How is Iridium Next going to change the way we use satellite data?

Before we jump into the future let’s go back to the start, when Iridium first launched its fleet of satellites in 1997, with a vision that all people around the world will have a satellite phone, just as we use cellular phones today.

But Iridium failed to foresee the rise of the cellular networks offering MUCH cheaper rates and operational costs, with significant benefits for the consumer market Vs’ satellite services, like providing indoor connectivity.  

Changing Direction

Iridium realized that the vision of turning satellite phones to commercial  cell phone wasn’t relevant anymore, so they came with a new vision focusing  on areas lacking cellular coverage, while developing  products and services that will suit specific market needs, such as military and governments.

For the next 12 years, iridium was dominating these sectors. The military, governments, first responders, extreme adventures – all of them were using Iridium satellite phones for asset tracking, short messaging and data calls with rates of 2.4Kbps.

Are We finally going towards small factor modems with regular data rates?

The demand for higher bitrates and real data links is now the name of the game, and 2.4Kbps is no longer required. 

While satellite provides like Inmarsat offering BGAN’s with rates of up to 700Kbps, iridium had to come up with something that will keep her in the game.

in June 2010, iridium revealed its comprehensive plan for funding, building and deploying its next-generation satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT to replace the original Iridium constellation, with a new goal to provide Higher data rates, clear HD sound and more reliable connectivity.

The new constellation that was launch on October 2017 is similar to the old one, the constellation has 66 operational satellites, constantly orbiting the earth, reaching every single point on earth, Sea, air, land and even poles.

Although the voice quality was improved and provided better signal, the main objective remained was to achieve a “real” data service.

Introducing iridium CERTUS: iridium’s new data service.

The Certus service is iridium’s first “real” DATA service.

Unlike the old iridium data link that was at a maximum of 2.4Kbps, the new service supports rates of up to 1.2Mbps. (Currently supporting up to 712Kbps)

The main advantage that iridium has over her compactions is relatively low latency (around 400 MS), while standard BGAN’s on other networks stands at around 800MS.

Another significant advantage is the antenna design. Iridium antennas are fully electronic antennas, without any moving parts, allowing zero maintenance, and no mechanical issues.

These H/W support the Certus service: 

Certus Transceivers

The Certus transceivers have 2 models:

1. The iridium Certus Midband 

Features a small Transceiver (bigger than SBD units, but still quite small)

That can reach speeds of up to 22Kbps – 88Kbps and can work with a strict power budget.

As for today, there is no commercial hardware that uses this Transceiver, but some vendors are working on creating solutions based on that transceiver.

For example, we are expecting to see a Smartphone embedded with this transceiver, allowing a hybrid unit, with both iridium DATA, Voice line and cellular connectivity.

2. The Iridium Certus Broadband

Features a bigger transceiver, and a bigger antenna.

This Transceiver is coming to compete with traditional BGAN’s.

Unlike other common BGAN’s on other networks, this Transceiver allows vendors to create terminals with electronic antennas. No moving parts and no need to point the unit to the satellite.

This transceiver is already implemented in a commercial product called MissionLink and VesselLink

These terminals offer a permanent installation on land and see, allowing them to access the Certus network.

Personally, I think that iridium Midband Transceiver are going to change the market.

while bigger modems already exist, there isn’t any reliable solution for small terminals, that don’t require pointing and that can work on a limited power source like batteries for example and provide bandwidth of more than 2.4Kbps.

Once these transceivers are out and running, I see a real potential, especially in the IOT world and even on the UAV and USV world, where there is a real demand for such Transceiver that wasn’t exist, until today.

So, if you ask me, that’s what’s coming NEXT.



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