Portable Solar Panel Reviews: Which is best for my satellite phone?

Many of Outfitter Satellite's customers need a portable solar panel to recharge their satellite phone or other electronics. Understanding what you are trying to achieve will save you a lot of frustration!  Here are some portable solar panel reviews that may help you make the right choice.

The first question to ask yourself is what kind of equipment you are trying to charge and how many recharges you expect to make? Many times the best solution is to carry a spare battery -- not get a solar panel. If you need more power, Outfitter Satellite offers rechargeable fuel-gauged battery packs with outputs suitable for small electronics that can be recharged via USB or with auto-accessory chargers.

The main reason for getting a solar panel is that you expect to have daily power consumption needs in excess of what you can easily bring along with you. If you are going to purchase a solar panel, you need to understand what it can realistically do and make sure you have the correct cables to charge the device you are using with it.

If you select a stand-alone portable solar panel without the benefit of an external rechargeable battery pack (which Outfitter Satellite highly recommends), you need to realize that the smaller the solar panel wattage rating is, the more sunlight you will need to successfully recharge your device. While a small 6-Watt solar panel will recharge a handheld satellite phone (e.g. an Iridium 9555 or Thuraya XT equipped with an auto-accessory charger) in 8 to 10 hours of good sunlight, a larger 12-Watt or 26-Watt panel usually will do so even under partially cloudy conditions and in less time while costing only a small amount in extra equipment weight.

Be sure to test that the solar panel can successfully charge your satellite phone -- starting from an empty battery condition. Do this long before you intend to leave for a remote location.  That means do not wait until the evening before you leave. This way you will be prepared and know what to expect.

Recently, we had a client that returned from a multiple week hiking trip in Nepal and complained that he was never able to use his Iridium satellite phone because the solar panel "didn't work". His companions on the trip assured him that Outfitter Satellite had not sold him the correct cables or the correct solar panel. Amazingly, he returned the equipment to us, and the DC car charger was unopened in its original packaging! Obviously, he failed to test his equipment and understand how it worked before he left for Nepal. Everything he needed was in the kit, but the solar panel comes with a lot of adapter cables to maximize its usefulness and this can be confusing. Our client had left some of the cables and the DC car charger at home! The back country of Nepal is not an ideal place to learn how to use your equipment.

If I am taking a back country trip, safety and reliability are my main concerns and I never worry about a little extra expense or a little extra weight.  I have often regretted my economies but never my excesses.  My choice for a portable back country power production and storage capability would be a 26-Watt solar panel and a rechargeable external Sustain battery pack with a fuel gauge.  This should be more than enough for most applications. I would keep topping off the Sustain battery pack whenever I had a chance. The Sustain external battery pack is shown (above right) connected to an ultra-light Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER 100 BGAN terminal.  The Sustain acts as a UPS power supply and can receive charge from an external power source such as a solar panel even while powering the BGAN. The Sustain increases the operating time of the BGAN by over 300%.

So far, this article has been about 6-watt and larger panels. Outfitter Satellite also sells ultra-mini solar panel battery pack combinations. It definitely takes more understanding and more patience to use an ultra-mini solar panel but it does cut down on equipment size and weight and may be suitable for applications where very minimal amounts of power are needed.

A good example of an ultra-mini solar charger solution is the Restore solar panel.  The Restore has an integrated 2200 mAh 5 Volt Li-Ion battery that can be used to charge a Thuraya XT satellite phone very reliably.  If you start with a fully discharged Thuraya XT, you will need to fully charge the Restore and connect it to the Thuraya XT two or three times. Just keep laying the Restore outside with its solar panel pointed at the sun.  Every time the Restore battery reaches 100% as shown by its fuel-gauge, reconnect it to the Thuraya XT using the Thuraya XT's USB data cable.  It is time consuming if you let the Thuraya XT get fully discharged, but not so bad if you keep topping off the Thuraya XT every day.

Here are a few general hints to keep your solar panel experience successful:

  • It is important to tilt the solar panel towards the sun to get maximum power. This will be especially important when using a smaller panel. One way to do this is by using a pencil pointed straight out of the plane of the solar panel. When the panel is pointed straight towards the sun, the pencil will have no shadow -- and you will have optimal power from the solar panel.
  • If your electronics is not designed for variable voltage power supplies, it is better to use your solar panel with an external battery pack like the Sustain that can handle power brown outs. Brown outs occur in partially cloudy conditions or when someone walks in front of and shadows your solar panel. Definitely, disconnect electronics from the solar panel well before the sun goes down, too.
  • If it is a hot day, try to keep the electronics being charged out of direct sunlight. Their internal Li-Ion batteries will charge more slowly when they are hot. It is amazing how hot direct sunlight can make a black Iridium satellite phone on a summer day!
  • There is a small battery symbol in the upper right corner of the LCD screen of both the Iridium 9555 and Thuraya XT that shows the charge state: a solid black battery indicates a full charge while the empty battery is white. It is not desirable to let the Li-Ion battery in a satellite phone get completely depleted. If you do this, sometimes it is hard to restart the satellite phone until it has been charging for several hours. I recommend you recharge and top off your Li-Ion battery as often as possible.
  • Test the solar panel and/or portable battery pack before leaving for a remote location. Make sure you have the cables you need to charge your satellite phone or other electronics. You need to have the right equipment and know how to use it.
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Hughes 9202 BGAN Terminal Firmware Release Version 5.8.1.0

Hughes Network Systems has released a new firmware release for the Hughes 9202 BGAN terminal. This firmware release is not critical but is recommended. It includes enhancements to the web MMI for APN configurations and telephony settings and compressed Web UI pages to improve UT performance.

Firmware release version 5.8.1.0 is available for download from the Inmarsat website. and it will be available shortly for download through the BGAN LaunchPad Update Service.

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Globalstar Moving Forward

There has been a lot of positive news for Globalstar recently.  In 2007, Globalstar announced major technical problems with its satellites.  Now, Globalstar has successfully built 24 new second generation satellites.  Of those 18 already have been launched and the remaining 8 are scheduled to be launched in February of 2013 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.   There was a technical problem with the rotors on a small number of the first 18 satellites, but Globalstar and Thales Alenia Space were able to resolve this issue by uploading new software.

Currently, in the continental U.S., Outfitter Satellite is observing roughly 75% call completion rates for Globalstar users.   It is expected that this rate could climb to around 95% when all 24 second generation satellites are launched and then eventually put into commercial service, probably by mid-2013.

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Mandatory IsatPhone Pro Firmware Upgrade

Inmarsat issued a mandatory IsatPhone PRO firmware upgrade to version 5.3.0 or higher by November 28, 2014.  IsatPhone Pro phones that are not upgraded by that date will no longer be able to register, make, or receive calls correctly until the upgrade is performed.

That said, as of mid-2015, Outfitter Satellite has received reports from some customers using version 5.3.0 that are having problems.  

Here are the symptoms that they are describing:  even though a proper GPS fix has been acquired and good signal strength is present from the Inmarsat satellite, the IsatPhone PRO fails to register and displays the message:  LIMITED CONNECTIVITY and tells the user to call their service provider.   So, Outfitter Satellite is now recommending that all customers with version 5.3.0 upgrade to the newest firmware.

Do You Need to do a Firmware Upgrade of Your IsatPhone PRO?   

You can verify what firmware version your IsatPhone PRO handset has by performing the following commands: Menu > Settings > About > Firmware version.  The current version of the firmware is 5.8.0 and you may want to upgrade to the current firmware just to get the newest improvements, but if the your firmware version is earlier than 5.3.0, you must perform the upgrade before November 28, 2014.  

Performing the Upgrade:  

You will need a Windows Vista / XP / 7 machine to perform the upgrade.  Unfortunately, there is no upgrade tool for the Macintosh.  Also, if you are using Windows 7, the latest version of the USB driver and the IsatPhone Pro’s firmware upgrade tool must be installed before the upgrade is performed.

You can download the newest IsatPhone Pro firmware, the upgrade tool, the USB drivers, and instructions by clicking on this link (about 10 MB download).

Inmarsat estimates that the upgrade process will only take about 15 minutes.  Be sure to have both the computer and the IsatPhone PRO connected to external power so the upgrade is not interrupted by loss of power due to a low battery!

 

Have Us Perform the Upgrade For You:

Outfitter Satellite is always willing to assist our customers with any upgrade.  Shipping costs and an $89 work charge apply.   To do this, simply complete our online RMA form  and specify "Firmware Upgrade" on the form.   Print a copy of the RMA form and include it with your IsatPhone PRO equipment.

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SkyFile Mail Premium

If you need PC-based email over your Iridium, Outfitter Satellite recommends that you purchase an AxcessPoint.  Another choice that is FREE is the popular Vizada SkyFile Mail 8.2 software (only available on selected plans).   SkyFile Mail provides reliable and cost-effective two-way email, fax and SMS messaging on Inmarsat, Iridium,  and Thuraya (though it is not available on Thuraya prepaid SIMs).

Vizada has just rolled out a new more powerful version of SkyFile.   To differentiate the two versions, Vizada is now naming the free version SkyFile Mail Classic and the new version SkyFile Mail Premium.   The new Premium version is not free but if offers powerful features for business users at a competitive rate.

Key benefits of SkyFile Mail Premium over Classic:

  • Works with some popular email clients like Microsoft Outlook
  • An automatic notification push feature allows emails to be delivered immediately without manual actions
  • Access over non-satellite connections (3G, WiFi, etc.)
  • SMS up to 1500 characters
  • Advanced call detail viewer & split billing file
  • Quarantine file for suspicious emails

Key benefits SkyFile Mail Classic & Premium

  • Ensures reliable and secure messaging
  • Compresses data by up to 90%, significantly reducing connection time
  • The integrated BDU access command allows users to automatically start/stop the IP-session from SkyFile Mail
  • API allows 3rd part application access, e.g.  ship management applications
  • Enhanced supervision of sub accounts
  • SkyFile works on any desktop PC.  Provides highly effective anti-virus, anti-spam filter and black & white lists.   SkyFile Mail can use Iridium Rudics to boost connection quality and bandwidth, reducing connection time by more than 50% (Iridium Prepaid does not have Rudics but many of Outfitter Satellite's postpaid plans do).  SkyFile NOAD enables to create and transmit electronic forms required by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Call us for more information.

 

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How to Use Twitter from Your Iridium Satellite Phone

How to Use Twitter from Your Iridium Satellite Phone

Twitter supports Iridium, Thuraya*, and Inmarsat* as mobile carriers. Users of these satellite phones can send Tweets to all of their followers using the SMS messaging capability of their satellite phones. They, in turn, will receive your Tweets moments later on their cell phones, (if they have set up text notification).  You can also integrate your Twitter feed into a blog (like we have done in this blog). Either way you are providing your followers a current timeline of your activities using only a handheld satellite phone. This is a great tool for people operating in remote locations.

Associate your Iridium Phone with your Twitter Account:  The first step is to associate your satellite phone with your Twitter account.  To do this login to your Twitter account using a web browser. Go to your Twitter account settings.   If you are not familiar with Twitter, there is a drop down list identified by a  "gear" symbol in the full version of Twitter that lets you access the account settings.  If you are using mobile.twitter.com, "Settings" is a hyperlink at the bottom of the main page.

  1. Select “Mobile” settings.  If you already have your cell phone attached to the Twitter account you will need to delete it before associating your satellite phone to the account.

  2. Under “Country/region” list  select “Iridium

  3. Below that next to "Phone number" enter your Iridium phone number starting with 8816.

  4. Click the “Activate phone” button.

  5. Keep the Twitter webpage open because you will need it again. Take your Iridium satellite phone outside and register with the Iridium network.   Send an SMS message to short code 40404 with "Go" as the message content.   Notes:  If you have a Thuraya, the short code is 1888.  The short code for Inmarsat is 898.

  6. Now go back inside and return to your Twitter webpage and confirm that Twitter has verified your Iridium SMS settings.   Once registration is successful, you will see a message on your Twitter page that states “Your phone is verified”. Select your mobile notifications on the screen to complete your enrollment.

Use your Iridium Phonebook:   Outfitter Satellite suggests you create a stored Phonebook entry on your Iridium phone for “Twitter” and program the 40404 messaging address.   Once this is programmed, Tweets sent to your Iridium Phonebook’s Twitter entry will automatically post on your Twitter account. Your Iridium phone will store a maximum of  30 messages sent and received. Once you reach that limit, additional messages will need to be deleted to accept or send new SMS messages. You will be notified when you have reached full capacity.  Standard SMS rates apply to outbound tweets.

Cool GPS stuff with your Iridium 9575 Extreme:   If you have the new Iridium 9575 EXTREME, you can send your GPS information as a Tweet.   This would allow your Twitter followers to click a link and see your GPS position as a function of time.    You can even set the Iridium 9575 EXTREME to send the GPS tweets automatically at even time intervals, as you walk along.

If this article helped you, please let us know by giving us a comment.

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How to Upgrade your Firmware on your Iridium 9555 Satellite Phone

The 9555 continues to be a workhorse phone for Iridium. Despite its longevity, the 9555 is still a robust, well-performing device that costs a little less than new equipment. Firmware upgrades help to keep these phones up-to-date with bug fixes and network improvements.

Do I Need a Firmware Upgrade?

First, determine what firmware version you are currently on. To do this, click the "Menu" button on the phone. Then select "Setup". Then select "Phone information". This page will show the current firmware on the phone. As of April 2017, the current firmware version is HT15002.

If you need to upgrade your firmware, you can download the Iridium 9555 firmware upgrade tool by clicking here. The firmware upgrades are towards the bottom of the page.

Upgrade Procedure

You will need a USB data cable to perform the upgrade. The upgrade process can take 20-30 minutes so make sure your computer and the Iridium 9555 are connected to external power during the upgrade so that the upgrade process is NOT interrupted once it begins. Carefully follow the instructions on the PDF included with the upgrade tool.

An important note for this upgrade: You will need to format the address book once the update has been completed. Enter the code *#323# and then the green call button. This will erase any entries in your phonebook and the phone will reboot. If the code is not entered the address book will not function. See the instructions that are included in the firmware file for more info on this.

We Can Do It For You

Outfitter Satellite can perform the firmware upgrade for you for an $89 inspection charge plus shipping costs. Go to the RMA request form here to send us your phone for inspection and upgrade.

#NoCellService

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Changing the SIM in your Iridium 9505A or 9505

Changing the SIM in your Iridium 9505A or 9505

Removing the SIM Card from an Iridium 9505A: The first step is to remove the antenna and the battery. The SIM holder is underneath the battery. If you are looking at the SIM holder with the top of the phone pointed up, the SIM holder can be "gently" slid back and forth from the left to right. Use your thumb to "gently" slide the SIM holder to the left which is the "unlocked" position. Then simply use gravity to let the SIM holder swing out so that the SIM itself can be pulled out of the SIM holder.

Inserting the SIM Card: Putting in the new SIM is the reverse process. Put the SIM in the holder and "gently" push it flush so that the "gold contacts" point down. Then use your thumb to "gently" slide it to the right "locked" position. You should feel a subtle click. You are done.

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Troubleshooting Power Problems on the Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER 700

Troubleshooting Power Problems on the Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER 700

When you power on the EXPLORER 700  terminal, is the display blank? This does not necessarily mean the terminal is not working.   The EXPLORER 700 may be in Stealth Mode. Stealth Mode turns off all the displays, indicators and sounds on the terminal and is  typically used for night-time military applications. Press C+OK on the display keypad to toggle the Stealth Mode on and off.

There are a few other easy things you can check before deciding your EXPLORER 700 needs to be returned for repairs.

  1. Can you see the EXPLORER 700 Web Interface? To do this connect an Ethernet cable between your computer and the EXPLORER 700 LAN #1 port. Open a web browser on your computer and in the address field enter 192.168.0.1  and if the EXPLORER 700 web interfaces comes up, then you know the terminal is not completely dead. It is possible that the contrast setting on the LCD screen is set too low.   You can adjust the contrast setting directly from the EXPLORER 700 Web Interface. Click on SETTINGS and under CONTRAST, we suggest setting AUTOMATIC to YES.

  2. Verify that the  AC/DC adapter is connected to a wall outlet that has power.

  3. There is a GREEN POWER INDICATOR LIGHT next to the EXPLORER 700 LCD display.  A short flash every 2 seconds means the terminal is on, a steady green light means the battery is charging, a rapidly flashing green light indicates a charging error, and OFF means no power or Stealth mode. If you have power connected to the terminal, you should either see a short flash every 2 seconds or a steady green light.   If the Green Power Indicator is flashing rapidly, you have a charging problem which could be caused by problems with the external power, problems with the AC/DC adapter, or a defective battery. If you are using a DC Car Charger, it may mean that the voltage input to the DC Car Charger is below 9 Volts.

  4. Remove the battery and check it for damage.  Are the contacts dirty or bent? If the battery appears OK, re-insert it into the terminal and make sure it is firmly in place and not loose.   Can you start the terminal now? If not, try step 3 again.

You can find additional guidance on the use of the EXPLORER 700 Web Interface on pg 82 of the User Manual.  There is a valuable Troubleshooting Guide on page 163 of the User Manual. If you are still not up and running,  it is advised to call for technical support.

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Connecting your iPhone over an HNS-9201 Inmarsat BGAN terminal

Connecting your iPhone over an HNS-9201 Inmarsat BGAN terminal

Many of our customers have asked if it is possible to use their iPhone or iPad with their BGAN.   If you have a Macintosh computer connected to a BGAN, normally you can share the connection with your iPhone or iPad.   It is possible to connect an iPhone directly to some BGAN terminals. Outfitter Satellite tested the iPhone (software version 5.1.1.) over the HNS-9201 (firmware version 3.8.0.6) and were able to browse the web and send and receive email. Hint: If you are in an area with cellular coverage, remember to turn off the cellular data on your iPhone so you know you are running over the BGAN.   Here are the steps:

1) Enable WLAN feature on the HNS-9201 using LaunchPad:  Under the “Terminal” menu select “WLAN interface” and enable wireless access.  Set the Network Name to “BGAN”. Set Region to “Rest of World”. Set channel to “11”.  Select 128-bit encryption and use a network password with at least 13 characters. We used: Outfitter123#.   Click “Apply” and “OK”. The WLAN LED on the terminal will now be GREEN. A WiFi capable computer will now see “BGAN” as one of the available wireless networks.  Notes: The WLAN LED blinks if the terminal is on battery power and turns RED if no devices are accessing the HNS-9201 using the WLAN.

2) Connect the iPhone to the HNS-9201 via Wi-Fi: In your iPhone 5.1.1 go to “Settings” and click “Wi-Fi”.  If Wi-Fi is off, turn Wi-Fi on using the slider switch. Under “Choose a Network”, you will see a network called “BGAN”.  Select it and enter the password Outfitter123# and press the “Join” button. You should see a check mark next to the “BGAN” network.

3) Use the HNS-9201 web interface to start an internet session:

  1. Use the iPhone’s Safari browser to go to the HNS-9201’s web interface by entering 192.168.128.100

  2. Initially you are on the “Properties” page of the web interface.   On the mobile version of the HNS-9201 web interface, you will find a green bar at the bottom of the page under which are the various pages that are available.

  3. On the Properties page, if you are not already registered, you can click the “Register with Network” button.  After it registers you will see “Registration Status: Registered with Home network”.

  4. On the “PDP Contexts” page, select a unique CID value between 1 and 11 for each device that will be using the BGAN. Make sure the APN is set correctly, e.g. XANTIC.BGAN.INMARSAT.COM for Stratos SIMs or VIZADA-USA.BGAN.INMARSAT.COM for Vizada SIMs.  Requested QoS should be set to “Background” which is best effort Standard IP data. No username or password are needed for the APN. Press the “Create Context” button. The page will refresh. Press the “Activate” button. The page will refresh and show the Local IP address, Global IP address, and DNS server addresses. There may or may not be error messages displayed in red above this, but if you hit the “Update” button the error messages will clear off.

  5. OPTIONAL: ACA refers to Automatic Context Activation. On the ACA page  under “ACA Settings for TEs Using DHCP Assigned IP Addresses” you may want to enable ACA by selecting the “On” radio button.

4) When you are finished using the internet, remember to disconnect:  When using a BGAN, you need to be mindful of the cost and be careful to avoid unexpected usage, e.g. automatically downloading emails coming in on your iPhone.  It is a good practice to power down the BGAN when not using it. Another approach would be to deactivate the iPhone’s PDP context which can be done by going to the HNS-9201 web interface on the “PDP Contexts” page and pressing “Deactivate”.

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