11 June, 2012

Satellite Phones and Software - Iridium 9555

Being able to communicate any time and anywhere is a very reassuring thing especially if one is way out on the blue ocean. Sailor of old left dispatches at the last port hoping that another vessel would pick them up and deliver to the destination before they reached their home port. With the invention of the radio it improved the communication although the radio operator on the Titanic did not get through to save the passengers and did go down with the ship. 

The development of the SSB radio again improved the communications between ship and shore but more importantly between ship and ship especially the different nets that have sprung up around the world as yachts start to gather in different places. I enjoyed the Med Net on 8122Mhz every morning while sailing in the Mediterranean. It formed a sort of sailing community indifferent locations. 

The advent of sailmail and the ability to send and receive emails via a ground station and your SSB with a pactor modem again took a large step forward in assisting the communications loop.
With the advent of the satellites and the addition of the Sat phone the communications improved one big step for yachties and mankind. The cost of using the service as is, is very high, so one turns to technology to assist you save a buck or two. Here is where the fun starts. Compression technology is old hat both on disks, phone lines and over the airwaves so developing some software to communicate using a sat phone should be a simple task standing on the shoulders of others in the open source environment.

Just do a search of the web and you are inundated with entries from just one company. It offers a range of tantalising software on various platforms dominated of course by windows but also includes Linux. Well download the software and try and install it according to the obscure reference in the install manual and all you get is an icon on your Linux desktop! X marks the spot for nothing to happen. It wont load using the standard install process. Contact the support help desk and you get initially an email to read the manual and then told to use some outdated installer given away more than three years ago. When challenged why not use a more appropriate modern install all you get it read the manual and a picture of the X software running on a 2008 platform on a virtual machine as the Root user. Well what can one say. Get real and if this is the level of support one gets from a vendor think what it will be like when you really have a problem and your hard earned money is ticking away each second. 

ON THE OTHER HAND an alternative vendor who U all know because it has been around since Adam does respond immediately even on a Sunday night with good advice. So after a few commands and a removal of some offending software the Linux installation of the communication software under Linux works just fine and I can download a GRIB file, send a SMS and email to anyone, any where and any time. 
While I'm still not ecstatic I am now more secure using my Linux Ubuntu in foreign countries sitting in Internet caf├ęs or sending unsecured messages to the web using software and an operating system not often used by the spammers and hackers of the world because of its in built security.

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