Jan 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm #1297870
I have been trying to sort out the multiple “PLBs” on the market for the upcoming season and am looking for some real world experience. I don’t want to hash out what is a “real” PLB and what is not. I just want to hear peoples thoughts on the units that they have used. As far as my experience, I have been using a spot 1 for several years with no issues. I have always got the “OK” signal out to the family without failure on trips to CO, WY, and UT. The problem is that on longer trips I have always rented a SAT Phone so I could get in touch with the wife in case there was an emergency back home. In order to avoid this cost in the future, I was considering the Delorme In-Reach and pare it with my smart phone. While the subscription is pretty high, at least I would be able to avoid the sat phone rental at least once a year (about $100).
It seems that the Inreach would be the best option if I had to communicate with the family while on a trip. My other options are just to continue with the SPOT or get an ACR unit, and bite the bullet once a year for the sat phone. Even though the SPOT has worked very well for me so far, the multitude of horror stories with the SPOT has me worried.
So, Inreach users, what’s your thoughts?
BenJan 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm #1942611
@vigilguyLocale: Northern Utah
I was a loyal SPOT user , all three different models, until the DeLorme inReach came out. I have been much happier so far with the features of the inReach. To me, it seems to be more advanced, technically speaking than even the latest SPOT. I have enjoyed the two-way texting feature of the DeLorme, and it has been very reliable. It has a more solid, sturdier housing too.Jan 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm #1942628
Can you use the in reach as a stand alone PLB if you do not purchase any subscription services?Jan 10, 2013 at 3:24 pm #1942632
I've used the Spot Connect (works with my iphone) for the past year and gave up on it. Great idea but poorly implemented in my opinion. I have just bought an inReach and have done a few trial trips with it. So far so good.
The Spot was unable to put down a complete track on a local 10 km hike that I often do. I probably tried a dozen times and it never managed a complete track. The trail has moderate tree cover but is otherwise fairly flat (no canyons). The inReach has put down a perfect track on this trail in several different trials (+1 inReach!).
The good and the bad…
The Good – Lighter, econonmical service plan, less expensive initial purchase price.
The Bad – Poor performance (messaging and tracking), only 40 characters per message (this was a pain!), emails went to wrong contact, difficult to position "skyward" (poor case design), only uses lithium batteries (it does work with rechargables but Spot says "Don't use others"), Spot's Website is so-so. It's also impossible to use the Spot for tracking and messaging without a smart phone (only SOS is available without an iPhone), so don't let the weight savings fool you!
The Good – Holds a satellite lock better than the Spot (tracking and messaging), allows 160 characters per message (this is great!), can use various battery types and the unit can be configured for them so the battery monitor works with any type (lithiums obviously best). Case design allows for easy alignment "skyward", The inReach is a solid unit (it's a brick… that's a plus and a minus). I like the inReach iphone app better than the Spot app. The inReach can be used without a smart phone including 3 canned messages, tracking and SOS. This is great and I have been carrying mine most of the time without my iphone (but nice to have the option of sending custom messages if I take the iphone). inReach Service plans allow you to "suspend" the service in the off season ($4.00/month fee is all that's required to maintain your web account).
The Bad: Initial purchase cost is higher than Spot. Website is so-so (maybe worse than Spot's), inReach is unusually heavy for it's size! Service Plans can be expensive (but see additional comments below). Canadian Service plans aren't as good as the American equivalents. Mapping seems slow to download to the phone (I can't remember doing this on the Spot so I can't compare).
Regarding Service Plans – the "all inclusive" Spot plan was a very good plan ($150/year). With the inReach you will pay considerably more ($600) for the same level of sevice. That said, I know my usage pattern (because I've owned the Spot for a while) and being creative and using the suspend feature will save me quite a few dollars. I'm not a chatty guy so I won't use much of the messaging and tracking will be used "as needed" (depends on the situation), so I've gone with the cheapest plan and will buy messages and track points as I go. I estimate it will cost me about $200-$250 per year to run the inReach (Spot cost me $150). This assumes I will suspend the service through the winter months and purchase tracks and messages as needed.Jan 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm #1942649
>> Can you use the in reach as a stand alone PLB if you do not purchase any subscription services? <<
And even when you pay the $4/month fee to suspend your service the device cannot transmit.Jan 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm #1942681
@flutingaroundLocale: Rocky Mtn. West
But I bought the McMurdo Fast Find last month. No subscription fees won me over.Jan 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm #1942683
@adoxLocale: EastCoastJan 10, 2013 at 11:36 pm #1942767
I find it interesting that there is always a discussion about "which is best" when these devices are discussed. To me the PLB's and Spot/inReach gadgets are vastly different devices that are made for different purposes. The Spot and inReach are messaging devices. The PLB's are dedicated rescue beacons.
Here's how I see it…
If you want to talk to somebody (whether it's with a cell phone, sat phone or Spot/inReach, you should expect to pay for a service plan. If you are only concerned about being rescued and don't care about talking to anybody, you get a PLB.
I personally think there is value in being able to communicate with people if I choose to do so, even though I'm not a chatty guy (my device is off 99% of the time that I am on a trip… I don't want to be plugged in all the time… but it's there if I need it).
I like the idea that if I come across somebody that needs help (or if I need help or somebody else in my group) that I can talk directly to the GEOS folks and tell them what to expect. With the inReach, they will respond to my request for help and let me know that they have received my message. To me there is a huge benefit in being able to tell them what the situation is… that's a service worth paying for in my mind.
There is also the additional peace of mind I get knowing that if I contact GEOS on behalf of somebody else that is injured, I can let GEOS and my next of kin know that it's not me that is hurt (If you set off an alert with a PLB your contacts will be notified whether it's you or not).
I also think there is value in the tracking feature, especially if you hike alone. I don't backpack alone anymore but fishing is a different story for me and bush-whacking is common place when I fish. It's nice to be able to leave a track that can be followed if I go missing.
As always, pick the right tool for the job… PLB's and messengers are not the same, there is just a minor overlap in functionality.Jan 11, 2013 at 7:35 am #1942819
I have a Spot GPS messenger (the smaller second revision), and I haven't used the Delorme or Spot connect. I made the choice to go with the Spot messenger because I didn't want one that paired with a smart phone. I've used the Spot for 2 years and I've never had it not get a message out and I am glad that I don't need my smart phone as part of the system.
I pay for the 'tracking' service for Spot, but rarely use it, my feeling is that I want to make sure that the batteries work should a real emergency situation arise, so I usually limit myself to check-in-ok in the mornings and evenings.
This year I plan on getting a 4 ounce (130 gram) ACR PLB (http://www.acrartex.com/products/catalog/personal-locator-beacons/resqlink-406-gps-plb/) to use in case of an emergency, and then use the Spot in tracking mode more often to leave "bread crumbs". Yes, this involves carrying both the Spot and an PLB, but they are both tiny and I feel that this gives a system that will both allow messages, real-time-tracking while providing a very robust way of getting the message out in an emergency.Jan 15, 2013 at 10:55 am #1944059
For what it is worth – The devices break into three categories and depending on what you want to use it for you can figure it out from there. Not trying to open up the "what's a real PLB" question. Just trying to make sure everyone compares apples to apples. If anyone reads Practical Sailor magazine they do pretty good consumer report type reviews of EPIRBs, PLBs, One-Way messengers, and Two-Way messengers.
PLBs offer great safety and security, they do not require a service contract and are backed by government SAR professionals. This is the only option for emergency only type response. Lots of good ones out there to chose from, one advantage to PLBs is they all conform to strict standards.
One way messenger – ie SPOT. Lots has been said on this in the past so I wont repeat, It is what it is – a one way messaging device.
Two way messaging devices – Iridium has released a short burst data modem that has found its way into a bunch of new products. Each one offers some form of two way text messaging and emergency communications capability over the Iridium satellites. DeLorme Inreach is one, Yellowbrick 3 is another which is also based on the same Iridium modem (http://www.yellowbrick-tracking.com), the company I work for BriarTek also makes a device called Cerberus (www.BriarTek.com) Some of the manufactures offer rental programs so if you are not ready to invest in a yearly contract but want to give it a try that is an option. Since I work for one of the companies I will not post any subjective thoughts – just the facts as I know them.Jan 15, 2013 at 11:24 am #1944065
Thank you Joe. Very professional way to approach the question.
Last year I called around and tried to find someone willing to rent a Spot or InReach. No one would. I came across the Cyberlink a couple months ago and was really thrilled to see that you rent devices. This seems like a logical piece of equipment to rent for those of us not on the trail constantly (for me, 2 young kids, run an organization, working on one more degree).
If anyone else out in BPL-land has experience with these other devices, I am sure many of us would be curious. I already planned on renting a Cyberlink for my next big trip (wife insists on it) and can report back. Its less than half the price of renting a sat phone, and has to be more reliable (half my sat attempts at a sat phone call or text did not work).
PS: just to be clear, I have zero connection with Joe or his company. just trying to find a less expensive way to convince the wife to not freak out when I want to go solo.Jan 15, 2013 at 11:36 am #1944071
Joe, is the weight of the Cyberlink listed on your website (186g or 6.6oz) with or without batteries? Is the battery removable or built-in/rechargeable?
If the weight is with batteries, then the weight of the device is appealing. It would not weigh much more than the Spot, but with greater functionality (e.g., 2 way msg).
I could take this line of questions off-forum and contact Joe's company directly, but I am assuming others here might be interested in the answers.Jan 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm #1944084
The Weight includes the internal rechargeable battery. The battery lasts for about a month in standby mode and can send around 1000 messages per charge. I won't make public comparisons between products since I clearly have a bias.
There is lots of new stuff coming out all the time (not just from us but from industry at large) If there are features or capabilities that people are interested in, make your voice heard. I know of lots of companies that are working on competing devices, the more people discuss what is useful and what is not the better all of these products will eventually become.
If anybody wants information offline you can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm also happy to answer any questions here just want to make sure I don't violate good manners and/or policy.Jan 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm #1944099
Thanks again Joe. Very helpful and exiting to hear (I prefer internal rechargeable myself over replaceable batteries, but i am not thru-hiking these days).
Any exciting new technology developments you see coming…would love to hear.Jan 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm #1944139
Hi Joe, welcome to BPL!
Thanks for posting the info regarding the CyberLink and for being upfront about your affiliation.
I have to admit that I was not aware of your company or the devices mentioned in your post. It's nice to have additional options. Can you tell me what the difference is between the CyberLink and the Cyberus or are they the same thing and I'm just getting confused with branding?
I like that you have a rental program, that's a big bonus for the backpacking crowd.
I also notice that your business is largely focused on nautical applications so I was wondering if the testing of your devices ever focuses on dense cover reception? As a boater, I know that I have never had a problem getting a lock when on the water with any GPS enabled device I've used but under heavy tree cover it's another story. I'd be concerned about carrying one of your devices if it was designed solely for on water use.
I also found your service plans interesting. Quite different from my Spot and inReach agreements. How are your plans licensed outside of the USA (I'm in Canada)?
Since I've never seen a CyberLink (or Cyberus?) I can't really comment other than to say that for backwoods travel, I prefer replaceable batteries (either a replaceable battery pack like my camera or Lithium AA's would be even better (just a thought).
I will also say that if you want to jump ahead of the competition, add a display to your units that will allow me to read my current GPS coordinates. All of the manufacturers of these devices have GPS receivers on board but few allow you to view your current coords. Just a suggestion (and high value for backpackers).Jan 16, 2013 at 8:14 am #1944317
Thanks for the feedback and suggestions. In addition to your post I've received several emails asking about foliage penetration so I figured I'd address that question here for all. Again, I'll stay away from specific product comparisons since I am a manufacturer I'll stick to the basic properties of the devices that impact signal quality.
To better address the concerns regarding signal reliability under dense tree cover we need to look at some basic differences between devices. To start with there is a significant difference between the new two-way messaging devices and PLBs in that PLBs operate on 406MHz and all of the Iridium based messengers (Including our Cerberus) operate on approximately 1.6GHz . As you go up in frequency your wavelength gets smaller. There are lots of implications to this but one of them is that the ability of a signal to penetrate goes down as wavelength goes down. (oversimplification but a general rule) As I stated in an earlier message, the new two-way messaging devices are not PLBs, if you are carrying a device as a "help, I've fallen and I can't get up" then a PLB is the best choice. Better penetration, better standards, known response from SAR authorities. The down side is they are only useful in an emergency and there is no way to let anybody know what you actually need (ie rescue vs, directions, vs. immediate medical attention vs. send a message to my wife I'v decided to stay out here for another week.) PLBs also can not be used to warn you of a hazard not let you know about an emergency back home.
The two-way texting devices on the Iridium network for the most part use the same (or similar) satellite modems. There are two types in production (9602 and 9603) they are very similar and both will yield the same foliage penetration. The antennas used by a particular manufacturer will make a difference but here again most of what I have seen indicates we are all using the same or similar antennas.
I'd love to get on this site and promise you all that these devices will work under any dense coverage and that mine is the best in that category but the truth is, it's a tough problem and in my opinion nobody has a clear and convincing hardware advantage. We are on the same satellite network, use the same (or similar) modems and use the same (or similar) antennas. We each have done some design work to optimize performance but we all have the same laws of physics.
One area where there is a very big difference is in the ability to understand when you do and do not have clear signal. Unlike cell phones and satellite phones these two-way messengers are not continuously in view of the satellites. They drop in and out of coverage as the satellites fly overhead. This can make determining if you are in a "good" spot pretty frustrating. In the case of Cerberus we have a "check signal" feature which allows you to see if you have a satellite in view. We also provide positive feedback that lets you know when a message has been sent or is pending.
Another difference is in how the units are programmed. For example, if I wanted to save battery life I could only transmit signal when a user hits a "send" button. The downside of this is that if the user hits that button when he/she is not in view of a satellite then the message will not go through. If instead I continue to transmit until I see a satellite you can imagine that I would burn through a battery pretty quickly if I am in a cave or other environment where I can't see the sky. Again each manufacturer deals with this tradeoff in a different way.
Last but not least I would caution you not to put all of your faith into "testing" on this subject. Weather and environmental conditions play a huge role. A system that works in a dense forest on a sunny day in January may fail miserably in an October rain storm. This is true for PLBs, SPOT, and two-way texting devices such as Cerberus.
Sorry for the very long post.Jan 16, 2013 at 8:34 am #1944325
Joe, no need to apologize. This was quite helpful.Jan 16, 2013 at 9:06 am #1944334
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
Very well said.
StephenJan 16, 2013 at 11:49 am #1944379
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
Some clarifications may be necessary here. For one thing, there are satellites and then there are satellites. Not all satellites are equal, not by a long shot.
Originally, there were communications satellites. These were normally all geostationary. That means that they were at an orbital altitude of about 22,000 miles and they appear to be hovering over the Equator. These work fine if you have an Earth station and you want to point it at one spot in the sky.
Then we got non-geostationary satellites. GPS (Navstar) satellites are good examples. They fly an inclined polar orbit at about 11,000 miles, so they appear to be moving across the sky. There are dozens of them, so it seems like a complete mesh of satellites in the sky from virtually anyplace on Earth.
At lower orbits, you have the LEO's (Low Earth Orbit satellite). They also appear to be coming and going overhead. Think Globalstar and Iridium satellites.
Different types of satellite use different frequencies, and that choice is governed by the different atmospheric layers and which layers reflect which frequencies. So, a Globalstar or Iridium satellite tends to want to receive an uplink frequency of about 1.62 GHz. In contrast, the international SAR satellites want to receive 406 MHz for an emergency signal.
That 1.62 GHz uplink is an interesting choice of frequency. It isn't too far from the GPS downlink frequency (1.57 GHz). The difference, of course, is that with a Globalstar or Iridium, you have the transmitter power on Earth pointed upward, and in GPS you have the (much higher) transmitter power in space pointed downward. But then, GPS "birds" are much higher, so there is much more distance to transmit.
With Globalstar and Iridium, they work by "bouncing" all uplink signals back to some Earth station on the Earth's surface. That works fine as long as they are close to land where the Earth stations are located. But that does not work when they are out over the middle of the ocean where there are no Earth stations. That is something to consider if you are a mariner at sea, but that is not an issue for a backpacker. Some of these LEO satellite networks are more complete than others, and that dictates some of the reliability of a single message getting through. In contrast, the international SAR satellites are up higher, so they tend to "see" emergency beacons more reliably.
The U.S. military specifically chose 1.57 GHz for the primary GPS downlink frequency because it works in all weather. You would not want a frequency that would fail during some foul-weather military mission. So, the nearby 1.62 GHz frequency should be almost the same. I don't think that you would want to try to transmit over your Iridium phone link when you are trying to get an accurate GPS position fix at the same time. High powered transmitters and low powered receivers don't mix, at least at the same frequency and the same instant of time.
That 1.57 or 1.62 can get mangled by overhead foliage, and that is especially true if the foliage is fresh and green (holding lots of water) or else if the foliage is dripping wet from rain or snow. If you think this is a factor, then move out into the open if possible.
–B.G.–Jan 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm #1944508
@firestarter01Locale: Bay Area
Very helpful post Joe. Just starting to look into these devices.
Thanks,Jan 16, 2013 at 10:40 pm #1944583
@rexLocale: Central California Coast
Globalstar signals must go from your device, to a satellite, and directly to an earth station in sight of the satellite, for your call or message to go through.
Globalstar has pretty good coverage for the 48 states and southern Alaska, with no coverage for Hawaii, mid-ocean areas, and southern Asia and Africa.
Iridium routes signals between satellites, until a satellite is in sight of an earth station. Iridium-to-Iridium phone calls don't need earth stations at all. Iridium has truly global coverage, subject to the laws and regulations of each country.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iridium_CommunicationsJan 25, 2013 at 8:55 am #1947155
Which one did you finally end up with?Jan 25, 2013 at 1:22 pm #1947235
I actually discovered that my wife renewed our SPOT subscription. It is good till this fall, but from the looks of things, I probably would have done the renew on the SPOT and followed things throughout the year. I just have not had any bad experiences with the SPOT (Gen 1) in 6 years of use, so I am reluctant to switch. Also, the subscription fees for the other units that allow 2 way communications seem a little steep for my purposes.Jan 25, 2013 at 1:25 pm #1947237
okay thanks, I'm sitting on the fence trying to decide between SPOT and Inreach. I see you are from Nebraska and in the plains SPOT may not have any issues wot work. But here in Oregon we have awful lot of trees and wondering if Inreach is worth the steep asking price on both equipment and subscription.Jan 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm #1947251
All of my use with SPOT has been in the mountains of Co, Wy and Ut. I hve not had any issues, but I usually try to activate it in an area with a good view of the sky.
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