Icom announces new satellite PTT radio on Iridium system, RoIP gateway
Icom recently announced the IC-SAT100, a handheld satellite push-to-talk (PTT) radio that leverages the Iridium satellite system to enable communications worldwide, according to a company official.
Jim Backeland, executive vice president for Icom Canada and Icom America, said the IC-SAT100 will provide some unique characteristics to the PTT marketplace.
“It’s a radio system, and you can simply think of Iridium satellites as towers that are 432 miles up in the air, where you talk virtually anywhere in the world—even pole to pole, if you wanted to,” Backeland said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications on the eve of the IWCE 2019 event in Las Vegas.
“It’s a little bit different than anything else that’s out there right now. There’s the Iridium Extreme and there’s the Iridium Extreme PTT, which is a satellite phone that was modified for radio applications, but it didn’t exactly meet the requirement of what the users wanted as a radio, because it was a compromise of being a sat phone. What we’ve done is develop a true radio that will operate through that system, but it’s a radio only. You can’t do any satellite phone calls; it’s a one-to-many type of device.”
Iridium supports a constellation of 66 satellites that constantly move 432 miles above the earth’s surface. By partnering with Iridium, Icom can realize coverage and performance advantages that would not be possible with other satellite systems, Backeland said.
“The biggest advantage of Iridium is that it’s the only system that provides true worldwide coverage,” he said. “You could have someone at the North Pole talk to another person at the South Pole; there’s no other system that’s going to do that.
“The delay on this system is about 500 milliseconds—the same as it would be for any trunked radio system that currently exists as a terrestrial. With every other satellite system, you’re looking at much longer delays, because you’re going up 300,000 kilometers instead of 500 miles—a huge difference.”
Backeland said the IC-SAT100 will provide very good voice quality—”just like talking on your cell phone now”—and will be more rugged than existing Iridium devices.
“It will be a MIL-spec radio, and that’s one of the reasons we partnered with Iridium on this,” Backeland said. “The device that they were using was a compromise. It was the Iridium Extreme 9575, which is a sat phone, and there is a PTT version of that. It was never really designed to be a really rugged device, and they have had some issues with it.
“We designed one as a radio from the beginning, and that’s all it does. So, it will be MIL spec, waterproof and rugged. That’s not to say that you can’t break it—people will find a way to break everything—but it will be a much more rugged device than currently exists right now [on the Iridium system].”
Global regulatory bodies and Iridium are completing testing of the IC-SAT100, Backland said. The new satellite PTT device is scheduled to be released in Japan next month, and the product should be available in other parts of the world during the middle of the year, he said.
“We’re targeting a price point of about $1,000,” Backeland said. “The current Iridium PTT unit right now retails on the street for about $1,600, so this will come in at a lower price point.”
The satellite airtime rates for the IC-SAT100 will be the same as other Iridium devices, Backeland said.
“Typically, for a one-year commitment, you’re looking at $69 per month,” he said.
“If you compare the [IC-SAT100] pricing and the airtime to what people are paying for P25 radios, it’s actually less.”
Potential customers for the IC-SAT100 include emergency-management, disaster-relief and energy-exploration users that need to communicate from locations where terrestrial communications have been destroyed or do not exist, Backeland said. Meanwhile, Icom is seeing a philosophical shift in many traditional LMR user groups, he said.
“What we’re finding—and this is even related to the LTE [radio from Icom that was unveiled at IWCE 2018] is a lot of governments now are not really interested in developing their own infrastructure,” Backeland said. “They spent hundreds of millions of dollars [on an LMR system] and, every 15 years, it has to be updated. It has to be maintained, and there’s a huge expense to that. They would rather just lease air time.
“That’s why I see a lot of things going (1) to LTE, because the infrastructure is already there; and (2) here’s another case where there is no LTE coverage, the SAT100 radio system would work. In the long term, the systems already exist—they’re already being maintained, they’re always being updated. So, for some agencies that are fine with not having complete control of their system—and there are quite a few of them—it’s a big price advantage.”
Of course, there are exceptions to the trend, Backeland said.
“The difference will come in, say, public safety, where they need the control, they need the security, and they need to know that nobody else is using this [network]—that’s where it’s going to be different,” he said. “But even with the SAT100, I do see applications in the military.
“Where the SAT100 will come in is maybe with other military applications that aren’t tied in exactly the same—when they are in a remote area and just need to talk with each other. It doesn’t have to be super secure, although it has AES 256 encryption.”
Because IC-SAT100 push-to-talk communications are controlled by Iridium servers, there is inherent interoperability with other Iridium PTT devices, Backeland said.
For broader interoperability—such as with LMR and LTE systems—Icom announced the VE-PG4, a radio-over-IP (RoIP) gateway that is based on LTE technology, according to Backeland.
The big advantage of it is that—because it is LTE—you do away with all of the IT networking and VPNs—you’re basically using our private LTE Connect system,” Backeland said. “It does run through carrier towers, but we have a custom APN that goes literally through our cloud servers. I can have these devices sitting anywhere where there’s cell coverage and link anything together anywhere.
“I don’t have to tie it into the Internet, I don’t have to get an IT professional to hook this up. I just plug my radio into it, configure it to multiple different devices. So, I can have an avionics radio, a marine radio, an LTE radio and a P25 radio all talking to each other through the system.”