Iridium Extreme & AxcessPoint, they work as expected
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…
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…
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…
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.
Iridium Force: 9575 Extreme, AxcessPoint, & the 9523 Core
September 7, 2011
Global Satellite MCG-101, an Iridium PBX
April 2, 2009
Globalstar vs Iridium, no winner
September 4, 2007
Iridium’s GO! satellite WiFi and Globalstar’s mysterious SatFi
February 12, 2014