Iridium Airtime – How it Works

Published 13 years ago, updated 4 years ago

On 03/19/2009 I purchased a SIM card Iridium for 500 minutes/1 year at the of Miami and on 06/16/2009 I activated the card.

After the first trial call on 06/16/2009, a recorded message informed me that my credit was 499 minutes and 364 days. During the sailing from Brazil to French Guyana on 03/19/2010 after I tried to call, on the display appeared “Outgoing calls barred” as started the expiry period from the date of purchase of the SIM and not from the date of activation.

This is not correct because I had over 300 minutes of credit and these minutes are valid for the provider.

Of course, Satphonestore has resold my 300 minutes to another customer, but a satellite phone is for first a safety instrument and no one should interrupt suddenly a service like this particularly for gain. Of course, Satphonestore did not answer to my e-mails of protest.

So – pay attention to the expiry date of your SIM card Iridium, that should start from the date of activation, but it seems not forever so….

Rocco De Sanctis

Response from Ed Wildgoose of MailASail, an Iridium VAD (one of only a few companies who can talk directly to Iridium about technical issues).

Whilst I understand your distress, the situation with Iridium airtime is well defined and because the system is operated by Iridium (not the reseller) the rules remain the same for every customer in the whole world.

Now you may well have been misled by the seller and that’s something you need to sort out with them, is how Iridium airtime works on ALL Iridium prepaid accounts no matter who or where you buy them:

  • When you buy a “top up” for the prepaid airtime then the reseller has to “purchase” that voucher from Iridium using an online system called SPNet.
  • The airtime will be immediately available to use at that point and any line rental/expiry will start ticking FROM THAT POINT
  • There is no way to freeze an account and stop the line rental ticking. Nor is it possible to apply a voucher now and somehow have it sit in limbo indefinitely until the customer makes the first call (this is something I have seen misquoted). Basically, the expiry starts ticking as soon as the retailer purchases the topup from Iridium.
  • However, the retailer is welcome to “sell you” airtime, hang onto your money, and then at some later stage, you can request that the retailer activates and applies the airtime to the SIM. Notice that you cannot have the Iridium active or have any ability to place calls (even in an emergency) until you load the airtime onto the SIM and hence at that point any line rental (expiry) starts counting down.

The point is that Iridium sells a significant fraction of their airtime to “emergency” phones which sit dormant in cupboards for long periods of time until needed. As such (sadly) Iridium require you to basically pay if you want the phone activated on their network. We can argue that it would be great if they did things differently, but this is how their Prepaid service works…

(Note though that there do exist some emergency-only type tariffs – they have some caveats, but contact us for plans which have low monthly cost in exchange for slightly higher than normal call costs)

Additionally with Prepaid airtime:

1. You may top-up the line rental (expiry) at any time in 30-day increments (just the line rental, no minutes). You do NOT have to let a 500 min voucher expire at the end of the year!! However, the majority of retailers will decline to sell you low-value top-ups such as just a single month of line rental… Basically find a quality retailer, not just the person who will sell you a 500 min topup for the least money…

2. If you do NOT topup the line rental before the end of your contract period then the SIM is turned off and all remaining minutes are lost! This is to Iridium’s benefit, they are NOT credited to the reseller. Remember you don’t have to let this happen! But equally, most resellers will decline to let you buy extensions to the line rental because they prefer to sell only larger top-ups… Look at the big picture, not just the price of the first topup…

3. You may also buy just minutes without extra line rental…

4. You can check your expiry and minutes balances at ANY time by dialing (free) 2888 from your Iridium phone. This WILL give you an accurate balance and there is no way for the expiry date to suddenly decrease once you note it down. The customer should monitor this balance and take proactive action if it’s getting low

5. It’s not easy for a reseller to “resell” your airtime, but it’s possible. Essentially prepaid airtime could be sold second hand either by simply selling the whole SIM to some willing buyer. OR there exists a complicated process designed to replace faulty SIM cards, whereby the entire balance can be transferred to another previously deactivated SIM. However, this transfer process usually has a significant cost associated with it…

So my guess as to what happened in your case:

  • When you initially made the transaction with the reseller they misunderstood that you wished the SIM card to be immediately active and applied your 500 min and 12-month voucher to the SIM

* Immediately this was done the line rental started counting down and would expire 365 days later.

* I’m not sure why you would have noted 364 days on 16th June 2009, but it’s around 89 days later than the probable activation and so it should have said something like 275 days remaining – could you have misheard?

* I’m not sure what you mean by “activating” on 16th June 2009, but if you can show categorically that the original transaction you placed was not supposed to take effect immediately and should have started with effect from June, then I would expect the reseller to compensate you and make you whole – it’s their mistake

This situation seems like a misunderstanding on one side or the other.

In conclusion:

It really behooves you to check your remaining balance from time to time by dialing 2888 – I understand you might not think you needed to, but if it’s “safety-critical”, then checking more than once a year is just basic maintenance…

Good luck

Ed Wildgoose

MailASail – Iridium VAD

tel: +44 20 70432832

MailASail are also an Iridium and Inmarsat retailer and distributor of hardware and airtime.

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