Thursday, September 21, 2006

Iridium for email

I opted for sending and receiving email via an Iridium phone, instead of using SSB or Ham systems. One of the reasons was that we were pushing the hurricane season and we didn't have enough time for the difficult installation of an SSB radio, groundplane, antenna, tuner, etc. Another was cost. I could be up and running with Iridium for less than $2000, and no installation fees. Well, like most things marine, the cost was more than I planned. The biggest problem was coming up with a connection between the serial port on the Iridium phone and the USB ports on my computer. After trying several different USB/serial adaptors, with none of them working, I purchased a PCMCIA card with dedicated serial cord. That solved the connection problem. Another big expense was signing up for an email service provider. I could access my usual gmail or other account, but specialized providers have compression and other technologies that they claim greatly speed up email transfers. I ended up purchasing service from GMN, which I am generally satisfied with. A bonus is that when connected to WiFi ashore, the transfer of emails is blazingly fast. Onboard the transfer is pretty slow, but I have managed to send seven emails and receive 14 in about a minute and a half of airtime, which translates to about $1.50. I love getting emailed daily weather, even when offshore, and it is great to stay in touch with friends and family. So far I don't miss the SSB nets, but I can say they could be useful at times. Ideally, I would like to have an SSB and an Iridium phone, but I think our choice of Iridium first proved to be the correct one. A huge bonus is the capability to make phone calls from anywhere (even the life raft), though the cost is too high for casual use.


Anonymous said...

John --

I'm thinking of forgoing the SSB installation on my boat as well in preparation for a cruise I'll be starting later this year.

Could you post more information about your Iridium set up? What service are you using to get weather reports by email? Are they detailed and how good are they?



John J. Kettlewell said...

Hi, I´m using a portable Iridium phone with the data adaptor, a PC card to serial cable adaptor for the laptop, XGate email service and software, and a standard Toshiba laptop. I mostly get free text weather from I get a decent weather forecast using the Web before I depart, then I download a weather email once a day when offshore. I find the text forecasts give me plenty of detail for offshore use--I don´t take chances traveling places where the weather is likely to be bad. In other words, if I need something more detailed than the text forecast, I probably shouldn´t be there in the first place!

Anonymous said...

Hi John
I too have an Iridium 9595a Sat phone and I live in Singapore. My wife and I own a GB47EU and we are about to take her on a cruise to the Andaman Seas. This is right in the middle of nowhere and so our only mode of communication would be through the Iridium Sat phone. We would like to surf the web at least once a day and to access our gmail account. Can we do this easily and what do we need to purchase to connect our Iridium to our Mac Pro Notebook? Thanks

John J. Kettlewell said...

In my experiece you can't log onto the Internet reliably with Iridium and expect to get your Gmail directly. You need to sign up with a specialized service, like GMN or Mailasail that you can then have your Gmail automatically forwarded to. The services compress the email and strip out stuff like HTML so that the messages can travel relatively quickly over the slow Iridium system. I'm not sure if you can get one of the serial to USB interfaces to work for your MacBook--I couldn't. I needed to get a PCMIA card with a serial cable to make the hook up reliably, but I bet there are now better USB hookups available. However, I'm not sure if any of the mail services, like GMN or Mailasail, support Mac operating systems. They didn't a few years ago.

Jackson Hole Skier said...

GMN supports OSX for Macs. Mailasail does too.