Inmarsat Isatphone Pro, hand’s on & thumb’s up

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

44 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I’ll be darned. Looking closer at the Beam Marine Dock information, I realized that it will be set up to auto send track positions, respond to polling, and apparently even integrate with some sort of MOB fob.

  2. Matt Marsh says:

    If you get it with that 250-minute block, it’s only 10 cents a minute more expensive than calling long-distance from a Canadian prepaid cellphone. Without the monthly top-ups. And without the “we’ll pocket your remaining balance and close your account” if you miss your monthly top-up.
    I am quite serious: if the per-minute rates on these things come down another 20 percent, they will be cheaper than prepaid cellular for calling long-distance in Canada. I think this reflects more on our competition-free wireless market than on Inmarsat, but kudos to the satellite guys for putting the pressure on 🙂

  3. Scott E says:

    We have one of these on order, a bit of a gamble since it’s new, but the research echoes your review. I think this is shaping up to be a game changing device. Not only for voice, but 2 way messaging as well. I’ve setup an email bridge so I can relay position reports to YOTREPS and family, also updating our blog – giving me better-than-SPOT functionality with mapping. I’m going with a plan that’s pay-as-you-go, $15/month + $0.85/min to landines, $1.07 to cell, and $0.49/message. That’s relatively cheap, for our use. Curious to see how much data costs will be when that’s released in early 2011…

  4. Oceanplanet says:

    Is an external antenna available?

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Bruce, That Beam Isatdock Marine I linked to refers to external Inmarsat and GPS antennas. I think it’s going to be fairly expensive and isn’t shipping yet, but it looks very interesting:
    Scott, I would imagine that the Isatphone Pro data connection will be billed by voice minutes, like Iridium does. Optimized email programs like XGate and OCENS Mail might help a lot, as they seem to with Iridium. Incidentally, the SatPhoneStore told me that email and text messages cost half a “unit” (or minute).

  6. Scott E says:

    As far as email/text messages go – inbound to the phone are free. Both inbound and outbound messages are limited to 160 characters, including recipient information. At $0.49/outbound message I can afford a daily position/status report… I have heard (but don’t yet have firsthand information) that you have to be mindful of message length, as a longer message will be split across multiple 160 character messages, and of course you pay for all. My phone ships today from, so hopefully I’ll have a bit more firsthand experience with the device in a week or so. Yes, the isatdock devices look to be fairly expensive, at $500-$1200, here’s a blurb comparing the models:

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    PS There’s a little door on the back of the Isatphone Pro leading to what look like two deep set antenna connectors. There’s no mention of these in the User Guide, but here’s hoping some company offers external antennas for people who don’t otherwise need all the features of the docking stations.
    Also, here’s another hand’s on review:

  8. Oceanplanet says:

    Aha! Now that is very interesting info…;-) Thanks for a great report Ben! (Well…come to think of it, all of them are great)

  9. Sat phones are great not only out at sea but also deep in the desert. Cell phones are wonderful technology but they rely on a tower to be nearby. And Inmarsat makes a great product.

  10. Bill Lentz says:

    Ben TerreStar will be launching a dual mode phone soon one that will support mobile 3G on the land network side and satellite service when your 3G network drops. The FCC has put a bit of a wrench in the service provider by limiting the percentage of resale by AT&T and Verizon both are currently appealing the ruling.
    This looks promising for cruisers in the US, Canada and the Carribean Islands.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It unfortunately looks like TerreStar may be dead on arrival. They have hired Blackstone to help them restructure and avoid bankruptcy.
    This is a pity, since it looks like a very good idea for data.

  12. Bill Lentz says:

    I just got an e-mail from a member about Terrestar trying to stay out of banckruptcy. Remember Iridium also went bankrupt (restructured) at one time.
    They will be the 1st satelite service to be all IP based and use LTE. Harbinger Capitol and Lightsquare are working with Terrestar. If properly reorganized this will keep them moving forward. Don’t count them out at least not yet. They also inked a deal with AT&T. I believe from people I know in the industry that they will survive. They are a real threat to many of the current satellite providers. Time will tell I’m hoping they survive this could bring affordable 3G & LTE complimentary dual mode service to many.

  13. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    It finally rained in Maine (what a summer!) and I placed Isatphone Pro calls from the boat to both my home answering machine and Google Voice. They both sound fine; in fact, I’m beginning to think that some of the slur you can hear in the Google Voice recording above has more to do with Google compression than the Inmarsat sat phone. I also tried it yesterday when underway and rolling about a fair bit, no problem.
    All calls were from the flying bridge as the Isatphone won’t get a good signal from the main cabin (as the Iridium 9555 did) but the bimini frame and antenna mast shrouds didn’t seem to bother it. The reviewer I linked to above also seemed to exaggerate the start up times. From dead off to placing a call seem to take about a minute or minute and a half, not the five minutes he claims. But I did again see a lag in getting out an email of about four or five minutes.

  14. Ardy says:

    Even if Terrestar avoids bankruptcy, and becomes operational it’s satellite service only covers north America! They only have one bird above the American continents that only covers, U.S. (including Alaska), Canada and I believe Mexico. However service won’t be available in other parts of the world!

  15. Larry Brandt says:

    The reason for the substantial delay is that the speed of light is just too damn slow. I doubt there’s much anyone can do about that issue, though.

  16. Bill Lentz says:

    Lightsquarded is putting money into Terrastar.
    The coverage is for the US, part of Canada and Mexico it is not a Global network. The current idea is to use LTE on the Satellite for data.
    Ping times will be bad because of the round trip to the bird. However speeds are projected to be quite fast. The network is not being designed for gamer’s but the business community that travels or has no current terrestrial data or phone coverage.
    Will it be a success? If I knew the answer to that I would had a lot more money than I currently do.

  17. Bill Lentz says:

    Terrastar and AT&T announced the service is now available.
    Data through the satellite connection is $5.00 be meg.
    Bill Lentz

  18. Mindy says:

    Hello, I am looking at getting the IsatPhone Pro. My question is if anyone knows how long it will hold a charge if it is fully charged then powered off? Basically if I charge it, how long will it be able to sit around before that charge is gone and if I go to use it will have to charge it again?
    Thank you

  19. Scott E says:

    Mindy, I last charged mine near the end of October. A couple of days ago it was still about 1/2 full. As a general rule, I only power it on maybe once a week on average to send a single email (a position report) – during this time I didn’t do any voice calls. It’s good enough for my usage, and it comes with all kinds of charging adapters anyway – cigarette plug, different AC plugs, and USB. Overall I’m really happy with mine – it’s been working great down the coast of California and here in Mexico, and I can’t wait for the data service to start up.

  20. Ardy says:

    I live in SoCal also (L.A.) and I’m thinking about buying and Iridium 9555, since it’s been proven to be a good handset and Iridium’s service is good. However can you elaborate a bit more on the isatphone’s reception/service and call quality? I also heard that you have to point the antenna to the satellite in order to get a reception!
    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  21. Scott E says:

    I’ve found the isatphonepro reception and quality to be surprisingly good and with very little delay. The antenna position can be a bit finicky, but once it gets it’s initial signal it’s not a big deal at all (I’ve been told the way this works is initially it needs a good signal to initiate the connection, after which it picks an appropriate spotbeam based on GPS location, which is much more stable and higher gain signal). In practice, antenna position just hasn’t been an issue for us – we stick it up in a generally southern direction and that’s it. It’s strongest out in the open, of course, but also works inside the salon of our fiberglass boat. It would be more important to aim the antenna, I believe, the further away from the equator – as inmarsat uses geosynchronous satellites, unlike iridium.
    It’s a different system than Iridium for sure with pluses and minuses – the handset is pretty big and bulky, and no data service is available yet (but it is coming soon). The ability to send and receive messages via email is quite handy. The handset being only ~$600 helps a bunch as well, and I can afford the $15/month minimum service cost.
    Overall I’m happy with the phone. It’s not perfect, but it meets our needs well.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for your input Scott!

  23. Hello,
    Like many people I would like to use the i-satphone on a boat trip south to Florida for offshore sailing and in the Bahamas. I am not willing to pay the 2.5k for Iridium or it’s fee. but will it work on a rolling DECK. What results have people had in hard sea conditions.
    Thank you
    Paul Lefkovith

  24. Bremer Speck says:

    Hello Paul, do you remember Globalstar? I used to have one of those and when there was satellite connectivity at sea, it worked and it worked well. I am sure, the same applies to the Isatphone. I would not worry about being on deck, though, why would anybody want to be on a heaving deck, anyways? If I were to consider the Isatphone, I would definitely consider the docking station and a permanently mounted antenna.

  25. Bart says:

    Hello from the other side of the world. Perth Western Australia.
    I have recently (just today) bought a Isatphone Pro, my first satellite phone.
    And so far everything is pretty good. I sent two SMS from it but have not yet made a phone call.
    The time to get a link to the satellite has been roughly one minute, though pointing it towards the north helps for signal strength.
    Packaging and contents are pretty good, comes with everything you need to keep it going, though I did buy a case for it and would recommend it to people.
    The size and weight of the phone are no issue for me and using the phones interface is simple.
    The only downsides I can find are trying to read screen in direct sunlight, near impossible. And I question the IP54 rating it is given. But Beyond that, nothing else so far.
    I will be traveling near the centre of W.A. in April and will try the phone out more when I get there and will give a quick review of how it went.
    Anyway, so far so good.

  26. Scott E says:

    For those still watching this thread… Data service for isatphonepro will be available in just a few days:
    It will be a few months before I’ll be able to give it a try under real-world conditions – along with a way overdue long-term writeup on our experience of using our phone for our cruise to the Sea of Cortez over the past winter…

  27. Mark says:

    Any update on the data service? I am getting ready to buy. Also, who has the best service rates. I have found the service plans to be all over the board with different companies.

  28. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Mark, I did write about iSatPhone Pro data and be sure to read the comments:
    I have no idea who has the best data plan, and would like to hear what readers are finding. I do think that there may be a bit of turf war breaking out between KVH and Inmarsat over Fleet Broadband service rates, which are related, and I’m trying to dig to the bottom of it. This is a very confusing niche as there are often several corporate layers between Inmarsat and actual users of their satellite services.

  29. Adam says:

    Having used about 500 minutes (in/outbound) calling on our iSatPhone Pro since April, I was absolutely shocked to discover upon a brief return to the U.S. that there is a material cost of using the phone that I have yet to read anything about:
    U.S. phone calls to Inmarsat (country code 870) numbers run $8-$10 PER MINUTE on most carriers. I discovered this looking at my office phone bill (from Vonage), where I saw 14 minutes of calls for $140.00. Then I dropped in to the Verizon store today with my mother’s phone. They confirmed they bill $9 per minute for calls to 870. AT&T Wireless’ web site shows $9.75.
    This seems like a big deal to me. How come I haven’t read about it anywhere?

  30. Adam says:

    By the way, this applies to calls to BGAN terminals as well, and I’m guessing VSAT and FB too (can anyone confirm?).

  31. Mark says:

    I was told the same thing today by a dealer. It is very costly for someone to call the satellite phone. I am assuming the best strategy is to have the caller send a text message to the satellite phone and then have the satellite phone user call them back. This would be a little cumbersome, but save significant dollars. It seems there is always a catch when something sounds too good to be true i.e. free incoming calls.

  32. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Adam, I’ve long heard that calling satellite phones is expensive — and that folks commonly use the “text me” option Mark mentions — but I didn’t realize that the numbers were as eye-popping as that. I see that Skype has better rates (HSD seems to stand for High Speed Data, but not sure how applies to inbound calls):
    Skype doesn’t seem to offer access to Iridium or Globalstar phones, but there do seem to be cut rate prepaid cards. Iridium also offers a two-stage system where the caller just pays long distance over land while the receiver pays outgoing minute rates. Inmarsat doesn’t seem to offer this.

  33. Adam says:

    Mark & Ben:
    The problem with the “text me” approach is that in the Beam dock the iSatPhone doesn’t seem to make any noise to indicate that a text has arrived. So we might not know for hours.
    I contacted the vendor who sold me the phone. Their solution (of course) was to sell me something else, a local US number that forwards to Inmarsat at a reduced rate of $1.34 minute. The service itself is $10 a month with no usage.
    Frankly I think at this point the best approach is to tell people to simply let the phone ring once and then hang up and allow us to call them back. My aunt used this technique in the 1980s when she was dating a guy from the Netherlands (calls to there from the U.S. were much cheaper than vice-versa). Why should we expect any progress in 30 years?

  34. kevin says:

    Can someone tell me whether its possible send text messages to and receive text messages from the Verizon network on the Isatphone.

  35. Mark says:

    I have decided to buy the Isatphone Pro as just an emergency communication device. My question is whether to go with the USA monthly subscription or the prepaid minutes(won’t work in USA) which only work offshore. I have been told that the prepaid minutes will start to work once you are about 3 miles offshore in USA which would be fine since at that range you have cell phone and other options. Does anyone have any experience with this and know if the 3 mile figure is accurate?

  36. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Kevin, the cell getting a text message a obove is Verizon, & I think I tried it the other way too.
    Mark, I think the prepaid border is 12 miles. User report in entry about Isatphone data, I think.

  37. jan says:

    We have used the Iridium phone (9505) during our yacht deliveries for many years. We’ve always been happy with the phone, but as the Iridium’s screen packed up last year and could not be repaired, we were in the market for a new satellite phone. This was around the same time that Inmarsat launched their new IsatPhone Pro. The deal could not be ignored as the phone’s price was less than half than a new Iridium. Inmarsat also claimed that their coverage is the same as Iridium’s (minus the polar regions). So we bought the IsatPhone Pro and have since then used it on two yacht deliveries. One from the Caribbean to Australia and on another from Martinique to Portugal.
    Our findings are as follows:
    1) On numerous occasions the phone stopped working and switched off, sometimes while just ‘on’, other times while in the middle of composing a text message or while phoning.
    2) A few hundreds miles off Panama in the Caribbean Sea the phone refused to send text messages. We phoned the provider’s telephone number we found on the phone only to give up after a few days of expensive phone calls. After a week or so the phone all of a sudden worked again.
    3) On arrival in the Marquises the phone didn’t work anymore; ‘no network found’. We blamed this on the high mountain we were anchored under. 2 days after leaving the island the phone still didn’t work, but did start working again on the 3rd day more than 300nm away from the islands. Is the area around the Marquises not covered by the IsatPhone Pro?
    4) Two hundred miles SE of Tonga the phone again did not find a network. It was not our intention to stop in Tonga, but we were now obliged to alter our course and sail into harbour. Christmas was approaching and we could not leave the yachts’ owner or our families without our where-a-bouts for the time it would take to reach Australia. This also meant extra expenses and missing New Year in Sydney as the incident and the detour caused a time delay.
    5)Similar problems with the phone occurred on the delivery trip from Martinique to Portugal especially with sending sms’s and establishing a connection in the middle of the Atlantic, an area that should be covered.
    On the PLUS:
    The phone is lighter, more user-friendly, looks better and has a very practical built-in GPS.
    But the MINUS:
    * The phone is completly unreliable for professionals that use it in their work environment. The phone too often switches off or fails to get a connection;
    * I doubt that the phone has a truly global coverage. We had no network around the Marquises and Tonga Island. Yes, they are far removed from the polar region but we were told that all other areas are covered.
    So to all those in the market for a new phone, you only buy a satellite phone to use it when you have to. Your life might depend on it. I would suggest the following – don’t bother with the IsatPhone Pro, it doesn’t do the job properly. Pay a bit more and stick with Iridium.

  38. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Jan, Thanks very much for posting; you’ve obviously done much more testing of the phone than I was able to. What I wonder is if you might have a somewhat faulty unit, or if some of the service problems you encountered have been fixed. Hopefully more iSatphone Pro users like you will take the time to find this entry and add their two cents.

  39. mike says:

    I’ve had an iSatPhone Pro since early last year and have used it in a number of locations around the world. I’m a freelance photographer and have used it in Libya during the war, in Japan after the Tsunami/Earthquake, in the UK, and for testing in the US. I bought the phone with prepaid minutes and found it works in the US to receive text messages (I did not test receiving calls). I never had a hiccup with it, and it has always worked well for me, even with lots of trees around.
    Whilst it can be a bit annoying in the time it takes to get an initial GPS fix, I’ve found it generally takes no more than 20 or 30 seconds to obtain one again and place a call. Battery life on it is also very good.
    I’ve used the new Iridium 9555 also and though this is a lot bigger, the call quality is markedly better with virtually no echo or dropped calls. (I had to call the office during an emergency situation in Libya on the 9555 and the call quality was so poor my editor could barely understand what I was saying, even after numerous attempts. (And this was with 60-70% open sky).
    Even though it takes a while to place the initial call, I’d much rather have a phone that works when it has a signal and says it should, than one which is smaller, but only works part of the time. Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase and that I ditched the 9555.
    PS: It is £6 ($9.50) per minute to call an iSatPhone Pro from a Vodafone mobile phone. (I found out the hard way when I lent the phone to a friend).

  40. Lookout Sailors says:

    Iridium Communications announced today that it has brought its AxcessPoint Mail & Web app to iOS.

  41. Peter B says:

    regarding the prepaid plan being “fixed before the end of the year” – 2 years later and there still is no fix. This is a big issue for somebody like me who needs the phone only once or twice a year as a backup emergency tool. Even the 3-month subscription one vendor offers, plus minutes are a rip off when all you need is a phone good for a 911 call and maybe 60 minutes for 2 years on standby for non-life threatening use.
    This is June 2012: “Note: Prepaid units can not be used to make calls from within the USA due to a patent held by American Wireless Prepay company.”
    I’m probably going with a used Iridium phone, even if their prepaid plans are a rip off, but I’m also getting a phone that can call when there’s a rock face to the southwest of my injured body. basically, the price difference isn’t enough to have me buy an emergency tool that I may not be able to use because of their satellite position being obscured. If I have to buy annual plans for something sitting in my drawer, I’ll pay extra and get a phone that will work. Not an issue on open water, but I use the phone in the Sierras.

  42. damien says:

    Hello From Australia
    i brought this phone and used it quite abit in QLD and Victoria i do alot of motorbike riding in the middle of no where i have had to make a call now and then and each time i just blurt out quickly to not disconnect the call and wait for a delay due to me talking on a satellite phone
    the latest update *twitter + super fast GPS and network lock takes about 1 minute to have complete connection so 40sec gps lock and 20sec network connection
    its super fast now, i haven’t noticed any garble or bad voice sounds pretty good
    global star + iridium don’t work to well down here so inmarsat has done a good job at what they have done!
    data is also enabled up to 20kbps perfect for recieving and sending plain text emails and the gps is super accurate for the phone which is surprising
    works quite well in trees too even though it says it wont depending where you are you get full signal in most cases and or when i have made and received txt and emails get them very fast as well

  43. Pascal says:

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