Price Changes Looming from Iridium

Iridium has announced several changes to their postpaid pricing plans and prepaid plan philosophy. Most of the changes go in effect in the final quarter of 2012 or on January 1, 2013. Others, such as the expiration of prepaid minutes older than three years, are not implemented until December 2013. Lastly, Iridium is also announcing three new service offerings set to become available in the early part of next year. A summary of the impending changes are presented below.

Closure of Some Plans

  • The PostPaid 10/30/55 minute plans will be discontinued as of October 31, 2012. No new activations will be permitted under these plans after October 31. Current Postpaid 10/30/55 plan subscribers can remain on the plans through October 31, 2013. Subscribers remaining on these plans at that date will be transitioned to a basic postpaid plan by Iridium. (OCENS Note: Iridium tells us that early termination fees will apply if a 10/30/55 plan subscriber desires to move to another plan before the end of their prevailing contract).
  • SMS bundle plans are also closing on October 31, 2012. However, subscribers can transition to an alternative plan prior to October 31. Those who have not transitioned by November 1 will be migrated to a standard postpaid plan and associated plan fees will become effective with the January 2013 bill cycle.

Increases in Postpaid, Crew and Paging Monthly Access Fees

  • Monthly access fees for Iridium Postpaid plans are expected to increase during the January 2013 billing cycle. Iridium has not yet released to us the new fee structure. We will issue a follow-up post when the new pricing is available.
  • Monthly access fees for Crew and Paging plans are expected to increase during the July 2013 billing cycle. Iridium has not yet released to us the new fee structure. We will issue a follow-up post when the new pricing is available.
  • Usage (ie in most cases this means the price per minute you pay) rates are not changing.

Prepaid Plan Price Increases

  • Prepaid plan charges will increase on January 1. New prices are not yet available. We will issue a follow-up post as soon as the new pricing is released.

Prepaid Plan Closures

  • The CONUS and North American 800, 2500, 6000 and 30000 plans will be discontinued as of October 31, 2012 and no new activations under these plans will be allowed after that date. Customers presently on these plans will continue to remain active on these plans until the earlier of the account expiration date or the exhaustion of the minutes purchased. Once the account expires or the minutes are exhausted the sim is available for recharge with a standard Iridium prepaid plan. All minutes are lost if such a recharge is attempted before account expiration or minute exhaustion.

Prepaid Minute Expiration

Commencing December 17, 2013, prepaid minutes older than three years will be expired (a four year expiration applies to owners of 3000 or 5000 minute vouchers) on a daily basis. The change applies to all prepaid accounts except scratch cards or OpenPort GoChat cards.

The expiration process will be conducted on a daily basis by Iridium as follows:

1) The total number of minutes purchased more than three (3) years ago will be calculated;
2) If total prepaid minutes consumed during the lifetime of the account are greater than the number of minutes purchased three years ago, no minutes will be expired;
3) If total prepaid minutes consumed during the lifetime of the account is less than the number purchased more than three years ago, the difference between the total purchased and total consumed will be expired. Units will be expired at 2359 UTC each day.
4) Some sample minute expiration scenarios are depicted in the Addendum found at the end of this blog post.

This is a permanent policy change by Iridium.

Beginning February 2013, the number of minutes that may expire if not used by December 17, 2013 will be available to all subscribers by dialing 2888 or sending an SMS to 2888. After December 17, 2013, dialing or texting 2888 will provide the subscriber with the number of minutes that may expire if not used within the next six (6) months.

New Services from Iridium

  • Caller ID – Caller ID will be offered as an included feature for our voice service packages.
  • LBS1 ‐ A new entry level Location Based Service package called “LBS 1” with no additional monthly fee for active telephony subscribers, 1 KB of monthly data included, and usage charges for overage will apply.
  • LBS17 – A new high use, fee‐based Location Based Service package called “LBS 17” that will carry a higher monthly fee for active telephony subscribers, 17 KB of monthly data included, and usage charges for overage will apply.

OCENS will update our customers as further details on these price and policy changes are made available by Iridium. Of course, don’t hesitate to contact OCENS if you have immediate questions.

Addendum 1: Prepaid Minute Expiration Scenarios

 

 

Satellite Data Connections Explained

Here at OCENS, we often receive calls from customers having issues using data over their handheld Iridium, Inmarsat, or Globalstar handset. Of these calls, 99.99999998% of the time they end up being an issue with poor signal strength. So, today I thought we should help explain what’s occurring when attempting to use a data service over a handheld satellite phone and what kinds of things can affect having a successful connection.

First, let’s explain the differences between the satellite systems, or “constellations,” as the type of constellation has a lot to do with how your satellite phone interacts with it.

 

Satellite constellations for sat-phone services come in two flavors, LEO or GEO:

LEO stands for Low Earth Orbit and is what Iridium and Globalstar use. In a LEO constellation the satellites are orbiting the planet. Iridium’s constellation, for example, has 66 satellites that polar orbit (on a north-south-north orbit) at a speed of 16,832 mph. At that speed, it takes roughly 100 minutes for any given Iridium satellite to do a complete orbit of the Earth. To help bring this closer to home; at those speeds it means the satellites take roughly 9 minutes to move from horizon to horizon. Suffice it to say, those satellites are moving FAST.

The advantage of a LEO constellation is that you can have truly global coverage. No matter where you are located on the Earth if you have a clear view of the sky you will have a satellite available. The disadvantage, however, is that because the location of the satellites are constantly changing so is the quality of the signal. Also, various elements of the area around you can have a great impact on your signal as the location of the satellites change. We will discuss both of these issues in depth later in this post.

 

GEO stands for Geostationary. An example of a GEO constellation would be Inmarsat’s satellites. Inmarsat’s I4 satellites (providing service to their iSatPhone and FleetBroadband/BGAN systems) are a 3-satellite, High Orbit Geostationary constellation sitting at 22,240 miles above the Earth at the equator.

The advantage of a GEO constellation is that as long as you have “Line of Sight” to one of the satellites, your signal from the satellite is assured. The disadvantages of a GEO, however, are that if you lose “Line of Sight” to the satellite, you will never regain signal until you move to a position where “Line of Sight” is restored. Also, as you move to higher latitudes north or south the angle of your “Line of Sight” drops closer to the horizon and the distance through which your satellite phone must operate to reach the satellite increases.

 

Signal Strength

When talking about signal strength, it’s important to remember that it’s a two-way transaction between the satellite and your satellite phone. The “signal bars” that display on your phone show how well your phone can “hear” the satellite; but they do not, however, show how well the satellite can hear the phone.

When trying to explain the communication relationship between satellites and satellite phones, I like to use a reference involving two people having a conversation. One of those individuals is speaking in a normal tone of voice.  The other has a megaphone. It’s also important to remember that this communication is “Line of Sight” meaning that both parties have to be looking each other in the eye while having this conversation (kind of a funny conversation, isn’t it??)

When signal issues occur, it literally means one of two problems:

  1. Phone can not “hear” the satellite
  2. Satellite can not “hear” the phone

Of those two problems, the MAJORITY of the time it’s because the satellite cannot “hear” the phone because the return signal from the phone is always going to be weaker. Because of this it is much more susceptible to interference.

A popular area where this occurs is in places like a marina where there are an abundance of additional signals occurring within that space: radar signals, RF signals, WiFi signals, and even other satellite devices… all these things can affect the communication between your satellite phone and its constellation. If we go back to our example, imagine a room full of people all talking at the same time and you trying to have a conversation with the megaphone person located on the other side of the room. While you may be able to hear the megaphone clearly, it will be almost impossible to have an enjoyable two-way conversation given the difficulty megaphone man will have in hearing you.

Antenna placement can also affect your signal quality. If you place your satellite antenna too close to something like a radar antenna it’s like trying to have a conversation with a person standing right next to someone else that’s a chatterbox. Now apply the concepts of a LEO, where the satellite (person you are talking to) is constantly moving around the room.  You may be able to barely hear each other while the person is on one side of the room, but as you (or they) move in the direction of the chatterbox, a robust conversation becomes impossible.

 

The Differences between Voice & Data Calls

If you’ve ever called in and talked to one of our technical support people, you’ve probably heard us say that you need “at least 4 bars of signal” when attempting a data call. The reason for this is as follows:

In a voice call, information is sent as it’s created. As you talk, your voice is converted to a signal that’s “streamed” through the system to your recipient on the other end.  Signal strength and quality come into play in how much of your conversation is heard between you and the person you are calling. If you hear words being “chopped off” or “dropped,” or the call itself drops it’s because there is interference. HOWEVER, the over all assessment of the success of your conversation lie with you and your party on the other end. You decide if you understand what’s being said and when to end the call. (The caveat being a complete signal loss, where the call is then terminated.)

In a “Data Call,” however, a whole new set of rules apply. Data is transmitted in containers called “Packets” The majority of data transfers use a protocol called TCP, which stands for Transmit Control Protocol, to send these packets. It’s not really important within the scope of this article to explain all of how TCP works; but what IS important to understand is that this is a two-way rule. When a packet is transmitted, a confirmation is sent from the recipient back to the sender before the next packet is sent. If the sender never gets the confirmation, the connection is considered “Lost” and the data transfer fails. Doing this ensures that all the information requested is received correctly. Applying our example again, imagine having to follow these rules when having a conversation, while also having the “noisy room” conditions explained in the previous section. Kind of a difficult and daunting task, isn’t it?

Because of this TCP rule, signal strength and quality play a MUCH more important role in the ability to transmit data than they do in a voice call. If at anytime one party to a data call does not receive the confirmation it’s waiting for then the TCP rules state that the data is lost.  The data conversation terminates and you have to attempt the data call again, use more of your money, more of your plan’s minutes, and more frustration and headaches. Ensuring that you have the best signal possible when attempting a data call ensures that you have the best chance of making sure both parties in the conversation are able to successfully follow the TCP protocols rules.

 

Hopefully this post helps to better explain what’s occurring when you attempt a data call. If you have any questions, or if you would like to know how to improve your satellite phone’s ability to send data, please give OCENS a call.

Are you taking advantage of existing GPS technology for tracking and emergency messaging?

Most adventure travelers are well-versed in the world of GPS, but are you using this technology so that someone can track you while your are out trekking? This same technology could also help save you by sending a message to emergency response personnel that includes your GPS position.

A tracking portal, such as OTrak, is compatible with virtually any device that can send a GPS position report via SMS, email, or Short Burst Data (SBD). OTrak will receive the position report and place it on a map. It also allows you to set up automated alerts for multiple contacts with a variety of triggers including geofencing, start/stop, speed, and arrival/departure from a position.

Most current smartphones have built in GPS engines, however, when you are outside of cellular coverage areas, your only means of connecting is with a satellite phone. The designers of the new Iridium 9575 Extreme satellite phone included a powerful GPS feature that provides automated GPS position reporting and they also built in a SOS button that works off the same principle. When you push the SOS button, an emergency message is sent that includes your GPS position.

The important point here is to plan ahead and make sure you have a means to call for help when you are out as well as a means for someone to locate you. Current technology makes this capability that much easier and accessible.

You can see complete details and a live demo on OTrak here: http://www.ocens.com/OTrak-Asset-Tracking-Service-W33C28.aspx

Setting up your Iridium 9575 Extreme for SOS messaging

You can easily set up your Iridium 9575 Extreme satellite phone to send an SMS message, email, and call an emergency contact when in the Emergency Mode. Your phone goes into the Emergency Mode when you push the SOS button or manually select it from the phone’s menu. The following are the instructions on how to set up your 9575 phone for emergency messaging.

1. From your phone’s main screen, select Menu.

2. Select Setup

3. Select Location Options

4. Select GPS Options

5. Select GPS Update Options

a. Select the updating frequency you would like

b. Go Back to Location Options

6. Select Emergency Options

7. Select Emergency Actions. Select if you would like to Message and Call, Message Only, or Call Only.

8. Select Emergency Beep. Enable Emergency Beep if you would like the phone to beep while in Emergency Mode.

9. Select Message Recipient

a. Highlight the first entry and Select Options

b. Select Edit

c. If you would like to send an SMS message:

i. Select Enter Number

ii. Enter the emergency contact phone number you would like to send the SMS  message to when in Emergency Mode. Remember to always precede the phone number with 00 or the + sign, then the country code.

iii. Select OK

d. If you would like send an email:

i. Select Edit

ii. Select Enter Email

iii. Enter the email address of your emergency contact

iv. Select OK

e. Fill in the other two emergency contact entries if desired

f. Select Back

10. Select Call Recipient

a. Enter the phone number for the emergency contact you would like to call when in Emergency Mode. Remember to always precede the phone number with 00 or the + sign, then the country code.

b. Select Save

 

Now you are all set up to use the Emergency Mode on your Iridium Extreme 9575 phone!