Look at this little guy. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but powerful enough to enable you to make phone calls, text, and use data virtually anywhere in the world. Even on the peaks of remote mountains or in the middle of uninhabited deserts, thanks to the magic of satellites.
The Iridium GO! creates a Wi-Fi network anywhere, and allows you to connect up to five devices at once for little things such as making an emergency phone call, emailing the embassy, or downloading a map to keep from dying.
It also sounds extremely easy to use. Just flip up the antenna, and it connects to satellites and creates a Wi-Fi network with a range of up to 100 feet. Any iOS or Android phone or tablet can connect through Iridium's app (just make sure you download it before you hit the trail), and then you can use your phone similarly to how you normally would. This is a significant innovation.
While we've seen satellite-enabled iPhone cases, this has the advantage of connecting to multiple devices simultaneously (including Android devices), and giving you more flexibility in where it's used. In order to connect to the satellites, an antenna just needs to be able to see the sky. So as long as you're above ground and not under some sort of rainforest canopy, you should be able to connect from literally anywhere on Earth.
Because the Iridium GO! creates a whole Wi-Fi zone, you can set it out in the open while you yourself are using your phone in a heavy tent, or under an overhang, so you can remain within your shelter.
While it's certainly handy, the device does has some drawbacks. Its 300g weight will give ultra-light backpackers pause. Even more significantly, you can't just use your phone as you normally would, since all data must go through one of Iridium's apps. The basic Iridium GO! app allows for voice calling, texting, location-based services and even reporting emergencies through available SOS services, and through the Iridium Mail & Web app you can send and receive email, surf the web, interact with social media (post to Facebook and Twitter), send photos, and get weather updates. But if you're hoping to Snapchat with your friends back home, you're out of luck. For now. Iridium is and will continue working with third-party developers to build apps that work within the platform. At launch, it's announced partnerships with DeLorme, OCENS, Satcom Direct, Global Marine Networks, and others. Hopefully that list will expand.
Also, don't expect to be streaming Netflix in the woods. Satellite data speeds typically max out around 2.4 to 2.8Kbps (that's KILObits). We're talking early '90s dial-up speeds here. So, you can send a picture, but it had better be very compressed, and you may require the patience of a zen master. SMS speeds, though, should be comparable to what you're used to here in your bustling metropolis, and it should be fine for text-based emails, too.
The Iridium GO! will be rolling out sometime in the first half of 2014. The price will depend on retailers, but Iridium expects it to be under £500. Yeah, that's steep, and don't forget you're going to need a plan in order to connect. Again, plan pricing will be set by retailers but Iridium estimates that they will begin around $35 (£21) a month on the low end, and about $130 (£80) a month on the high end for unlimited data.
Obviously, the pricing paired with the device's limitations eliminates the casual backpacker from the equation, but if you're planning on leading an expedition into the frosty unknown—and you wanna live-blog it—this might just be your best option. [Iridium GO!]