Globalstar Introduces Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot

By Doug Mohney June 23, 2014

This week, Globalstar becomes the latest satellite company to offer a Wi-Fi hotspot. But the device might be beyond anyone but the serious connection-minded.

Wireless hotspots based on cellular networks have been available for years.  Only recently has the satellite industry started playing catch up and it shows in the features and speeds offered through each service providers' devices.  There's also a trade-off between mobility and high-speed.  You can have an easily portable satellite broadband connection, but you aren't going to be pumping multimegabit speeds without a dish antenna.

At a list price of $999, Globalstar's Sat-Fi  device falls into the "no dish, but portable" category. The box-shaped device (16 cm x 16 cm x 6.1 cm) offers data rates of 9.6 Kbps, plus the ability to support SIP voice calling and SMS texting with the use of soft clients—but only one voice call at a time.  Wi-Fi support includes 802.11 b/g/n at a range of up to 100 feet, depending on the band, and up to 8 users at once.  

Satellite connectivity requires a small antenna, with three options for pole or magnetic mounted.  As you would expect with a portable device of this type, Sat-Fi can be powered through AC or DC power, with a 12v DC car adapter included.

Sat-Fi's soft client is probably the most interesting part of the package.  Available for Android, Apple iOS, Mac, and Windows, the soft client enables simple 10 digit dialing, caller ID and access to the onboard contact list of a smartphone.  Support for both voice and SMS is included.  

SIP calls are made using 9.6 Kbps.  Don't expect HD voice quality, but Globalstar boasts the highest quality satellite calls due to a combination of higher bandwidth—competitors such as Iridium Go use a paltry 2.4 Kbps—and a low-flying satellite constellation to cut out transmission lag.  The company recently launched a new set of satellites and is eager to get more paying minutes onto the network.

Speaking of minutes, you also need to buy either a monthly or yearly service plan to use the Globalstar satellite network.  A basic 40 minute plan will cost $50 for activation and $40 per month, with additional voice/data at $0.99/minute.  Unlimited minutes cost $150 per month; at 9.6 Kbps, you aren't going to be downloading movies from iTunes.

Globalstar is pitching Sat-Fi to any vertical going beyond the reach of cellular, including energy, marine, emergency management, construction, and transportation.  But even deep-pocket verticals will have some second thoughts in purchasing the device, given Globalstar is effectively giving away its low-cost satellite phones if you sign up for a 24 month contract.  It is likely the $999 list price will be weakened over time with discounts to around $500 as the company works to sign customers to long-term contracts.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Editor

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