By Ben Ellison
Saltwater Cellular II
Onboard Wireless sounds great–particularly for PC-oriented boaters–but there may be a rub in U.S. GSM coverage. While this digital-cellular service type is dominant in Europe and Asia, it’s been slow coming to our country, and it’s darn hard to get straight answers from any cellular provider about exact coverage areas. I found my best source to be a stock analyst who covers the wireless world; he reports that all U.S. GSM licenses have been sold and will eventually go live, and he guesses that a user cruising the U.S. coasts would find that about 70 percent of the areas are now actually covered. So the drawback (for the time being) with the Onboard Wireless system is dead spots. Note, however, that it can be integrated with a boat’s existing satellite communications hardware, and the company plans to add its own inexpensive satellite capability next year.
Another unique marine cellular device is Garmin’s NavTalk, a combination mapping GPS and analog cellphone. It’s a little bulky by cellphone standards, but it’s also waterproof and tough–useful for dinghy exploration, perhaps even survival situations–and has become a desirable gizmo for certain "techy" boaters. Garmin recently introduced a slimmed-down (though no longer waterproof) GSM NavTalk–with sophisticated mapping and data synching functions–in Europe and Asia. The company also has a new Pilot NavTalk that becomes a fixed unit in a plane. Clearly Garmin is focusing design energy on cellular, so it seems likely it will come up with new and innovative marine phones.
Most boaters–especially cruisers–could make use of any one of these appealing products, but imagine putting them all together. Picture Raymarine’s dexterous voice network combined with Onboard Wireless’ speedy PC interface and a rack of mobiles–one of them a Garmin mapping marine unit–ready to take your SIM card. Now that’s boat phone nirvana.
Ben Ellison has been a delivery captain and navigational instructor for nearly 30 years and was recently editor of Reed’s Nautical Almanacs.
Phone: (800) 800-1020. Fax: (913) 397-8282. www.garmin.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.