New Satellite App gives iPhone Global Coverage

by Matt Klassen on November 23, 2011

Imagine an Indiana Jones-like adventurer, hunting through the most remote and disconnected parts of our globe in search of the greatest of historical antiquities, and then imagine he needs to check his email….

For years travellers to remote parts of the globe have had to live disconnected from the modern world—a point that no doubt was one of the many attractions of such a journey—but with the announcement that  Iridium Communications has brought its AxcessPoint Mail & Web appto Apple’s iOS, those days could very well be over.

Iridium’s new iOS application ostensibly turns ones’ Apple device into a satellite phone, making it possible for devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch to connect over the world’s farthest reaching communications network, Iridium. Such access will in turn grant users the ability to read emails and texts (the most basic form of mobile data transfer) from just about anywhere in the world.

But is this new app really as good as it sounds?

The answer, as it is so often will really cool new sounding tech, is predictably, ‘no.’ While connection to Iridium’s satellite network will indeed give Apple users unrivalled global connectivity allowing them data access from almost anywhere in the world—with estimates that it will have connectivity at approximately 90 percent of the globe— the cold hard truth is that such a service comes with more addendums and provisos then, as my grandfather would say, one can shake a stick at.

The first major hurdle users will have to overcome is the fact that in order to actually connect to the Iridium satellite network to do all that global texting and emailing, they’ll have to actually buy a separate Iridium satellite phone, and they don’t come cheap. Priced between $1,000 and $1,500, the sat phone will do the actual connecting with the satellite, while the iOS app will in turn connect with the phone.

As one might imagine, with so many intermediary steps between one’s iPhone and the actual satellite network, the data speeds are woeful to say the least.

“This isn’t broadband,” Iridium CEO Matt Desch told CNET in September, when his company launched AxcessPoint. “It’s satellite data service. It’s not something that you would use to stream video from Hulu. It’s to give people who are traveling in very remote parts of the world, where there is no cell phone access, the ability to check e-mail and access the Web.”

That said, undoubtedly the service will appeal to some, particularly those whose work takes them into these remote locations where wireless networks are still science fiction yet who still need to maintain access to a rudimentary data network. The price, I would guess, will likely keep this new iOS app from reaching a wide audience, however, as the need for expensive technological extras will make many Indiana Jones wannabes think twice about investing in this app on their global explorations.

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