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 9575 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.

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7 Comments

Lauren

Date 5/13/2015

Thanks for sharing this information about Iridium NEXT. The new data speeds will be very beneficial to expand the use of Iridium services. http://sunsight.com/

Doris Orman

Date 5/13/2015

You are very welcome! We are excited as well. http://shop.outfittersatellite.com

David Arnfield

Date 8/4/2015

This sounds good, but I don't really see where the benefit of the increased circuit switched speed is, because IP-based networks are packet switched networks and the most connections are internet connections these days. Do you have any idea? Best regards, David

outfittertech

Date 10/27/2015

Glad to have been of assistance. Jim

David Arnfield

Date 10/23/2015

Thank you for your reply. Now I got it. Regards, David

outfittertech

Date 8/4/2015

Hi David, As you may remember from yesteryear, a router that connects to the internet via circuit-switched communications (such as ISDN or dialup) can provide an IP-based communication via an Ethernet port or Wi-Fi to downline devices. We are already doing that with Iridium, Inmarsat GSPS, Thuraya and Globalstar narrow band satellite phones which can offer relatively slow circuit-switched data services. One way it is done is through devices like the Optimizer Wi-Fi hotspot can be connected to Iridium 9555, Iridium 9575, or Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 satellite phones which provide (nominally) 2400 bps circuit-switched data. The Optimizer Wi-Fi hotspot is particularly clever in the way that it provides the internet connection. It initially does a short dial-up session just to get an IP address. Later, when you are sending email messages (from your iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows PC, or Mac IP-based device), the Optimizer does another dial-up session but continues to use the original IP address. It is completely transparent to the end user, but satellite airtime is only used when necessary and all the subsequent dial up sessions are "welded" together into a single internet session with a single IP address. In addition to handheld satellite phones, Iridium OpenPort devices like the Iridium Pilot currently offer up to 128-136 kbps data rates and there is an actual Ethernet port on the Pilot terminal. Under Iridium NEXT, OpenPort devices will achieve up to 512 kbps. So, Iridium NEXT will be very much consistent with modern IP-based communications. Hope that info helps clarify. Regards, Jim

Chris Clemson

Date 8/6/2015

Do you know what does "MOS3.5" provide for voice? While I'm not so bothered about the increase in data rates, voice quality on the current system isn't spectacular, and any improvement in this would be nice. Thanks, Chris

Chris Clemson

Date 8/7/2015

Great, thanks for the reply! I'd completely forgotten about my question, but the answer is still relevant for me!

Chris Clemson

Date 8/6/2015

Hi Chris, As you know, the current Iridium uses VERY aggressive voice compression. This can be improved a little bit by certain Iridium phones that have additional sound processing. For example, when the Iridium GO! makes a voice call through a smart phone, the smart phone does additional processing of the audio signal and slightly improves its apparent "quality". It is only a small improvement but it is something. No matter how much you reprocess the audio, if you start with aggressively compressed sound, the result of course is reprocessed aggressively compressed sound. The reason for the aggressive voice compression for the current Iridium is that there is very limited 2.4 kbps bandwidth available for voice. One would think that Iridium NEXT should have more bandwidth to use for voice but according to the published specs Iridium NEXT will be using 2.4 kbps (w MOS3.5) for voice. The MOS3.5 is a audio compression method. Click the link for more information. Unfortunately, I don't know if that translates to better sound. My guess is if it is still 2.4 kbps of bandwidth then it can't be that much better regardless of the compression scheme. I guess we'll find out in 2017. The main improvements under Iridium NEXT appear to be the faster data communication rates. Hope that helps. Jim http://www.OutfitterSatellite.com

brad

Date 3/27/2016

Given that the Iridium-NEXT's higher data speeds will not be available to the current Iridium-GO offerings, I am reluctant to buy. It's a lot of money to shell out for a product that is obsolete in 12 to 18 months. Too bad - I was very much interested installing on my boat.

Doris Orman

Date 3/30/2016

Brad, We are excited for the Iridium-NEXT system as well. If you are looking to use something more short term in the mean time, we do have a rental program that you can utilize on your boat. We also rent mast antennas that you could pair with an adapter for the GO! if you wish. We would be happy to discuss options if you are looking for a temporary set up. Please look over the rentals that we currently offer, and let us know if we can be of any assistance. http://shop.outfittersatellite.com/rentals.htm Outfitter Satellite

Robert S

Date 5/20/2016

I am excited about the Iridium Next increased bandwidth. However it amazes me that there isn't an affordable system, that will allow internet browsing and the use of Facebook with acceptable data speed available for small aviation and marine applications. Even the more expensive Bendix King system which is in the 30k range is very limited. Why is the above only privy to commercial airlines? I can't believe it is based in expense rather than profit and greed. The company who comes up with an affordable system, for general and business aviation, that allows internet/Facebook browsing, should do very well financially and make my wife very happy on long flights. What are you doing to achieve this goal? Robert/Tampa, Fl.

outfittertech

Date 5/25/2016

Hi Robert, Thanks for your comment. The current version of the GO! is being used in both small/general aviation and marine applications so I imagine the new version under Iridium NEXT will work for those applications. It will be fast enough for FaceBook and web browsing. It looks like it will come available sometime in 2017. Regarding the statement: "I can’t believe it is based in expense rather than profit and greed." Outfitter Satellite is not focused on aviation, but I do know that systems that are physically bolted onto an aircraft (perhaps excepting experimental aircraft) tend to be many times more expensive than the same electronics for any other purpose. Aircraft electronics have to be certified to stand up to many conditions that other electronics with the same purpose but for non-aircraft applications simply don't have to stand up to. The certification process is as I understand extremely expensive and the customer base is limited. That is the perfect recipe for making something outlandishly expensive. Welcome to the downside of the regulatory administrative nanny state. Jim

Andrew Goetsch

Date 6/15/2016

It's a shame they're sticking with 2.4kps voice. Iridium's biggest weakness is it's poor voice quality. A lot of my people put up with the delay on MSAT or INMARSAT because Iridium sounded so muffled.

outfittertech

Date 6/20/2016

Hi Andrew, Good comment. I cannot comment on what Iridium NEXT voice quality will sound like. The specs for Iridium NEXT say that they will use "MOS3.5 voice compression" over a 2.4 kbps channel. Hopefully there will be some improvement but since it is still 2.4 kbps, I would think at best it will only be a slight improvement. There may be some improvement for users getting their Iridium connectivity through hotspot devices like the Iridium GO!. The smartphone that connects through the Iridium GO! actually processes the sound again and does produce some quality improvement (in my opinion) but it is subtle. Regards, Jim

Chris Gwynne

Date 10/15/2020

Is there any updated Iridium Go like device for the faster Iridium Next network speeds yet?

Outfitter Admin

Date 10/15/2020

Great question! There are plans for a device of this type, which we are really excited about, but it looks like they will be another 1-2 years before those make it to the mainstream market. We do have a portable Certus solution called the TOC Box which puts the MissionLINK device by Thales into a portable case and adds a battery. That's here: https://www.outfittersatellite.com/missionlink-tocbox.html Give us a call if you have any questions!

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