(HumanEdgeTech) Wrapping up the past week of stats, tech interviews and reviews, here goes a roundup of the best communications gear to use at Antarctica the coming season. Although polar oriented, much of the advice is also valid for climbing expeditions to South America (Aconcagua) and North America (Denali).
(If you are a veteran explorer you can skip to the 2014/2015 tech recommendations in the next section.)
Smartphones getting all the rave doesn't change the fact that 90% of the Earth's surface is without mobile phone coverage and requires satellite communication.
Main satellite comms operators are Inmarsat, Iridium, Thuraya and Globalstar. Each system has its own pros and cons but "footprint", e.g. the coverage area, is the most important.
Around since 1998 Iridium is the only truly global system and your sole choice for full coverage of both polar areas. It offers two models of handheld phones:
Both are tried and tested by explorers and you will even find people still hanging on to older models such as the 9505A.
Another type of Iridium products are trackers. Made by 3rd party manufacturers they all use Iridium satellites. Typically they have positioning, emergency buttons and often text messaging. Among a wide range of products deLorme InReach ($200 - $300) is the most popular.
Finally Iridium offers wifi hotspots. More about them in our Iridium "Go" review and next section.
Call and data costs are purchased in either prepaid or postpaid plans. Postpaid plans incur monthly fees so prepaid plans are usually a better deal for explorers:
2014/2015 tech recommendations: Sat phone of the year - your smartphone!
We recommend Iridium "Go" as your new phone for the following main advantages (click here for a FULL review):
Use a 10 Watt panel (minimum) to charge the phone directly. We tested with HumanEdgeTech's Feather2.
Data - texting (SMS)
You have a number of choices for text and short emails: any of the Iridium phone models, the Go and the InReach. Go and InReach let you thumb text from your smartphone.
Data - adding images
Go works great for adding small images to emails. At 2.4 KB/s the Iridium network is very slow though and one 30 KB image (good for internet) will take 3-4 minutes to upload. Video uploads are more or less impossible unless very compressed and very short - a couple of seconds. For Iridium 9555 or 9575 handhelds we recommend a laptop with solid state hard drive such as MacAir.
Data - website updates
To update your homepage you'll need to ask a friend back home to post your emails with pictures to your website manually, or you can have CONTACT 5 do it for you automatically. Another popular option (for when you are tired) is to call in a voice dispatch and let CONTACT post it to your website. CONTACT 5 also provides an RSS feed that you can use to have a social aggregator update Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
Data - high speed
For high profile assignments in need of high speed Iridium offers the OpenPort 128 KB solution. With power and solar the weight comes to around 15kg/30 lbs and with the data plan the cost will end up just below $10,000. Contact HumanEdgeTech for more info.
We recommend you bring a solar panel and a battery to store energy for the snowy days. Almost any good quality panel should work. At the top of the line and very light; HumanEdgeTech carries Feather 2.
You can't charge a MacAir or PC directly from a solar panel. Use the panel to charge a battery (such as HumanEdgeTech's Power50) and the battery to charge your computer.
Last word: Frostbites
Each season a fair amount of people come off the ice with frostbites. HEAT foot warming systems have prevented frostbite on many polar expeditions as well as on Himalayan 8000 meter winter climbs.
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