What if you, a consumer or business user, could readily connect your laptop, smartphone or tablet from anywhere to Wi-Fi via a satellite? That's the scenario presented on Tuesday by satellite communications company Iridium Communications, which announced what it described as the first portable satellite hotspot.
The rugged unit, called Iridium GO!, connects with a satellite and generates a Wi-Fi zone for up to five devices within a hundred feet. The company, which noted that cellular coverage only applies to about 10 percent of the planet's surface, said GO! eliminates the need for a satellite phone, and works when terrestrial networks are unavailable.
To operate, the user raises the antenna, which turns the GO! device on. This automatically connects the unit to the Iridium via one of the company's 66 low-orbit satellites and sets up Wi-Fi. The unit is designed to also work with the new Iridium satellites that are expected to launch next year.
A GO! app on the user's smartphone, laptop or computer enables voice calls, text or the transmission of the user's location in emergency conditions. No special equipment for the user's devices are needed. The unit is designed to withstand rain, sand, dust or rough use, and there's a built-in SOS transmission function.
The unit, sized at 4.5 by 3.25 by 1.25 inches and weighing 10.4 ounces, is the company's most consumer-oriented product to date. But, rather than describing it as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, Iridium is pitching it as "a cell tower in your pocket."
Iridium CEO Matt Desch said in a statement that the product "enables people to use their own trusted devices," even when they are off the cellular grid. The company said that the product is not simply a product, but a platform for developers working in such areas as maritime, aviation, outdoor recreation or solutions.
The GO! Developer program is offering guidelines, access to platform APIs, and certification opportunities for apps to be featured on Iridium's Web site. Development partners currently include OENS for creating decision tools utilizing weather, ocean and fishing data, Global Marine Networks for maritime-optimized e-mail services, Satcom Direct for maintaining connectivity with passengers while in an airplane, and Appareo Systems for aviation and agriculture-related solutions.
Possible Use Cases
Additionally, DeLorme is developing GO!-related communication and safety apps, AIRSIS is doing the same for the energy and transportation industries, and JouBeh Technologies is working on Iridium OEM hardware and solutions.
In addition to military and first responders, the company envisions such use cases as backpackers carrying GO! in their bag so they can call or text back home or transportation workers in the field using GO! to link remote sensors to apps via satellite.
The product is expected to be ready by second quarter of this year. Pricing has not yet been announced, but speculation is that GO! will cost about $800 for the equipment plus monthly fees that could go as high as $100. In addition to its satellite network, Iridium also sells $1,000+ satellite phones and other communications equipment designed for out-of-the-way communications.