Iridium launches Wi-Fi hotspot for extreme roaming

September 7, 2011 - 10:50 AM
TechBit Satellite Hotspot

This undated photo provided by Iridium Communications Inc., shows the Iridium AxcessPoint which can provide Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, tablets and laptops everywhere via the Iridium network using Extreme or Iridium 9555 satellite phone. (AP Photo/Iridium Communications Inc.)

NEW YORK (AP) — Want to get email on your iPhone or BlackBerry in the middle of the ocean, or in the Arctic? Now you can — but it'll cost you.

Satellite phone company Iridium Communications Inc. said Wednesday that it is launching a cigarette-pack-sized box that connects to an Iridium phone.

The box produces a Wi-Fi hotspot that smartphones and tablet computers can connect to. The phone relays that connection to satellites overhead, which then shunt the signal to a ground station connected to the Internet.

The data speeds will be slower than dial-up, but they should be good enough for meaningful use of email, Iridium CEO Matt Desch said.

Iridium, which is based in McLean, Va., said the AxcessPoint will cost less than $200, but it needs to be paired with a phone that costs about $1,000. The data connection will cost about $1 per minute.

Iridium phones can already connect laptops to the Internet, through the use of a cable.

AT&T Inc. sells an alternative solution for those who need Internet access where there are zero bars of regular coverage: a "Genus" smartphone that connects directly to a satellite. However, that satellite covers only North America, while the Iridium network of 66 satellites spans the entire world.