The GlobalStar 1700 satellite phone ($999) is more than 40 percent smaller than previous models, plus it has a bright color screen and is purportedly a snap to use with a laptop, even a Mac, via a USB cable. That latter feature means that taking advantage of Globalstar’s 9.6-Kbps data rate—slow, but four times faster than chief competitor Iridium’s—for e-mail or even basic Web browsing should be easy. Plus accessories like a dock and three antenna options let you set up the 1700 neatly at your onboard desk—except that almost simultaneous with the unveiling of this new phone, Globalstar announced that amplifiers on its satellites were degrading faster than anticipated, which might lead to significantly degraded service before replacement satellites and eventually a new generation of birds are in place. In fact, some service issues are already apparent. Add Globalstar's latest gambit, an amazingly inexpensive, but four-year-long, unlimited-use-around-North-America contract, and you have some really baffled satphone shoppers. There's more on my blog Pambo—including user reports and possibly my own offshore testing versus Iridium (Bermuda to Maine)—that I hope to complete before this gets to print.
This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.