Most smartphones can be configured to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing devices like laptops to connect to the Internet via the cellular phone connection. Now Iridium and Globalstar satphone service providers have rolled out satellite-based hotspot devices with a third, Inmarsat, due to launch soon.
The idea behind these products is to use a hardware base station that connects to either Iridium or Globalstar satellites. Then, using an app you load onto your smartphone or tablet, your handheld device can send voice, texts and data to the base station, which then sends it to the satellite network and then eventually out to the Internet, to phones, etc.
This clever hardware allows you to make satellite phone calls and send satellite text messages and e-mails using your smartphone. Satellite hotspots are another example of how handheld devices are changing the landscape (seascape?) of marine electronics. For some voyagers, these types of solutions could make more sense than buying several different hardware devices.
Iridium’s offering is called Iridium Go!, Globalstar calls its gear Sat-Fi, and the soon to be released Inmarsat product is called IsatHub.
The Iridium GO! can provide a hotspot for up to five mobile devices. It will allow you to connect via voice calls, e-mail, social networking (Facebook and Twitter), two-way SMS text messaging, GPS tracking and SOS alert. The 4.5-inch by 3.25-inch by 1.25-inch hardware enclosure has a flip-up antenna. Since the unit uses the Iridium system, Iridium Go! can be used anywhere in the world.
Globalstar’s Sat-Fi has similar capabilities of voice, text, data, GPS and emergency signaling. The Sat-Fi, which has a slightly larger enclosure at 6.3 inches by 6.3 inches by 2.4 inches, does come with a remote antenna, allowing you to keep the unit down below, out of the weather. It also allows up to eight mobile devices to connect. Globalstar claims a 9.6 Kbps data speed compared to Iridium’s 2.4 Kbps. For true world girdlers, however, the Globalstar system lacks worldwide access. Many voyaging areas are covered by earth stations, however.
The Inmarsat IsatHub product is still in development and full details of the unit have not been released.