Iridium creates link from iPhones to satellites

New devices allow smartphone data communications from anywhere on Earth

Satellite service provider Iridium is introducing a new satellite phone and access point that enable communications anywhere on the face of the Earth from Blackberry and Android mobile devices, and will offer support for Apple's iOS-based gear later this year.

The two new devices enable use of data applications on mobile smartphones and tablets that have Wi-Fi capabilities, and the access point bridges the connection over the Iridium satellite network.

The speed of the data-only connections is 26K to 27Kbps, according to Iridium CEO Matthew Desch, suitable for email and Internet access.

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Cabling the access point to Iridium 9555 satellite phones or to a new, ruggedized phone called Extreme, creates a Wi-Fi hotspot that appears on the smartphone or tablet list of nearby access points.

The company wouldn't say the price of the Extreme phone, and said AccessPoint would cost less than $200. Both are available now.

Instead of an AccessPoint, customers can use a free laptop application that enables the devices to perform the same function as the access point, Desch says.

The company also says it has licensed access to the phone's programming interface to 17 partners who are creating services around the phone's capabilities. For example, one partner created a geo-fencing service that lets customers know when they are reaching a boundary or border so they don't wander off into restricted areas. This type of service could have military applications to signal when troops on missions return to safe areas, Desch says

A tracking service is being used by a mining operation to monitor where hundreds of employees equipped with the phones are located and mapping those locations, he says. This better manages workers in remote locations.

The phone also includes an SOS button that can call in rescue teams in emergencies.

Iridium is also licensing the core chipset for the new phone, called core 9523, to other vendors so they can include satellite capabilities in customer devices. For instance, maritime or aviation manufacturers might want to include some of the communications and GPS technology in something other than a phone.

The new products and license agreements are part of a push the satellite provider calls Iridium Force, that calls for extending the reach of Iridium beyond satellite phones, making it easier for partners to connect to the service, licensing its technology, supporting location-aware communications and providing reliable handsets.

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