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Sat comm wars are heating up

Published on February 19th, 2023

If unplugging from the world is not possible, here’s an update on the offshore options from George Day in the Cruising Compass:

It was only two months ago that I was crowing about how rapidly cruisers were adopting the new Starlink sat comm technology due to its fairly low entry price and fixed rate for a monthly unlimited data plans. That put Starlink in direct competition with the IridiumGo! that we’ve been plugging for a couple of years now.

Big picture, for almost 40 years the only game in town for sat comms was the INMARSAT system of satellites and the vendors who provide the hardware and software to access the system. And while the system does provide the best high speed data transfers for streaming and surfing the web, it has always been expensive and considered by cruisers to be a commercial product.

Now, IridiumGo! has upgraded their system to IridiumGo! exec, which is 40 times faster than the original, and puts them into similar (but still slower) data speeds as Starlink. And if you compare the pricing, the two new systems are similar in both hardware and data plans.

INMARSAT and its vendors are paying close attention and are now offering their hardware and plans at some fairly deep discounts putting them in the general price range, albeit higher, of Starlink RV with a mobile antenna and the full installation kit for IridiumGo! exec. It is going to be interesting to see how the sat comm wars play out.

Starlink is new and does not have worldwide coverage, but who knows how soon they will be global. IridiumGo! exec is a big improvement on the original and is global but it still has slower data speeds that limits streaming and internet browsing. The INMARSAT system is still the gold standard and supported by a collection of vendors who have been perfecting their games for generations.

In the end, this competition will improve the products and hold the price down, which will be good for all sailors. (Note that I did not quote prices for each system because there are so many deals out there it is hard to compare apples to apples.)

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