Patent Bombshell

It’s pretty sad that after years of work by industry parties to arrive at a workable standard for Emergency Satellite Communicators (SENDs), it now appears that one of the participants (Briartek) had an active patent application in the works for such devices.

According to Doug Ritter a member of the RTCM128 committee, which compiled the SEND standard: “The BriarTek patent is very broad in scope. It essentially claims invention of the entire concept of using satellites for 2-way text messaging distress beacons”.

BriarTek is taking action to obtain royalties from Iridium and DeLorme by way of an International Trade Commission complaint. I would encourage anyone with an interest in this to make a submission to the ITC.

Most of Briartek’s products are for military/industrial applications. Its Cerberus device, while ostensibly for the “consumer” market, is not price competitive in that market. The release of the Cerberus could even be seen to be a way to claim that Briartek covers the non-professional market in their “negotiation” for royalties from other players.

Read more on Doug Ritter’s website.

New version of inReach

Back cover inReach 1.5

Back cover inReach 1.5

DeLorme is about to release the long awaited iPhone version of the inReach messenger according to GPStracklog. Looking at the FCC submission photos, it appears that DeLorme is doing its best to comply with the SEND spec, check the instruction labels on the back of the device!

Let’s hope that DeLorme  also releases a way of powering the unit from an external source. That is what boaters and caravanners have been waiting for.

[update 21 May 2012 - DeLorme have officially announced the inReach 1.5 update today]

Iridium trackers – getting real

[This post will get out of date quickly. However the respective device pages (under the "Devices" menu) will be updated regularly with the latest specifications and reviews.]

A clutch of new,  Iridium based trackers is now starting to ship. Last week we saw DeLorme ship their inReach units, while this week Yellowbrick in the UK will ship their YB3 tracker. The Cyberlink units are  expected  before the end of the year. We’ll do our best to keep our respective “device pages” up to date with links to the manufacturers’ latest information, as well as to any substantial product reviews and industry comment.

Here is our overview of the different approaches taken by these manufacturers:
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Extreme Reflections

Iridium launched their new “Extreme” satellite phone and associated products last week. While the new phone looks good and its tracking features are welcome, the event left me vaguely dissatisfied. Thinking about the reasons, I came up with three:

  • Putting an SOS button on the phone and claiming SEND compliance seems more like a marketing ploy rather than a useful feature. If I’m in trouble and I have a phone, I’ll dial 000 (or 911 in the USA). The SEND standard was never meant for phones, but rather for devices like the SPOT and its successors.
  • The Iridium Axcess Point turns a Sat Phone’s 2400 Baud data into a WiFi hotspot, just so you can send an email from your smartphone. Why bother?
  • Iridium could have  highlighted its partners who are bringing out products based on the 9602 module. These products, like the inReach are about to hit the market and give Iridium a great opportunity to be relevant to an entirely new audience.

Iridium announcements

As widely expected, Iridium announced its ruggedised phone, the 9575. Of real interest in the context of tracknSEND are its tracking, messaging and SOS (SEND) functions. Initial pricing looks “substantial” at around US$1500 for the phone plus a suitable plan.  Apart from this “all-in-one” phone, Iridium is clearly keen to diversify its offerings together with partners such as DeLorme and Yellowbrick (and many others to come).

SEND standard

The website of the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services now lists availability of the new standard for Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SENDs). We received our copy of RTCM 12800.0 and it is a meaty document which will encourage critical evaluation of all new devices in this space.