Inmarsat IsatHub review
Subscriptions are costly, but you won’t find an easier way of staying in touch when you’re far from civilisation
Inmarsat's IsatHub can keep you online from almost anywhere on the planet. Combining 802.11n Wi-Fi with satellite internet access, it will work with any wireless-enabled device, and supports standard voice and SMS services as well.
Strictly speaking, IsatHub itself is the communications service, which uses the Inmarsat-4 and Alphasat satellites to cover the US, Asia and Europe (only the poles are beyond its reach).
The actual hardware is the Wideye iSavi hotspot, which is manufactured by AddValue. Weighing 900g, it's solidly built, with an IP65 rating that indicates it's dust-proof and can handle low-pressure water jets from any direction.
Setup proved simple. After turning on the iSavi, we found it took around three minutes to acquire a GPS fix. Once the receiver knew where it was, the four LED direction arrows flashed to show us how to orientate it to link to the satellite network.
These can be difficult to see in bright sunlight, but the pointing-assist tool in the iOS Control App on our iPad helped us to position it correctly. The Inmarsat satellites are in geosynchronous orbits, so once a link has been established, it remains connected.
Of course, the need for a clear line of sight to the satellites means the iSavi can't be used indoors, or even in secluded outdoor areas. Connecting from our office roof wasn't a problem, but when attempting it in the garden we found we had to keep the receiver well away from the house and trees, which otherwise blocked the signal.
This in turn means that, whileit can be run from the mains, it's more likely you'll be powering the iSavi with the battery pack, which clips onto the side of the receiverand doubles as a stand. There's no USB charging port, but you can use optional car or solar-panel chargers to top it up while out and about.
In use, we found battery life was surprisingly good we never got less than three- and-a-half hours from a fully charged pack. We also inadvertently tested the IP rating, as we forgot the iSavi was outside during a heavy downpour; happily, it shrugged off the deluge.
IsatHub's data transfer rates of 384Kbits/sec downstream and 240Kbits/sec upstream may not seem much, but they're more than 100 times faster than Iridium's Go service. Subscriptions are pricey, though: after the 15 sign-up fee, the basic package offers a mere 10MB of data and 10 minutes of voice calls per month for 36.
Extra data is charged at 2.50 per megabyte, and within two hours of browsing we found we'd already run up around 90 in overage fees. A more flexible 500MB package, including anhour of voice calls, costs 1,152per month, with additional data charged at 2 per megabyte.
The iSavi has a web interface that, along with showing signal strength and GPS co-ordinates, provides access to wireless, firewall and URL-filtering settings. We wereable to use it to send SMS text messages to mobiles with our GPS location appended, and to view incoming texts as well.
You can also use dedicated Android and iOS apps on connected devices to access most of the important settings, including customising firewall rules and changing wireless settings.
The free Voice App lets you make calls; contacts can be imported from your mobile device, and in practice we found that calls placed over Inmarsat's dedicated voice line were perfectly clear. As usual with a satellite link, a slight one-second lag was noticeable, but it didn't cause any problems.
As long as you're careful with your data usage, the Inmarsat IsatHub iSavi package is ideal for staying in touch from wherever you are. We found it simple to operate, and it works with any wireless device, making it more versatile than most other satellite hotspot solutions.
This review first appeared in PC Pro magazine issue 250
The IsatHub is an excellent way to stay in contact in remote locations. Be wary of excessive usage however, as costs can quickly mount.
Inmarsat satellite receiver
802.11n wireless AP
3,000mAh battery pack
Mains battery charger and plug kit
Control App and Voice App for Android & iOS
Web browser management
180 x 170 x 30mm (WDH)
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