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August 03, 2012

Success Using Optimizer Plus Iridium for Email and Weather at Sea

Recently GMN received the following email about installing and using the Optimizer with an Iridium phone for email and weather at sea.  We think it has great value and received permission to reprint it verbatim.  Enjoy!

Zangezi uses Optimizer and Iridium for satellite email and weather resized 600

Hi Luis,

I just wanted to follow up with you on the install of the Optimizer for our Iridium phone and thank you for your recommendation. After struggling with connecting my MacBook to the Iridium phone via RS-232, I decided to take your advice and purchase the Optimizer instead. It was a breeze to install and worked right away! Great product, and along with the XGate service, I'm really happy that we can now stay in touch with family and get our weather files while offshore.

Here's a blog post about my experience with your products:

Best regards,

Doug Hibberd
s/v Zangezi, Brisbane, Australia

The blog follows:

I’m happy to report that we now have a solution up and running on-board Zangezi for sending and receiving email and downloading weather data while at sea. This is a project that I have been working on for some time, and required quite a bit of research and experimentation to arrive at our final solution.

I originally looked into using one of the new satellite broadband systems but the data transfer charges (around $15/megabyte) were just not practical, so in the end I decided to stick with our existing Iridium phone and install a data gateway and email compression software from Global Marine Networks (GMN).Testing the Satellite Email System.  resized 600


Testing the satellite email system. The little white box next to the computer is the Optimizer. The Iridium handset is at the right hand side of the photo. The XGate software is running on my MacBook.

This solution uses a data interface between any computer (or iPad) running the XGate email software and an Iridium phone, plus an email account and subscription to the GMN email service. Our Iridium phone has an RS-232 data port, so I originally tried using a USB-Serial adapter between the MacBook and the phone, but I had a lot of problems getting it running, and I didn’t like the idea of having to keep the drivers and software for the USB-Serial adapter up to date on my computer, so instead I tried a new product from GMN they call an Optimizer.

The Optimizer handles the serial communication with the Iridium phone, and knows how to connect to the XGate email service. It has a built in WiFi interface so any computer or iPad/iPhone can connect to it over WiFi. Once connected, I use the XGate software to handle reading, writing, sending and receiving email. XGate provides compression and attachment management so it reduces the connection times needed over the sat phone, so is quite economical. The Optimizer also blocks any non XGate network traffic, so virus scan programs and the infamous Adobe updater can’t establish an expensive and unnecessary data connection to the Internet. The installation of the Optimizer was super easy, and everything just worked with no hassles or complicated configuration.

Optimizer Installation resized 600


Here’s the Optimizer installed in its permanent home in the cupboard under the Nav Station. The cable at the bottom runs over to the Iridium transceiver RS-232 port.

This solution won’t work for browsing the Internet (it’s just not fast enough) but it will allow us to keep in touch with our family and friends and download weather forecasts. And since Iridium has global satellite coverage, we can stay connected no matter how remote we happen to be.


Luis Soltero, CTO Global Marine Networks Comments:

As stated in the blog web browsing over iridium can be challenging. The Iridium link runs at a nominal raw rate of 2400 bps which means that you can transfer a total of 15 Kbytes or so per minute. With web sites these days being large ( is 1.2Mbytes) this means that it is not practical to use this technology to browse the internet. 
Having said that it is possible to do limited web browsing. GMN's XWeb product provides up to 5x acceleration for browsing. This means that the amount of data transferred from a webserver over iridium when using XWeb can be on 75Kbytes. This allows for reasonable browsing of many mobile sites including The home page for mobile cnn usually displays in about 30 seconds when using iridium.  
Also, websites which don't have much graphics or are mostly textual can also be browsed without too much difficulty. 
So... it is possible to browse the internet using XWeb, Optimizer, and Iridium if users spend some time selecting which sites are valuable enough to expend the airtime on. 

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