Iridium joins Globalstar in pursuing consumers with satellite Wi-Fi

Satellite firm Iridium is launching a mobile hotspot called Go that creates a satellite-backed Wi-Fi zone and can work anywhere around the globe. Iridium's announcement comes hot on the heels of a similar one last week from rival Globalstar, which unveiled Sat-Fi, a new voice and data service that enables customers to connect their Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, tablets and laptops to Globalstar's satellite network when they are outside of cellular coverage.

Both firms acknowledged the benefits to enterprises and traditional satellite customers, but the focus for both offerings seems to be on the consumer market. Iridium's press release notes that its Go hotspot will let users "make calls, get their email, text and use some apps, even when terrestrial networks are non-existent, unreliable or costly."

However, there are some clear drawbacks to such services. The data rates the services deliver will be much slower than LTE and even HSPA and CDMA networks. Additionally, it likely will be expensive. Iridium has not revealed service pricing for the Go hotspot, but according to Bloomberg, low-end service plans are expected to start at about $35 per month, with unlimited plans running about $130 per month.

Iridium CEO Matt Desch told GigaOM that Iridium's resellers will ultimately set their own rates, but he said standard plans might include metered options for $35 per month and an unlimited voice and data option for $115 per month. Desch said a $35 plan could potentially include150 emails, 15 voice minutes and a preset amount of weather updates and picture uploads.

Additionally, Iridium said its Go device, which will be available during the first half of 2014 through select Iridium distribution partners, will cost around $800. That's less expensive than some of the company's satellite phones, which can go for more than $1,000. For consumers who want service in remote areas--say, on a mountain climbing or hiking trip--that cost might just be worth it. The service could also be used on a rental basis.

"We want to expand our market," Desch told GigaOM. "Our goal is to move beyond the emergency responder and people working in the field overseas. … We can attract more consumers with a need for [always available] connectivity and maybe even some business users."

Meanwhile, Globalstar claims its Sat-Fi service will enable users to send and receive communications over Globalstar satellites, but they will be able to keep their existing phone numbers as well. The service will work via an app and a Sat-Fi satellite hotspot that will link mobile devices to the company's mobile satellite services (MSS) network. Globalstar is awaiting final FCC certification of Sat-Fi, which should arrive next quarter.

The promise of making satellite service more portable could open up new opportunities. "In the past, you'd bring suitcases of equipment," Jose Del Rosario, research director at Northern Sky Research, told Bloomberg. "The difference now is it's in an inexpensive platform, so consumers can all afford it. That is the game changer. It's making satellite connections affordable. Therefore, you have a larger target market."

For more:
- see this Iridium release
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this GigaOM article
- see Engadget article

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