Iridium Extreme 9575 Phone Review for 2020

eWEEK PRODUCT REVIEW AND ANALYSIS: Besides being a useful tool for business, this Iridium phone could save your life.

At first glance, the Iridium 9575 Extreme isn’t particularly impressive. In fact, it resembles the earliest handheld cell phones of 20 years ago, what with its black finish, the large external antenna and the relatively small screen. But looks can be deceiving.

In reality, this Iridium phone can reach the company’s 66 satellites circling nearly 500 miles above the earth in polar orbits. The fact that Iridium uses polar orbits means that the satellites can be reached anywhere on earth. The relatively low altitude effectively eliminates latency that can disrupt conversations.

The Iridium Extreme phone tested for this review is about the size of an iPhone 11 Pro, but it’s twice as thick. It weighs about two ounces more. The screen is square and monochrome, but it has enough space to show you the phone’s status, satellite signal strength, the number being dialed and to display items from the menu.

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Like the cell phones of the past, there’s a numerical keypad that also will produce alphabetic characters with multiple button pushes for sending SMS messages. There are two soft keys and a scroll button. On the top of the phone is the satellite antenna, the power button and the red SOS button, which is protected by a tight-fitting rubber cap.

Details about how it works

The antenna sticks up 2¼ inches above the top of the phone in its retracted position. To use the phone, you must pull the antenna out another 3½ inches. The end of the antenna has a three-position tilt feature that allows it to point straight up while you’re using the phone. This gets the part of the antenna that’s transmitting and receiving radio waves clear of your head.

The SOS button on the top of the phone can be programmed to connect to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center, a sort of global 911 service. The first time you power on the phone, it will insist that you tell it whether you want to connect to GEOS or some other contact. If you wish, you can enter another number that will be called when you press the red button.

Iridium has made sure that their satellite phone will be there if you need to use it in an emergency. It’s extremely rugged, it will withstand being sprayed with water, dropped and covered in dust. The battery will last for several days in standby, and you can talk for 4 hours.

While the Iridium Extreme looks like a cell phone, it doesn’t work the same way. To start with, you must be outside with a clear view of the sky before you can make calls. So, yes, that means those people you’ve seen on television making satellite calls from inside basements or in the engine rooms of Navy ships are doing it wrong. Satellite calls from those locations are impossible.

Dialing this phone is a new experience

In addition, satellite phones have their own country code, so to make or receive a call that country code needs to be part of the number. If you’re calling out to a number in the U.S., you would dial the international access code, which is a plus sign (+), the country code, the area code and then the number. Someone who needs to call you will do the same thing, first dialing the international access code, which is either 011 in the United States, or it's a plus sign, then the country code for Iridium, then the phone number. Fortunately, Iridium will also provide a U.S. number for dialing in to the phone, so your callers won’t have to be making international calls.

Phone calls are very clear. People I’ve called say that the call sounds like a good cell phone call. There is no obvious latency, unlike calling with a phone that uses geosynchronous satellites where there’s a half-second delay.

When you first turn the phone on, the phone will take a few seconds to locate and then register with a satellite. Once that’s done (it will show up on the screen), then you can make phone calls. Because you’re already calling from an international phone, you can call anywhere in the world for no extra charge. The satellites will route the call to a downlink, even if it’s on the other side of the globe. You may notice an occasional brief gap during calls, apparently because of this.

Comes with a complete kit

The Iridium Extreme 9575 comes in a complete kit that includes a travel charger with adapters, a car charger, a leather holster, USB mini data cable, accessory adapters including an antenna adapter for connecting to the vehicle antenna, a magnetic vehicle antenna and a hands-free headphone. The kit is available from a number of vendors, including Amazon, for about $1,150. Prepaid and postpaid service plans are available through satellite phone stores or from Amazon. Costs of a monthly service plan are similar to cell phone monthly charges.

To some, a satellite phone may seem like an extravagance, but it can be a critical tool in your business continuity plan in the case of an emergency. As the California wildfires have clearly demonstrated, you can lose cell service and your landline without warning, a fact that has caused distress to many businesses. With a satellite phone as a means of communications, you can stay in touch with your employees, your customers and your suppliers--even when other forms of communications are unavailable.

And of course, if your staff needs to travel to locations where cell service is unreliable or absent, it can be a critical link there, too.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...