September 21, 2006

Iridium for Email

I opted for sending and receiving email via an Iridium phone, instead of using SSB or Ham systems. One of the reasons was that we were pushing the hurricane season and we didn't have enough time for the difficult installation of a SSB radio, groundplane, antenna, tuner, etc. Another was cost. I could be up and running with Iridium for less than $2000, and no installation fees.

Well, like most things marine, the cost was more than I planned. The biggest problem was coming up with a connection between the serial port on the Iridium phone and the USB ports on my computer. After trying several different USB/serial adaptors, with none of them working, I purchased a PCMCIA card with dedicated serial cord. That solved the connection problem.

Another big expense was signing up for an email service provider. I could access my usual gmail or other account, but specialized providers have compression and other technologies that they claim greatly speed up email transfers. I ended up purchasing service from GMN, which I am generally satisfied with. A bonus is that when connected to WiFi ashore the transfer of emails is blazingly fast. Onboard the transfer is pretty slow, but I have managed to send seven emails and receive 14 in about a minute and a half of airtime, which translates to about $1.50.

I love getting daily weather via email even when offshore, and it is great to stay in touch with friends and family. So far I don't miss the SSB nets, but they could be useful at times. Ideally, I would like to have a SSB and an Iridium phone, but I think our choice of Iridium first proved to be the correct one. A huge bonus is the capability to make phone calls from anywhere (even the life raft), though the cost is too high for casual use.