Satellite Communications

Iridium unveils a global, Wi-Fi satellite hotspot

Iridium Communications has unveiled the Iridium GO, the industry’s first mobile satellite hotspot, saying it will become commercially available by the second quarter of 2014. Capable of simultaneously providing network coverage to several users at once in the most remote locations, the pocket-sized hotspot will allow users to connect to Iridium’s low-Earth orbiting satellite constellation with their smartphone or tablet devices.

Iridium has provided the military with satellite phones in the past, with some of them now more than 15 years old. The Defense Department also awarded Iridium a $400 million Defense Information Systems Agency contract to provide satellite airtime services for the military and their federal partners. DOD is Iridium’s largest single customer, with the company supplying up to 40 percent of DOD satellite demand.

The new device is designed to provide a Wi-Fi zone anywhere on the planet, extending coverage for personal devices that are out of range of cellular networks. Up to five smartphones or devices within a 100 feet radius can make calls, check email, text, and use apps, Iridium said.  

By simply flipping up the antenna, users can automatically connect the device to the Iridium network and establish a Wi-Fi connection. The Iridium GO is also ruggedized and can withstand rough use, rain, sand, and dust. The entire system only weighs 10.4 ounces and will also be compatible with Iridium’s next-generation satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT, which will begin launching 2015.

Iridium GO WiFi hotspot

"Iridium GO is truly a new way of making mobile satellite connections and will expand the market for [managed security systems]," said Eric Verheylewegen, vice president and general manager for GMPCS, which makes satellite phone equipment. "It really enables maximum flexibility for our customers - it's like carrying a small, personal cell tower with you wherever you go."

The technology has clear military uses, especially as the device is more cost-effective than traditional, direct-link satellite phones. The GO will cost about $800 per device – Iridium’s satellite phones range from $1,000 to $1,500, reports National Defense Magazine. Because DOD is already using Iridium’s satellite network, there is no additional cost beyond purchasing the equipment. Commercial customers will have to purchase monthly data bundles that can range from $30 to more than $100 a month.

The technology represents an upgrade in satellite communications as the DOD moves toward providing mobile solutions to warfighters.

“It’s clear the military is moving toward smartphone technology for individual soldiers, in part because of the power smartphones have,” said Tim Johnson, director of land mobile business at Iridium. “This is a natural way to be able to extend that because if you are already using smartphones … this provides connectively for that smartphone over our satellite network.”

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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