The Iridium 9505A is a satellite phone with fast signal acquisition and a semi-rugged chassis that makes it resistant to water and shocks. Unfortunately, it is expensive and doesn't offer GSM network access.
The Iridium 9505A satellite phone is quite big. Rubber around the sides of the phone reduces the impact of shocks, and the buttons are designed to prevent water from seeping into the electronics (it's water resistant, not waterproof). If you're planning to travel over rough country, it will stand up to a fair bit of bumpy driving.
The Iridium 9505A's rotatable antenna sits at 45 degree angle when the phone is held vertically. This is so that when you are making a call, the antenna points directly upwards. When the antenna is rotated in line with the handset it can make the phone awkward to carry, but it's easily detachable for portability.
Iridium prides itself on being a work-focussed, no-frills satellite phone maker, and the lack of smartphone features supports this. Unlike the Thuraya SG-2520 satellite phone, which offers a built-in camera, picture-based menu system and MP3 player, the Iridium 9505A is a basic handset that has a simple list-format menu and a monochrome display.
The Iridium 9505A has been in production since 2004, but this doesn't make it any less functional and it is still a current model. The menu is easy to access and understand, with no lag between selections. Phone book, messaging and call meters are provided, but don't expect any games or organiser functions.
Iridium's satellite network consists of 66 active satellites in low-level orbits around the world. When they're not being hit by disused Russian military satellites, the network provides excellent coverage; this is seen with the reception on the Iridium 9505A handset.
We tried the Iridium 9505A satellite phone in a variety of conditions, from the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the urban jungle of North Sydney. Despite medium cloud cover in the former and tall office buildings in the latter, signal strength was usually strong and call quality generally good. The level of signal compression results in a slightly lower call quality when compared to the Thuraya SG-2520 satellite phone, but it's much easier to get a signal and maintain it during a call when using the Iridium 9505A.
The biggest drawback of the Iridium 9505A satellite phone is its price tag. At $1995 up front or a minimum of $2715 over 24 months on the cheapest Telstra plan, it's more expensive than the Thuraya SG-2520, which offers smartphone features and GSM network access. Full Telstra plan details can be found here.
Fortunately the Federal Government offers a subsidy for citizens, permanent residents and registered businesses if they either live in or frequently work out of areas that have no mobile phone coverage.
If you live in an area with no regular 2G/3G network access, up to 60 per cent of the handset's retail cost is paid for by the government (up to a limit of $1000). By 1 July, 2009, an update to the scheme will bring this subsidy up to 85 per cent with the same $1000 limit. Alternatively, if you spend over 120 days in an area without 2G/3G network access, you're eligible for a subsidy of up 60 per cent of the cost to the limit of $700.
According to Iridium, the 9505A satellite phone has a talk time of 192 minutes and a standby time of 30 hours.
If you're in need of a hard-working satellite phone that will take a bit of a beating, then the Iridium 9505A is a solid device that will quickly find a signal in most conditions. Just make sure you're able to bear the initial outlay.