Iridium Next and backwards compatibility: what does that even mean? Iridium is in the process of launching their new satellite constellation, Iridium Next, and the service on Next will be Iridium Certus. Multiple new data speed service levels and new hardware terminals are slated to hit the market over the course of the next two years, but what about everyone who already has invested in Iridium equipment, you may ask? Enter the technical term "Backwards Compatibility" or in layman's terms, the ability of older equipment to work on new satellites.
Better Reliability and Quality of Service
It is no secret that the existing Iridium satellites struggle to maintain reliable voice and data connections, to the ire of many Iridium users. From my perspective, in working with Iridium customers every day, it can be extremely frustrating to turn on a device, wait sometimes for several minutes for a phone to register, and make multiple attempts to make a call, only for the connection to drop over and over again. The ubiquity of cell phones has created an unconscious expectation that we can pickup a device and instantly make a reliable phone call with no drops. Satellite technology is different.
With each launch of new satellites, and as satellites are moved into position and brought online, Iridium Next will be a serious boon to existing users. Iridium has stated that their Next satellites will be fully backwards compatible with all devices, meaning that if you have a 9505A or a 9555 from several years ago, as long as you maintain current firmware, you will be able to use your device.
Not only that, it was seem as though your device has been given new life. As each satellite moves into place, call reliability and connection strength improve. Here at Outfitter, where we use and test Iridium devices every day, we have already notice a marked improvement in device power-on-to-registered times and call reliability. It is blatantly obvious when one of the new satellites is overhead, because signal strength is immediately full, right from power-on, and devices register to the network within seconds, versus minutes.
Iridium is preparing to launch their fourth rocket carrying 10 more Iridium Next satellites. Here's what we know of this new launch.
- All 10 Iridium® NEXT satellites for Iridium-4 are now in processing at SpaceX’s west coast launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
- This launch will mark the midway point of Iridium’s launch campaign with SpaceX, and is the first of two Iridium NEXT launches utilizing “flight-proven” SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
- Iridium-4 is currently scheduled for December 22, 2017 at 5:32 pm PST, with a backup date of December 23rd.
- Noteworthy for the fourth launch, the same Falcon 9 rocket first stage that carried 10 Iridium NEXT satellites for the company’s second launch in June of 2017, will also carry this payload of 10 satellites.
- This will make Iridium the first company in history to reuse the same rocket booster
Old or New?
While Iridium's legacy products will be backwards compatible with the new constellation, they will not get the added benefit of new data speeds and Certus service. This will require a new terminal. Specs for new terminals continue to trickle out to the market, but much still remains unknown. See a previous blog article here for more info on what is known. The bottom line is, if you simply need reliable handheld satellite communication and already have a device, it will continue to serve your needs, and will do it more reliably. If you want the ability to have high-speed data service, you'll need to step up to a Certus device.
Outfitter Satellite has always been on the cutting edge of satellite data and voice communication and will continue into the Iridium Certus era. There are many satellite phone companies to choose from, but Outfitter specializes in customer service, making sure we fit you exactly into the device and solutions you need. Continue to check back to our blog as we will keep our customers updated as Iridium updates come in.
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