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Christian Nimsky's Weblog

Globalstar

Christian Nimsky

The family CTO role is more than buying new gadgets - you get to deal with stuff after it stops working.  A couple years ago when I worked far from home we bought two Globalstar phones so we’d have a way to communicate in a natural disaster.  We also like to use one for keeping in touch with family when we go places that normal cellphones can’t reach.  Over the past few months I’ve read about Globalstar’s satellite issues but I thought they were more theoretical.  On our last camping trip I found out firsthand that they are very real.

For those of you not in the know, Globalstar’s satellite constellation has been seeing degradations in duplex communications - duplex being the type of communication that is needed with a satellite voice handset as opposed to remote asset tracking.  There is speculation that solar radiation is the culprit, and on our camping trip we tried making a simple call - nothing urgent fortunately - and we could not get a satellite signal.  Thinking the tree cover was too thick we moved to open space but there was no improvement.

I later went to the Globalstar website and found this notice - essentially there is coverage in 10 to 20 minute increments and then you are “off” for 10-20 minutes.  They aren’t set to fix it till 2009 and they have some kind of calculator on their site to figure out when you can make calls.  This tells me that the performance of these phones in any kind of emergency scenario is at best suspect and for travel use they aren’t any good unless you have access to the internet to look up satellite availability (in which case you probably have other voice options).

So, now I have a single Iridium phone on order and the Globalstar handsets will be sold off.  The Iridium phones are more expensive but work anywhere and shouldn’t have these issues.  More updates when I get the phone.