Team Soltero: StarPilot, GMN, RedPort, Bliss & so much more

Bliss_anchoring_in_Pulpit_Harbor_cPanbo.jpgBehold the 39-foot trawler Bliss about to anchor behind Gizmo in Pulpit Harbor. She’s a custom Jay Benford design (based on a Cascade sailboat hull) that already turns heads, but note the cabin top presence of both Inmarsat FB150 and Iridium Pilot antennas (the latter formerly known as OpenPort, and tested for Panbo on VOJ). The serious satellite communications — and there are more devices less visible — are because owner/operators Luis and Kim Soltero have spent much of their thirty year marriage creating a remarkable portfolio of satcom services and devices, and they’re still at it. Yes, we had a Bliss/Gizmo geek rendezvous and it was a blast…

Kim_n_Luis_Soltero_on_board_Bliss_cPanbo.jpgActually, I’ve known Luis for a long time, though primarily as an authoritative resource whenever I was researching the intricacies of getting voice, email and data connections from beyond the coastal waters of well developed nations. Why a guy living in the mountains of Tennessee would focus so hard on such a subject was a bit of a mystery. But now I know that when he and Kim enjoyed a decade sailing around the Caribbean rim largely fueled by his IT consulting skills, communicating with clients was one of the major hassles…and thus a major motivation for the business they started ashore in 2002.

StarPilot_home_page_aPanbo.jpgBut the first Soltero marine product was created while still cruising and was motivated by a MicroLogic GPS failure that shook up many navigators in the mid 90’s. Luis coded the original StarPilot Celestial Navigation PC and calculator programs — which are still available today, along with electronic almanacs and new iOS celestial apps — and the StarPilot about page details the credentials he brought to the task. The project and marketing were done in collaboration with the esteemed Starpath School of Navigation, which seems like a good idea that the Solteros carried forward to GMN and beyond.

GMN_Global_Marine_Network_web_collage_cPanbo.jpgWhen Kim and Luis set up Global Marine Networks (GMN) outside Marysville TN, one of the first tasks was erecting an HF radio antenna tower that would hub a global network called XNet with stations as far away as Sweden. That technology did not survive much longer as a viable commercial service — GMN donated their HF equipment to SailMail in 2007 — but Luis’s XGate email and data compression service certainly remained useful with the still very low bandwidth satellite phones that superceded SSB on many boats. I first saw the XGate benefit with Globalstar and Iridium phones off Bermuda in 2007, and the much evolved software/service, including kissing cousins like OCENS mail, is still a large part of GMN. But you’ll also see that the company offers phones, hotspots, and airtime from all three of the major brands and has also turned its long, broad experience into a terrific satcoms Learning Center.

RedPort_web_screens_collage_cPanbo.jpgYou may notice that many of the products distributed and supported by GMN are shown as “manufactured by RedPort” which in fact is the latest realm of the Soltero empire. And it’s at the RedPort Global website that you can really see how deeply immersed into satcoms they’ve gotten, with Luis as CTO and Kim managing other areas of the businesses. RedPort has not just created satellite routers, trackers and terminals for vessels small to large, but also engineered software and/or hardware for Iridium, Globalstar, Inmarsat and more.

RedPort_Optimizer_Voice_w_Luis_Soltero_cPanbo.jpgHere’s Luis onboard Bliss showing me the RedPort Optimizer Voice router which can manage multiple crew, guest, etc. voice/data channels on larger vessels. He and Kim have definitely been enjoying their first cruise in Maine — Facebooked here — but the boat is loaded with circuit boards, prototypes, and development tools. There are also 15 employees to work with, including one overseeing manufacturing in China and another servicing Antarctic cruise ships from Chile. In fact, Bliss is constantly hungry for the sort of high bandwidth communications that only cellular and WiFi can provide at reasonable cost, and that’s a good thing.

RedPort_Optimizer_to_be_tested_cPanbo.jpgRedPort has already designed the RedPort Halo WiFi extender to pair well with the original Optimizer model (above with AA batteries only for scale). Like XGate, this seems to be a core Soltero creation. When I first covered this little router in 2012 it was trailblazing the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) concept, as in using your own phone, tablet, or PC to place satellite calls and SMS messages, not to mention manage emails, download weather files, and maybe peek at a web page. The Optimizer cannot only conveniently connect a sat phone to a smart phone, tablet, or PC via WiFi, but also provide a serious firewall so that apps like XGate and XWeb can work optimally, though an Iridium 2.4 kbps connection is still narrowband indeed and downloading even a “mobile” web page is tedious at best.

While the Optimizer includes boaty features like automated tracking and the ability to manage NMEA 0183 data streams that could help with coastal cruising as well as the bluewater kind, I’m also interested in seeing how advanced firewall management might help to improve the sometimes dicey WiFi and cell connections we experience along the coasts. I intend to try it on Gizmo, and am glad to add that Dave Skolnick is planning to review the Optimizer/Halo combo for Panbo.

I’m also happy to report that Luis got me squared away with the newly popular BYOD devices Iridium GO and Globalstar Sat-Fi that he helped to develop and that I had left in the “to test” locker for far too long. Furthermore, he is now testing cell boosters and marine antennas, and while the prime motivation is reliable Skyping and code file uploading as he cruises, there’s a possibility of new offerings in the GMN store or even new RedPort products. Bliss will no doubt look graceful as she heads back to the Chesapeake, but it’s busy in there.


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.

8 Responses

  1. Oceanplanet says:

    I had great help from Luis and Kim for both of my around the world races on OceanPlanet (Around Alone 02/03, & Vendee Globe 04/05). They are so knowledgeable and wonderful to work with…I owe them a dinner (at least) next time they are in Maine!! Or if they are still here…
    Thanks Luis & Kim!

  2. Milt Baker says:

    Luis has been a fantastic go-to resource on satellite communications for me for more than a decade. Over and over again, when none of the “experts” could solve a vexing satcom problem or issue for me, every time I turned to Luis he came through for me. Great to see him out cruising again, and I hope our paths will cross here in Maine!
    Milt Baker, Nordhavn 47 Bluewater, Deer Isle, ME

  3. Bill Lentz says:

    Louis I noticed mention that you will be testing various cellular based systems including bi-directional amplifiers.
    If I can be of any assistance with cellular bi-directional amplifiers I would be willing to pass along my experiences installing 2000 + BDA feed DAS systems for 3 US cellular companies. I have installed and tested many vehicle type cellular and WiFi systems in boats, law enforcement surveillance platforms, command and control vehicles and RVs.
    The best overall performing 3G & LTE mobile systems were cellular modems installed with the proper external antenna.
    I watched and enjoyed your You Tube video on the RedPort Optimizer.
    Thanks for sharing pictures of your trawler.

  4. The GMN WxA products have been essential in providing an Out of Band Management solution for my Oil and Gas VSAT customers. Excellent product, and excellent support!

  5. Ed Kelly says:

    We can attest to the great mind of Luis and his products, GMN and RedPort gear, and otherwise. We are budget ‘Chicken Sailors’ who were greatly helped by Luis and his products. Though we have far less skills than many here, and are basically ‘script kiddies” when it comes to understanding the internet, Luis, GMN (and Panbo) have managed to provide enough info and products to keep us going for 9+ years on Social Security and a tiny pension cruising on ANGEL LOUISE thru 48 countries on shores of 5 continents, including 2 Atlantic crossings. I was fortunate to bump into Luis last summer in Penobscot Bay in Maine and was so pleased to finally meet him in person while his boat was anchored not far from us! Great Guys with great products! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

  6. For those considering saving a few bucks by using the XGate/Redport competitor from Oceans, let me say DON’T. It simply is unusable. It will not resume broken downloads and worse, when talking to gmail, proceeded to mark messages as read and not downloading them, thus rendering them lost until a non-satellite connection was available. I am now back firmly in the xgate camp. It is well worth the money.

  7. Kim says:

    We are sorry to hear about your poor experience with OcensMail/OneMail products and very glad to hear that XGate is serving you well. Thank you for your comment!
    Did you know that XGate has full support for receiving emails from gmail and has had this feature for many years. The follow blog outlines two different ways to accomplish this:
    Please do not hesitate to contact Global Marine Networks technical support at [email protected] should you need assistance setting up your gmail through XGate.
    Fair Winds,

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sat Phone deal! Globalstar is giving away sat phones with certain service plans, and it looks like quite a deal. For instance, you can get the phone with 1,200 minutes of service you can use anytime next year for $780 plus a $50 activation fee:
    I understand that Globalstar phone service has improved a lot in recent years, and I’m sure that the folks at GMN can give good advice on just where the it’s reliable these days.
    And Iridium has a $300 rebate on new sat phones bought in the US…
    …both both deals expire on Dec. 31.

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