Iridium launched the first 10 of its new Iridium NEXT satellites on Saturday January 14, 2017. This was done using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. If everything goes according to plan, there will be a total of 66 satellites and some spares in orbit by early 2018.

The new satellites will weigh about 860 kg and have a 9.4 meter wingspan with the solar arrays deployed. Just like the original Iridium satellites, the Iridium NEXT satellites will continue to offer global coverage. If you are the owner on an Iridium phone, you will be pleased to learn that it will continue to operate normally using the new satellites. Most importantly, the new satellites will bring much higher data speeds, though new equipment will be required to access those new capabilities.

Faster Iridium Data Speeds are Coming!

As many current Iridium subscribers well know, the slow 2.4 kbps data rate offered by Iridium handheld phones has generally limited their use to phone calls or SMS messaging applications. Consequently, the higher data rates that will be available from Iridium NEXT are expected to make web browsing and other higher bandwidth activities much more common in the future.

Current Iridium phone models, like the Iridium Extreme or Iridium GO! hotspot, offer data speeds of 2.4 kbps. By comparison, Iridium NEXT data speeds are expected to reach up to 512 kbps on future marine terminal models. So, here is a quick overview of the current capabilities compared to the new Iridium NEXT capabilities.

Current Iridium Network Capabilities

  • Voice 2.4 kbps
  • Circuit Switch Data 2.4 kbps
  • Short burt data: low
  • Iridium OpenPort 132 kbps

Improved Performance under Iridium NEXT

  • Voice 2.4 kbps (w MOS3.5)
  • Circuit switched data 9.46-64 kbps
  • Iridium OpenPort 128-512 kbps
  • Iridium OpenPort Aero 128-512 kbps
  • L-Band high speed: Up to 512 kbps up/ 1.5 mbs down
  • Broadcast 64 kbps

Will existing Iridium satellite phones continue to work?

Not surprisingly, some of Outfitter Satellite's current Iridium phone subscribers have expressed concern about whether their existing satellite phone will operate on the new Iridium NEXT satellites. So, it is important to emphasize that the phone hardware currently in service will continue to work normally once the new satellites are deployed. That said, it must be understood that new equipment will be needed for users intending to access the higher Iridium NEXT data speeds.

To further address this concern, Outfitter Satellite requested a formal comment from Iridium. We received the following statement: "The Iridium GO! ® will continue to work on the new Iridium NEXT satellites as they work today so it is forward compatible. In order to get the faster data speeds, it will require a new device. For small, portable devices, we won't be introducing Iridium NEXT enhanced services until the network is fully deployed in the late 2017 timeframe. A customer that buys a device now can be assured that their services will work through the transition and beyond."

Once fully deployed, the new higher data rates of the Iridium NEXT satellites should dramatically expand the use of Iridium services in areas such as:

  • Maritime
  • Aviation
  • Transportation
  • Government and military
  • Travel
  • Heavy equipment
  • Oil and gas
  • Emergency response
  • Commercial and government hosted payloads, and more!

Let us know your questions!

Clearly, Iridium NEXT will be a game changer for Iridium, adding even more benefits for future Iridium users of their global satellite network. As always, we want to know if you have questions or concerns about Iridium NEXT. So, please leave your comments below.