Ten percent of the world has cell phone coverage. Obviously, that also means that 90% of the world is outside cell phone range. That includes a lot of places where RVs (recreational vehicles) travel.
Most interstate highways have excellent cell phone coverage, as do most metropolitan areas. While RVs do spend a lot of time on the highways, they also appear in rural areas more often than in cities. I have stayed at more than one RV resort where the cell phone coverage was either spotty or non-existent.
How about data coverage? Can an RV owner surf the web or send and receive e-mail? The answer is... "sometimes." Some campgrounds provide wi-fi coverage while others do not. Many RV owners purchase "air cards" to connect laptop computers to the Internet via a local cell tower; but, air cards have the same limitations as cell phones: they don't work too well in rural areas beyond the reach of the nearest cell tower. Air cards are useless in 90% of the world.
Then there is the issue of "boondocking." That is, camping out in a wilderness area instead of at an established campground. (Information about boondocking may be found at http://www.boondockingguide.com/.) Boondocking is very popular in the western U.S. and is occasionally practiced in some areas of the east. Of course, there are no wi-fi networks when boondocking, and even air cards can be well outside of cellular coverage. All this can leave the RV resident without communications. Have an emergency? Good luck!
Of course, you can always buy a satellite phone, but have you checked the prices on those things? Out of sight!
Now a new device from DeLorme provides limited message capabilities at reasonable prices. Whether you are crossing Antarctica or the Sahara or hiking the Appalachian Trail or taking a cruise on a cruise ship or simply parking the RV in Arizona, you’ll have reliable coverage on the 90% of the earth outside of cell phone range. All this works on the world’s only truly global network: satellite coverage.
The DeLorme inReach device is a handheld communications hub for data (no voice capabilities) that works with your present Apple, Android, or Windows Mobile cell phone. It also works with Apple iPod Touch, iPad, and with most Android tablet computers or any laptop computer that includes Bluetooth. It transforms your smartphone or tablet into a two-way text-messaging global communications device and a GPS viewer (with the latest terrain and road details).
In short, your present cell phone or tablet becomes a handheld computer terminal that connects via wireless Bluetooth to the DeLorme inReach device. In turn, the inReach provides two-way communications to an overhead satellite. Communications is limited to text messages of only 150 characters maximum. That's not much, but it is enough to tell friends and relatives, "I'm OK," or, "I reached my destination," or, "I am spending the night at location..." followed by your precise longitude and latitude, as supplied by the inReach device. Of course, the same device can be used to send SOS messages to relatives or to the authorities.
Messages are two-way: you can both send and receive messages (up to 150 characters per message).
When an SOS message is sent, the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) is contacted. That office provides 24/7/365 emergency response capability. When the SOS is sent, one of the IERCC Duty Officers will be dealing with your emergency, liaising with the primary first response agency responsible in the area closest to you. The Center coordinates with other relevant authorities (such as police or Coast Guard) as well as coordinating any additional private search and rescue resources that may be required to rescue you or save your life. IERCC will also notify the emergency contacts on your inReach account.
Messages can be sent via email or to Facebook or Twitter. You can even have messages and your precise location displayed on your own custom web page, either visible to everyone or visible only to those to whom you give a password. You remain in control over "who can see what." Your custom web page also lets you optionally display your exact location on a map.
A Follow-Me/Find-Me Tracking and automatic location feature allows others to follow your travels. You can turn tracking on or off at any time to make sure your route is known. Use it to aid rescuers, to make maps, to keep you connected to the world, or just to provide a measure of authenticity to your travel stories or adventures. People can even ping your inReach device to find your latest location.
The DeLorme inReach weighs just 8 ounces (227 grams) with 2 lithium batteries plugged in. It is handheld size: 3.4" high (4.77" including antenna), 2.85" wide, 1.73" deep; (or 8.6 cm H (12.1 cm including antenna), 7.2 cm W, 4.4 cm D). It easily slips into a backpack or a jacket pocket. It is waterproof and dustproof, and if dropped in water, it floats.
There are no cables to carry as all communications with your cell phone are via wireless Bluetooth. However, a small USB to micro-USB cable is included in the box with the inReach, which you will want to use when you return home to download firmware updates to your desktop or laptop computer and then copy them to the DeLorme inReach. You won't need that cable for everyday use, however.
Two-way communications requires both the DeLorme inReach and a so-called smartphone or tablet computer. However, one-way follow-me tracking and SOS messages will work the DeLorme inReach device alone, no cell phone or computer required.
The inReach should last 60 hours on two lithium AA batteries, based on transmitting one tracking point every 10 minutes. Actual results will vary, based on individual usage. For longer trips, you can carry extra batteries or plug the inReach into a vehicle's cigarette lighter power socket for up to several weeks of use. It will also work with most any solar panels designed for use with 12-volt devices.
The inReach connects you to the Iridium network, the world’s largest satellite constellation. It works in the Sahara, the South Pacific, Outer Mongolia, or Arizona. However, if you are in a deep slot canyon or an unusually narrow mountain pass, you may not have the direct line of sight to a satellite that’s needed. Unlike satellite television, the Iridium network does not use geosynchronous satellites, and you do not need a clear view of the southern sky when in the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, the Iridium satellites are in constant motion. If none is overhead at the moment you send a message, the inReach stores the message and waits for a satellite to come within range, then sends it. From any point on earth, a satellite usually becomes available within a few minutes.
The DeLorme inReach sells for a reasonable $249 although you will also need a monthly subscription plan. Those subscription plans vary from $9.95/month for 10 messages per month up to $49.95/month for unlimited messages. You also need to spend $19.95 for a one-time activation fee. SOS messages are always accepted, even if you have exceeded your monthly message allotment. Subscription plan details may be found at http://www.inreachdelorme.com/product-info/faq.php.
The DeLorme inReach is a great unit for recreational vehicles as well as for marine use, aviation, and many other applications. If I still owned an airplane, I would buy one of these devices in a heartbeat as a supplement to the airplane's ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter). At 8 ounces of weight, it is a great unit for aircraft use. It becomes a satellite-enabled panic button as well as a useful tool for sending and receiving short email messages.
More information about the DeLorme inReach may be found at http://www.inreachdelorme.com/product-info/. You can purchase the DeLorme InReach satellite communications device from several online retailers, including Amazon at http://goo.gl/kWzuu.