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SPOT Satellite Messenger Giving False Checkin Confirmations

This past week my sister has been traveling through India. For her trip, I hooked her up with my SPOT Satellite Messenger. The SPOT Satellite Messenger allows her to “check in” via satellite and GPS, and automatically send a pre-defined list of email addresses a message telling us she’s ok, with her GPS location.

Since she’s been in India, she’s been checking in with her spot messenger – but none of the messages have been going through either to our SPOT online account, or emailed to the SPOT Check In/OK email list. She’s been using the SPOT correctly, and although India lies in the “reduced coverage zone” (SPOT coverage map), the SPOT messenger has been giving the blinking green “OK” envelope light.



I spoke with two SPOT customer service reps about this – one of them the supervisor. They confirmed that the SPOT messenger will display the OK light, even if the device has not actually successfully checked in on the site. They mentioned that there was likely satellite access in the area, however there was no “SPOT gateway” available for the satellite to send the message to the SPOT network on. They apparently are still building out their network, and don’t have network coverage everywhere yet – even in places where the SPOT Messenger will tell you it has successfully checked in.

I see this as a critical flaw in the SPOT Satellite Messenger. If the device is not able to completely send a message to the network, it should alert the user to this – with a flashing red light, or some other distinct indicator. A complete checkin should be not only the device connecting to the overhead satellite, but verifying that the OK (or distress) message has been completely sent on the network, and has been emailed to the selected recipients, or any other defined action taken. The device should NOT blink the OK light if it has only contacted the overhead satellite, but the message has not actually been sent on the SPOT network. The SPOT Userguide seems to be no help in solving this – it actually does mention that the message light will blink red if there is an issue sending the message – however nowhere does it mention that if the message light is blinking green that the message may not have been sent.

To me, this seems like an extremely serious safety concern. How can I know that if I send a distress message, it has actually gotten through? At least if I try to send a message and it tells me it can’t be sent, I could try repositioning the device, or keep trying from different locations until I got a true OK message. SPOT needs to fix this flaw before any other travelers are led down this path of lies.

Ps… I actually also had this same problem while I was traveling in Peru – which is on the “full coverage” area of the map. The reps on the phone told me that it was a completely separate issue – but I believe that it’s the same one, given the almost identical behavior. The first rep I spoke to let me know that the nearest SPOT gateway to Peru was in Nicaragua, so even though I was in the full coverage area, I still may not have had a connection to an official SPOT gateway.

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*Update 20100123 – Survival expert Doug Ritter emailed me clarifying the operation of the SPOT a bit.

5 comments

  1. Andrea says:

    We are currently setting up a SPOT Connect and are having the same issue as we are trying to do a test run with a check-in/ok message. Ours actually are showing up in our online account, but are not coming through as text messages to cell phones or to email addresses in our contact groups. We’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with tech support, but have not heard the “SPOT gateway” excuse, nor has the problem been resolved. This is frustrating and you’re absolutely right…it is a major safety issue.

  2. Peter says:

    I’ve been using the SPOT in New Zealand and alos alot of check-in messages were not delivered. Very disappointed for the price I paid. Custumer Service say If I think the device is faulty I shoud return it for warranty Check. Though for me is a coverage issue, sometimes it’s send, sometimes not. I have a 50% success-rate which is not acceptable.They just updated their coverage map and NZ is in the well covered zone now. This was not when I left and in reality it’s still performing very poor. (Although the map claims differently)

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