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November 24, 2011

Iridium AxcessPoint Review

Iridium AxcesssPoint Review

Iridium's recent press release announcing the availability of the "First Apple iOS App Available on Iridium" has garnered its share of press from the general technology sites including CNET and Engadget.

As a long-time satellite industry veteran, it's always enlightening to see the comments on these sites from people unfamiliar with satellite phones. It's a completely different world than the rest of our interconnected internet and cellular data life. That's because most people live in places where they have at least some cellular connectivity. But there are millions who don't - they live, work and play where there is no cellular coverage either on land, while flying, or on salt-water. Satellite data service is for these people.

GMN is an independent satellite data specialist, and we work closely with all of the global Mobile Satellite Services providers, so we feel that our perspective will be useful to people considering the Iridium AxcessPoint solution.

The quickest way to get up to speed on the solution is to visit our Iridium AxcessPoint page, or the Iridium page. However, knowing the features and specifications is one thing. Understanding how they apply to different users and compare to other satellite data solutions is another.

What is the Iridium AxcessPoint?

The AxcessPoint is a device that creates a Wi-Fi hotspot with an Internet connection through a current Iridium phone. AxcessPoint Mail & Web software runs on customers computers or iOS devices to optimize email and web browsing so they get the most out of the narrowband (2.4 kbps) Iridium data service. AxcessPoint service is free with standard airtime rates. (Rates vary by provider, but generally a little over $1.00 per minute. See below) When you register for the free AxcessPoint service, you are issued a new email address. You can forward or fetch messages from other providers such as GMail, Hotmail, etc. so that you can use your Iridium address as a primary account without having to notify all of your contacts.

Who uses Satellite Phone Email, Web and Weather Data?

The intended user is someone who is outside of cellular coverage.?Iridium works everywhere on the face of the planet, and is the only only satellite provider to work at the poles, so this adds up to a fair number of people. These users are generally business or government workers in industries like natural resources (forestry, oil&gas exploration), ?field workers in sciences like biology/geology etc. or maritime users like commercial fishing, maritime transport, or live-aboard sailors. There are also many adventure travelers who need to stay in touch.

AxcessPoint for Laptop Satellite Data Users

Without the AxcessPoint, Iridium users can connect their phones to a computer using a USB cable. However, USB drivers are the number one support issue for this kind of customer, so the Wi-Fi makes it easier. There's also no firewall when connecting directly so machines will overwhelm the 2400 baud connection with things like Windows Updates. The AxcessPoint incudes a firewall so that the only traffic that goes through is compressed email, web-browsing and weather for particular programs.


AxcessPoint for Apple iOS users (iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone)

The big news with the launch of Iridium AxcessPoint is that now iOS users can connect to the AxcessPoint via Wi-Fi and have a great experience using email and a reasonable experience browsing mobile web sites through the Mail & Web app. The app works with Iridium servers to compress all of the data both ways, and has a couple of other features. First, it actually stores mail on the iOS device, unlike Apple Mail which largely just syncs mail requiring more data to be transferred each time. Secondly, it has smart size and attachment filtering to avoid large videos or powerpoint attachments from hogging the data feed.

Mobile Satellite Phone Data Provider Alternatives

Satellite data speeds using handheld phones are nowhere near cellular. Either you have it or you don't, although some rural providers (I'm looking at you Volcano Telecom) have data rates that are still in the 2.4 kbps range.

So let's look at the uncompressed throughput from the global satellite providers.


Iridium data service gives a consistent 2.4 kbps. Drops can happen, but they are generally rare, and AxcessPoint or our own XGate software make these insignificant as they will automatically restart the transmission mid-file. Iridium Airtime rates vary by provider, but ?can easily be had for just over $1/minute prepaid. Given that a 3-minute session will easily handle a day's email needs, and possibly some weather files to boot, it's a reasonable charge. Finally, Iridium is the only provider who offers an iOS app while using their service, and it's free other than standard airtime rates. Iridium handsets start at around $1100 USD. The AxcessPoint Device is around $200 USD.


Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro (GSPS) data service has a stated throughput of 2.4 kbps. Our testing places typical usage at closer to 1.2 kbps (though this speed varies and has potential for improvements as the service is new). Setup time takes longer than with Iridium. Once a data call is established, the signal is rock solid. ?Airtime pricing is lower than Iridium data pricing, but when speeds are factored in, for data service the net pricing is very similar. Handset prices are currently around $600 USD, but the choice remains complex depending on where and how you will be using your service.


Globalstar offers 9.6 kbps rates, but Globalstar still has many service drops as they roll out their new network. Again, for data, this isn't much of an issue when used with a program like XGate satellite email because of automatic signal detection and mid-file restart, ?but for voice it's still frustrating. The company is currently selling unlimited service for $20/month as a stop-gap measure until their constellation returns to full health. As of late 2011, potential buyers should do their research when considering Globalstar.


Thuraya IP service offers a stated speed of 9.6 kbps, but as they are a regional provider with no service in the US where our testing facility is located, we do not have any comments on the service. Several of our satellite email service customers use Thuraya IP successfully, so it may be something to consider if you only need service in those areas where they do business.

Higher-speed options

Speeds of 128kbps up to 484kbps can be had using larger, laptop-sized Inmarsat BGAN, or maritime optimized Fleet BroadBand terminals. For users who can afford the size and money, they're a good option, especially when used with compression software to save on airtime bills and give an experience that's much like broadband. However, not everyone has the space or funds for this option. BGAN terminals cost around $3,000 USD and Fleet Broadband terminals start around $6000 USD.

Satellite Phone Rentals

One other important note for those entering the satellite world for the first time is that there is a healthy rental business because so many people only need satellite service for a few weeks or months when they travel. Rental service is a good way to fill a short term need. Like many providers, GMN offers rental service, even though we don't promote it on our web site.

Iridium AxcessPoint Review Summary

For someone who needing email access outside of cellular coverage, particularly in a small, relatively affordable package, the Iridium phone/AxcessPoint/ Mail&Web software package, together with your iOS device, is a relative bargain. For someone needing small size at a ?price, an Iridium 9555 or Extreme phone, an AxcessPoint device and an iPod Touch gives you full access to email in the times and places when there are no other options. That makes the service a relative bargain.


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