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Inmarsat Isathub review: When better than nothing is very nearly priceless

Michael Brown | July 1, 2015
Remember those old FedEx commercials? "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." There was no talk of how much it would cost to get that package to its destination overnight. If you had to ask, speed obviously wasn't your first concern. It's the same idea with Inmarsat's IsatHub. This battery-powered device can connect you (and several of your colleagues, family, and friends) to both 3G mobile phone service and the Internet just about anywhere on earth--all you need is a clear view of the sky.

Inmarsat IsatHub

Remember those old FedEx commercials? "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." There was no talk of how much it would cost to get that package to its destination overnight. If you had to ask, speed obviously wasn't your first concern. It's the same idea with Inmarsat's IsatHub. This battery-powered device can connect you (and several of your colleagues, family, and friends) to both 3G mobile phone service and the Internet just about anywhere on earth--all you need is a clear view of the sky.

So let's get the matter of cost out of the way right now: The IsatHub is street-priced at $1350, plus the cost of service, which varies by service provider and according to how much data you think you'll need. After a quick Internet search, I found BlueCosmo Satellite Communications offering a pay-as-you-go plan for $220 per year, $3.85 per megabyte of data, $0.99 per minute for outgoing voice calls, and $0.49 per SMS. Incoming calls and SMS are free. If you anticipate using a lot of data, you'll be better served by a monthly service plan, which at BlueCosmo ranges from $89 per month for 25MB of data, to $2950 per month for 1GB. Gulp. The cost for outgoing calls drops very slightly as you move up in service plans. There are various other fixed fees as well: A cellular call outside the U.S. and Canada costs $1.49, for instance, while calls to another satellite network cost $8.99.

But when you're in a spot on the globe where you can't afford to be cut off from everyone else in the world, those prices suddenly don't look so onerous. I've had the device in my review queue for quite a long time. I just couldn't find the time to run it through its paces. One day several weeks back, my AT&T DSL service went down (I live outside the city limits and consider myself lucky to get DSL). "Well, that's not a big problem," I said to myself. "I'll just tether my laptop to my phone." Nothin' doing. AT&T's LTE network was down in my area, too.

By any means necessary

It was an hour before the weekly staff meeting, and I had no way to let my boss know I wouldn't be able to call in. Would he think I just forgot? Then a light bulb went off in my head: I had the IsatHub sitting on a shelf! I grabbed it and unboxed it. There was the unit itself, an AC power supply (with various power adapters so that it can be used anywhere in the world), a USB cable, a carry bag, a user manual, and a cardboard cheat sheet. The unit itself is ruggedly designed, with shock-absorbing rubberized end caps and an IP65 enclosure rating indicating that it's dust- and splash-proof. Its power connector, USB port, and SIM-card slot are all protected by rubber flaps.

 

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