Test Center adventure: Phone and data off the grid

Inmarsat's satellite data service and the highly portable Thrane & Thrane Explorer 500 can connect you wherever you happen to be, or not be

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The Explorer 500 also has satellite phone capabilities. Connect any analog phone to the RJ-11 jack, and if you have a signal you'll get a dial tone. This essentially turns that analog phone into an international satellite phone, requiring the user to dial a country code before the number. I made around 30 minutes of test calls, with few issues other than the latency. When it takes a second or two for your voice to reach the other party (and vice versa), you wind up stepping on sentences from time to time. Overall, however, the audio was acceptable. There's also a facility to send and receive SMS messages through the device.

There are a few system utilities that can be used with the Explorer 500. There's a configuration utility called Launchpad that assists in aiming, configuration, and stream creation, as well as an IP driver shim for Windows and Mac OS X that adds compression and QoS to attempt to speed up data access through the device. For extended use, these may come in handy, but I was more than happy just using the Web interface of the Explorer 500 for the configuration.

The costs are not for the faint of heart, with the $6- to $7-per-megabyte rate for data and roughly $1 per minute for phone. But when you figure that you can communicate with anyone from literally anywhere, with or without mains power, the BGAN service is actually rather inexpensive. The Explorer 500 lists for $4,400, but can be had for $3,600 or less.

Mobile satellite services aren't really designed for day-to-day use, but for someone who needs to be connected in places where even cell phones don't work, they're the only option. And with a service like Inmarsat's BGAN combined with such a small and capable device as the Thrane & Thrane Explorer 500, it's a very attractive candidate.

This story, "Test Center adventure: Phone and data off the grid," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobility and networking at InfoWorld.com.

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