Panbo

Iridium Extreme & AxcessPoint, they work as expected

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Sep 11, 2012
Iridium_Extreme_n_AxcessPoint_hardware_cPanbo.jpg

In July I tested the Iridium 9575 Extreme satellite phone and the AxcessPoint WiFi hotspot accessory that we first discussed here a year ago. Why haven't I written about it sooner? Well, this summer went by in a flash thanks the PBR, family, and my efforts to prepare boat and home for Gizmo's southern sojourn (starting this weekend!). Plus I wasn't really wowed by this gear, though in retrospect I wonder why...

I mean, holy cow, here's a tough IP65 phone that can not only make and take calls and texts anywhere on the planet, but also track your exploits and single-button alarm the SAR people if things go bad. And with the AxcessPoint attached by USB you can take care of email, download small weather files, and even get on the Web with most any WiFi device you've got, and still be completely wireless (except for the USB cable). But, holy cow, we've been so spoiled by smartphones and tablets with their fast cellular data and the wonderful world of apps that use them. The result: While it's hard to imagine products that could squeeze any more utility out of the Iridium satellite system, you're apt to be disappointed unless your expectations are calibrated to Iridium's profoundly low data speeds and the fact that sat phones are a niche that simply can not compete with smartphone slickness. Plus the precious multi-modal global connectivity that Iridium does offer will definitely cost you... 

AxcessPoint_for_iPad_cPanbo.jpg

So while the Extreme itself costs around $1,500, it still has an old school look and feel, and you'll find yourself with a bag of extra pieces even before you add the $200 AxcessPoint. In the top photo, for instance, you can see the two adapter bases that come standard (and apparently change that IP65 water and dust rating). One adds USB and a power connector, the other adds the same plus a TNC plug for the included remote vehicle antenna. Then there are the various charger bits mentioned on Iridium's "what's in the box" page, though they don't mention that the AxcessPoint uses a different power plug and doesn't come with a 12v charger. That's probably because it's actually a (software modified?) CradlePoint PHS300 Personal Hotspot, but don't freak out about the 400% markup!  AxcessPoint includes a (lifetime?) subscription to AxcessPoint Mail & Web (APMW), and that's a pretty big deal, especially when compared to the cost of the Global Marine Networks (GMN) XGate and XWeb services it's based on.
   It's this whole ecosystem of hardware and software that can maximize Iridium's pathetic 2,400 bits per second data rate, but it didn't quite click for me at first. The collage above show the AxcessPoint iPad app's Main and Mail screens but note how the Connection Control dialog shows my iPad disconnecting from the router a few seconds after hooking up. And meanwhile the Xtreme had started counting service minutes from the moment I plugged in the USB cable! After much manual skimming, rebooting, and grumbling I got impatient and asked for help from GMN's Luis Soltero. It turns out that the AxcessPoint comes configured without a firewall and so it immediately goes online until it's reprogrammed by APMW software, a simple one-time move but not an obvious one if it fails the first time...

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At any rate, the data system worked pretty well once I got my firewall in place. The Extreme 9575 didn't make a connection until I told it to with an APMW app, and if desired I could see every little step in the maze of connections between me and the Internet, as seen above in the Android version of AxcessPoint Mail and Web with diagnostics turned on. Emails were delivered and received pretty quickly, and with little airtime used, as were small attachments. And of course APMW, like XGate and other narrow-band email systems, lets you filter out large attachments and preview them before committing to a download...

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Heck, I even browsed the Web a bit via Iridium; admittedly it was painfully slow, but the last time I tried it I gave up. However, I was also reminded how variable an Iridium connection can be, especially if your antenna doesn't have a full sky view. Those little satellites really move and Luis told me that APMW likes a five bar connection and that the little remote vehicle antenna wouldn't help. Thus I had my best data experiences with the phone and router up on Gizmo's flying bridge and I get why the app Weather4D Pro can show you when the next Iridium bird will pass over (great article about using 4D Pro with Iridium here).
   I should also mention that the Extreme's text messaging and voice calls worked find, though of course there was that slight "Iridium slur" in the audio. The big news, though, is that AxcessPoint can take the hassle out of the data connection -- excepting for that initial firewall problem I had -- and maximize its performance. Which makes sense given that it has the phone drivers built in and can firewall the very skinny Internet connection well. And note that there's an alternative to AxcessPoint and that's GMN's own wXa-102 Optimizer, well explained by Dr. Soltero in these videos.  In fact, as you may surmise from all the satellite gadgetry on that desk below, the videos explain a lot about the delicate business of narrow band data communications, whether via Iridium, Inmarsat, or whoever.

GMN_Luis_Soltero.jpg

Comments

Hi Ben

I'm sorry if I'm being a bit pessimistic here but it didn't work out of the box and it doesn't work with the vechicle antenna? Thats not really up to scratch from Iridium. I also noted you omitted any mention of the GPS capability and more importantly the ability to track the phone remotely, which is one of the features my customers have been waiting for.

I'm also not sold on the WIFI connectivity - for me the ability to download GRIB files and some SST information is great, but I dont know a single customer who will be doing this on an ipad instead of their nav computer.

I would be 1000% happier if they spent some money developing a faster data transfer rate and a decent vehicle antenna.

Posted by: Robert at September 11, 2012 3:56 PM | Reply

I don't think I'll be upgrading from my dinasaur 9500 anytime soon, based on this...

Posted by: winds aloft at September 11, 2012 10:32 PM | Reply

I need to clarify, Robert. The phone worked just fine out of the box, and the AxcessPoint might have too except that something didn't go right the first time I ran the AxcessPoint app. It should have set up a firewall -- and apparently does for most users -- but I needed help.

I should have noted that AxcessPoint Mail & Web software is also available for Windows and Mac PCs. As long as the PC can WiFi directly to the AxcessPoint or via an onboard WiFi network, it can work fine, again without loading special drivers but with a very secure firewall to keep other programs on the PC from trying to get online.

The GPS on the Extreme worked fine and it's easy to send a position with a text message. I didn't try the tracking and am not sure how much Iridium has developed that feature, but inReach like web tracking certainly is possible.

Also, Iridium IS working on a next generation satellite system, with first launches planned for 2015:

http://www.iridium.com/About/IridiumNEXT.aspx

Posted by: Ben in reply to Robert at September 12, 2012 7:33 AM | Reply

Hello ALl,

This is Luis from Global Marine Networks.

As mentioned above in the objections the AxcessPoint WiFi is initially configured to connect to the internet wihtout software. This allows users that don't want to use optimization software (or use optimization software that don't directly support the link control in the device) to work out of the box. The down side of this factory configuration is
1. the fact that the firewall is not configured
and
2. the fact that there is no link management.

The first time your run AxcessPoint Mail and Web the software "fixes" this.

Also note that this particular device only works with WiFi which is a valid objection.

Those of you who are concerned with these to factors should seriously consider the GMN/RedPort Optimizer which Ben mentions above with a link. Here is an alternate link
http://www.globalmarinenet.com/satellite-phone-data-optimizer.php

The advantages of the Optimizer over the Iridium WiFi include
1. Link control out of the box... So the you wont have the initial setup issue that Ben ran into
2. 2 ethernet ports plus WiFi. So you can directly connect the device to your computer through one of the ethernet ports.
3. works with legacy iridium devices (including the 9500 mentioned above) using the USB to serial cable option.
5. supports linux, mac, window, iOS, and Android
6. has a built in firewall which blocks ** EVERYTHING ** except optimized web and mail traffic.

The Optimizer also works with the Iridium OpenPort, FBB, BGAN, and isatphone.

Note that iridium Next narrow band will be rated at about 64kbps which with compression will give users much faster data experiences. Currently the raw rate for iridium is 2.4kbps.

take care.

--luis


Posted by: luis soltero at September 12, 2012 10:47 AM | Reply

I have an Optimizer (wxa-102) and an older Iridium 9505 that co-exist wonderfully together. Both operate on 12 volts so are perfect on the boat.

Posted by: Bob Etter at September 12, 2012 2:30 PM | Reply

in Norway we can get 128kb/sek on this one on what they call Open Port.

http://www.maritimradio.no/site/main/index.php?page_id=836

use googel to translate from Norwegian.

Or have i miss under stud something ?

Posted by: Geir Ove Bø at September 16, 2012 6:58 AM | Reply

Is this the best way to get email on a transatlantic? I really just want weather gribs and will not use the system after this passage for another year. Any thoughts?

Paul Shard
SV Distant Shores II

Posted by: Paul Shard at October 8, 2012 2:42 PM | Reply

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