaking day and night – especially when I want some sleep off watch. So we planned to go with GO! (cute, huh?)
but all I hear on this site is bitching and complaining about it and then (sighs) that it’s the only reasonable game in town for easy weather forecast reception and basic satellite communication. NOW you’re telling me the satellites are going to fall out of the sky and I’ll be forced to buy into a system that costs more that my boat did? Here’s what I want – to be able to receive weather forecasts and to have my bookkeeper be able to text me if there’s a financial crisis or my brother to be able to text or email me if one of my rental houses has burned down killing all occupants so I’m being sued. Otherwise I really don’t want to communicate with anyone when I am out here. That’s why I am out here!!!! Will the GO! handle this for me? Signed the subscriber’s really aggravated wife who also happens to be his marginally competent IT person because he is totally incapable of being an IT person. He’s a mechanic which is ultimately more important. Someone help me out here!!! Hugs and kisses, Molly.
I can understand why you are so wound up, but you don’t need to be. Sure, technology is changing, technology is always changing. But that does not change the fact that we have a perfectly good and cost effective solution right now which will work fine for a good long time and do exactly what you want. Note that the conclusion I draw in the article above, is that nothing has really changed and is not going to soon. Nothing about satellites falling from the sky. So just ignore all the noise, and particularly the comments.
We have detailed articles to help you get there, for example:
I would also suggest that since you want to keep this simple go with PredictWind for weather. You can even buy the GO! and airtime from them. I have been hard on them in the past, but their product has got better and they are a one stop shop.
On email: I still don’t like the phone apps from Iridium for this, so still recommending UUPlus on a computer: https://www.morganscloud.com/2017/08/24/iridium-go-and-uuplus-real-world-use-review/
Are there other options? Sure tons of them, but you can be sure two above will get what you want done.
If you want to save the considerable annual cost of PredictWind, we have detailed instructions on how to use UUplus and GO! to do everything you have listed, without PredictWind, but it is a little more complicated. Start here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2017/09/12/strategic-weather-analysis-hardware-and-software/
And the key point in all of this: Phyllis and I have exactly the same needs and have tested all this over some 20 years. It works.
By the way, you can still buy the GO! and airtime from Predictwind without signing up for their service. So start there, get UUPlus, and see how you go. If weather is just too overwhelming using UUPlus and our instructions, then sign up for PredictWind.
Thank for your quick, calming response, John. I truly do appreciate it. Note to myself: don’t try to research these things and comment on articles when you’re out of estrogen (permanently A.D.D. as a result) and the better part of the way through a bottle of rose. – Molly
Glad it helped. You will be really happy to get away from crouching over a hot SSB at some silly hour of the morning, I know I was! https://www.morganscloud.com/2012/01/16/text_forecasts/
This service is looking to operate LEO satellites that can communicate with everyday phones made in the last several years – no special hardware needed. They’re starting this year in the Bahamas and are set to expand afterward. It will not likely be offered as a standalone service, at least initially. Speeds are about 3G level, so Starlink is still a desirable option.
Yes, lots of interesting stuff happening. My guess is that the key to all this is when, or even if, Starlink decide to do a solution that will work on a moving platform. My other guess is it will still be a while.