Iridium has just announced its Force products and services, and these may well change the way many of us communicate via satellite at sea. They call Force their “vision for the future of personal mobile satellite communications,” and considering the quickly-growing popularity of inexpensive handheld pocket-sized satellite communicators like the SPOT and DeLorme inReach, it’s no wonder Iridium is trying to find their own way to bring satellite communications to the masses.

The AxcessPoint is part of Iridium's new Force.

The AxcessPoint is part of Iridium's new Force.

Is the Force concept as simple and inexpensive as those low-key, low-cost messenger devices? Heck no. Their Shout Nano, which came out last year and costs about a grand, took a stab at scaled-down satellite messenging, though it doesn’t necessarily shine under a cost-benefit comparison. The on-screen keypad and expanded coverage certainly offer advantages when compared to other satellite messengers, but these don’t seem like huge benefits nor are they must-haves for “inexpensive” emergency communications units.

Force, however, does expand your capabilities significantly without requiring giant external antennas or an onboard computer. And although going this route costs significantly more than some other communications options, the cost doesn’t rise to astronomical proportions.

The new product line starts with a sat phone called the Extreme (price TBD) which is their smallest, lightest handset yet, comes equipped with an SOS button, and has integrated GPS tracking capabilities. Another nifty new goodie is the Core 9523, a voice/data module which other manufacturers can use with their Iridium-based handhelds. That might not be of interest to many boaters in and of itself, but as new products incorporate it, we’re sure to see some unexpected developments in the short-term.

What will really knock the socks off of the average boater, however, is the AxcessPoint. This do-dad will allow WiFi-enabled smartphones, tablets, and laptops to get a WiFi link anywhere under the Iridium umbrella (which is basically everywhere) via an Iridium Extreme or Iridium 9555 (which costs a little over a grand) satellite phone—and the AxcessPoint costs less than $200. Yes, you’ll still have to pay for air time, the cost for which varies depending on your plan but generally runs a little over a buck a minute. And of course, they also hit you with an activation fee of around $50. But just think about all the possibilities this opens up for long-distance cruisers, offshore anglers, and snow-birds. You’ll have full internet access anywhere, anytime, and you can use your Droid of iPhone as though you were sitting in a Starbucks, sipping a latte. Sweet.

-Lenny Rudow