Satellite phone (2)

The FedEx Home Delivery van rolled up our driveway four days after we ordered our Iridium Extreme 9575 satellite phone from Globalcom,  a company located in Dallas, Texas. After purchasing the Iridium phone online we eagerly followed progress of the FedEx shipment west. It arrived in our vicinity three days later and on the fourth day at 09:45 a.m. it arrived at our doorstep.

We purchased a bundled package called a “To Go” kit which also included a Pelican Case among a dozen other items. Unfortunately the Pelican Case didn’t arrive with the shipment so we quickly called the vendor to find out why. There was a dead silence for a few seconds (no doubt they were looking up the purchase order) followed by profuse apologies. The Pelican Case arrived by FedEx Home Delivery four days later, accompanied by a note expressing apologies. Apology accepted!

Included in the “To Go” package were two SIM cards. One for a post-paid account and the other for a pre-paid account. We chose the post-paid option because more services are available if one signs a contract for one year. The services were important to us because of the way we planned to use the phone. We chose the “no minutes” contract to get the cheapest option. I own a cell phone and don’t use it five minutes a month. I carry the cell phone primarily to use as an emergency communication device. Much of the territory where I roam doesn’t have cell towers so the cell phone is basically useless except for some of the apps. Most of the time the cell phone is turned off to conserve battery time. I expect to use the satellite phone the same way so there is no reason to buy a lot of minutes that will expire at the end of the month.

The first adventure with the new phone was to sit down with the instruction manual with phone in hand and figure out how to charge the battery. For unknown reasons Iridium engineers have chosen to make it necessary to charge the battery while the battery is attached to the phone. Think about this: they recommend buying an extra battery to provide additional battery time but one can only charge the battery while it’s inserted into the phone…  so when battery number one goes dead one inserts charged battery number two… and now how does one charge the dead battery? …seems to me like a good way to end up with two uncharged batteries. Fortunately after-market chargers that solve the problem are available.

One other minor complaint. The battery is locked into place on the phone by rotating a flimsy key mechanism. The battery and phone fit is very snug to provide a water tight seal. At first I had a problem with the fit until I removed a thick label glued inside the battery compartment. With the label removed the problem went away.

The battery must be removed to insert the SIM card. The directions in the instruction manual provided were unclear to me on how to accomplish that seemingly simple task. The diagrams in the manual did not look like what I was seeing inside the phone. Fortunately the down-loadable version of the manual provided a much more complete explanation of how to insert the card. The device that holds the SIM card must be slid forward and then rotated upward about 70 degrees. Insert the card into the holder and rotate the holder downward and slide toward toward the bottom of the phone… easy peasy.

Phone security in case of theft can be increased by removing the SIM card and keeping it on your person. The phone cannot be used without the SIM card and to activate a new card one would be required to submit the serial number of the phone so locating the stolen phone would be simplified. The SIM card is about twice the size of a postage stamp so I would be more concerned about losing or damaging the card.

So, battery charged, SIM card inserted, and phone activated I was ready to start pressing buttons. The keyboard looks similar to a standard phone but each button needs to fulfill a number of functions. Think about condensing your computer keyboard to a dozen keys and you will have some concept of the problem.  Iridium should issue a teenager with the phone. If you use one of the full featured cell phones you probably will have no problem figuring out how to use the satellite phone. For me I can only hope that practice makes perfect. Maybe I should have spent more time using my cell phone. By the time I get “MyPhoneBook” populated I will be an expert on entering data from the keyboard . It’s too bad the satellite phone can’t talk to my computer where entering data is infinitely easier.

Literature that comes with the satellite phone proclaims boldly (shouting with capital letters) that you must be outside, away from large structures and trees, with an 80% view of the sky when using the phone. I have successfully used mine while in the house sitting next to a window. Granted, I am sending short text messages (SMS) instead of voice calls but since that is how I intend to use the phone in the wild I have more confidence in usability during less than optimal conditions .  

One last complaint… the leather holster that came with the “To Go” kit is about two sizes too small for the Iridium Extreme 9575 phone. After some not so subtle stretching techniques I managed to squeeze the phone into the holster but I have serious doubts about being able to push buttons while the phone is holstered. Maybe with some minor modifications the holster will be usable.

more later…

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