Frequently, in my career with Marine Computer Systems, Inc., I have helped end user after end user with their questions and troubles with the ins and outs of Globalstar and Iridium. What’s best option for where they’re going, costs and connectivity? I have been on the ground floor for customers switching between Globalstar and Iridium after a poorly informed decision to go with one rather than the one that best suits their needs. Additionally, there seems to be a lack of coaching when it comes to end users using their system correctly. So here it is, the ins and outs to Globalstar and Iridium.
The Iridium satellite system allows your signals to be transferred from one satellite to another before reaching the ground station in which your call or data signal is routed to your destination. This means that you can be really far away from land or civilization in general and still make voice and data calls.
Globalstar on the other hand uses a different technology. The voice and data calls being sent and received from your handset are traveling to one of the many orbiting satellites and then directly back down to a land station. These stations are spread out around the world and the technology allows Globalstar to provide a faster and clearer signal. The down side is that Globalstar’s coverage is not worldwide.
The Break Down
Iridium handheld and fixed-mounted units
Service is estimated at about $2.00 per minute but will vary depending on how you want to be billed. Customers choose from pre-paid or post-paid plans, buying a chunk of minutes up front or accumulating charges as they go.
Globalstar handheld and fixed-mounted systems
Rates are currently available to get you unlimited access for as low as $20/month. With Globalstar’s connectivity issues, I have noticed a decline in customers wanting the global system on board their vessel. Plans to replenish the missing satellites and bring the system back up to par are under way and I look forward to being able to recommend them to my coastal customers again.
Utilization of satellite equipment
Additionally, the data connections themselves can be adjusted in your computer. These settings should be set to turn off your connection after a predetermined idle time interval and also set to not automatically reconnect if the connection is lost. What you don’t want happening is for your computer to be able to connect automatically and download something over the Internet one evening, using 360 minutes at $2.00 a minute. It will quickly become an expensive burden.
There are many service providers and great people in the industry to help you figure out what you need and train you on how to use it correctly. Don’t settle for walking away with just a box of equipment, get people in the industry behind you that you can trust and make an educated choice in your next satellite phone purchase or upgrade.
About the Author
I read with some interest your article on Iridium and Globalstar. If you don't mind I would like to relate our experience, since we have owned both systems.
In the interest of time, I'll try to pare down the story. We initially bought Globalstar for use along the East Coast and in the Bahamas. At first, it was a very cost effective means of emergency communications. In addition, we purchased XGate which allowed us to download e-mails (particularly Chris Parker's weather reports) when offshore. There were some times access was difficult, but as I said in the beginning it worked fine for our purposes.
In 2006, Globalstar's service began to decline. When contacted by us and other cruisers with the system, the company's response was that new satellites were scheduled for launch to fix the problems.
By the end of the year, service had deteriorated to such a point if was virtually unusable. Dropped calls were the norm. In fact, we were so vigorous in our contact with them, they finally agreed to reimburse our drop calls--nearly $150. Other cruisers that we talked to were having the same problems. From one of them, we discovered that they were offer half price service for three months. Once again, after repeated calls, we got the same offer.
By now the service level was almost unusable. In fact we either could not get a signal or remain on line long enough to receive Chris Parker weather e-mail service. At that point, I told my wife that even if they gave it to us free it was useless as an offshore and emergency communication tool.
Again, we were not the only cruisers experiencing this issue.
Finally, in May of last year when we were back in states, we bit the bullet and purchased an Iridium phone. Both the phone and calling plan are significantly more expensive. But the bottom line is we finally had a system that worked.
When we talk to people evaluating Globalstar, we warn them to test the system before purchasing.
I don't know if they ever did launch the new satellites or fixed the system, but any buyer should beware.
If you have any questions, just let me know. Thanks for your time.
Thanks for the interest and sorry to hear that the Globalstar situation is worse ten i thought. I welcome you and anyone to join our newsletter/mailing list. I will be keeping tabs on the situation to the best of my ability and sending out updates. All we can do now is wait.
Quick question for Noah Hoagland author of the article on Iridium vs Global Star in recent newsletter: As a Global Star customer and fan until they lost their satellites last summer, I wonder when they are going to be up and running again. Any indication that the coverage will be back soon? I asked them many times last year and they kept promising it would be back soon but it never was. Thanks, Dean H.
Nothing concrete yet, It is frustrating not having any answers for the loyal customers.