Iridium’s decision to tie into Wi-Fi is a smart move (with related video)
It's good to see that mobile satellite operator Iridium is getting with the times.
The company announced today its vision for the future of personal mobile satellite communications. Dubbed Iridium Force, the plan calls for more-accessible and cost-effective Iridium technology so that its partners can develop a wider range of Iridium-based products and services. As a result, Iridium will be licensing both its core technologies and its satellite connectivity.
One key strategy is to extend beyond satellite phones by smartly incorporating Wi-Fi technology. The company is introducing new products and services that will enable Wi-Fi-equipped smartphones, tablets and laptops to connect to the Iridium global network.
The Iridium AxcessPoint is a Wi-Fi hotspot accessory that connects BlackBerry and Android devices to the network using an Iridium Extreme or Iridium 9555 satellite phone. Users of iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices, as well as those using Windows and Mac laptops, will need to download the new, free Iridium AxcessPoint Mail & Web application. Iridium AxcessPoint is expected to be available in the fourth quarter of 2011 with a suggested retail price of less than $200.
Those Iridium phone users traveling with laptops will be able to use the application with the Iridium Direct Internet software connectivity tool that turns any Windows laptop into a global Wi-Fi hotspot when connected to an Iridium Extreme or Iridium 9555 satellite phone. This in turn allows other Wi-Fi-enabled devices to access that hotspot.
Standard airtime charges apply, but the cost savings and productivity gains for remote users will be dramatic.
Iridium also is integrating GPS-driven location-based services. Via its Iridium Tracking Portals, customers now can access location-based monitoring, messaging and safety tools. Iridium said that more than 17 of its partners are creating customized online tracking portals using Iridium's open software platform. Capabilities include tracking an Iridium Extreme user's real-time status and location; zooming to street level via online maps; scheduling regular check-ins; providing emergency services; geo-fencing; and sending free-form, canned and social-network messages.
I applaud Iridium for the changes. Iridium's satellite phones are expensive — about $1,000 and calls can cost up to $10 to $15 per minute — but they do exactly what they are supposed to do: provide voice coverage where no other network can. That attracted a small cadre of folks who absolutely needed global coverage. Now, however, these new services and offerings should enable the company to target more multinational companies that are stymied by the labyrinth of expensive international roaming options. And the services should be attractive to employees who previously had to be quite savvy about searching for local Wi-Fi hotspots so that they could connect their smartphones and tablets — Wi-Fi is pretty much standard in these devices — in order to access e-mail and other data services.
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