The following is a review of the Delorme InReach Explorer SE and its use in an Enterprise Solution. We were able to find individual reviews on the Delorme InReach but did not find anything specific to the Enterprise function other than what was listed on Delorme’s site. This post will provide an overview of where the Delorme InReach fits in our communications system as well as what we like and dislike about the Enterprise Solution. There are very good reviews on the Delorme InReach for individual use but this will focus more on the Enterprise Solution.
Our Communications System Overview
We use a variety of devices to communicate between guides in the field and for our guides to communicate with our office or external agencies when required. Those devices include:
VHF Radios: Primary communication tool guide to guide in the field and widely available as a method of contacting external agencies in the event of an evacuation. They are very versatile and with coverage from mountain area repeaters, the radios are an excellent tool.
Satellite Phones: These are primarily used as a method for the guide to communicate with our office staff or duty manager when looking for updated weather forecasts and to advise of itinerary changes or logistical requirements.
SPOT locator beacons: These devices have been a staple on many of our programs as a Check In device or when an evacuation is required, the 911 feature allows agencies to pinpoint the location of the group. Thankfully we don’t use this function often but when we need it, these are very effective.
Most of our communication procedures have focused on ensuring our guides have appropriate communications to reach peers in the field or communicate out when they need information or assistance. This needed to remain at the core of any communications system change, but as our needs and those of our clients change, we needed to look at alternatives to our traditional tools and devices.
We have struggled to find a reliable a device that enables us to contact a guide or guest when the need requires (ie: client family emergency or logistical change). The SPOT device is an excellent and proven one way communication tool. On multi-day trips, it is not practical to leave a satellite phone powered on as the battery life will not last the full trip. Using the Satellite Phone to retrieve voice messages is not efficient and due to coverage gaps we have tried calling Satellite Phones in the past and some have resulted in missed calls. The enhancement we were looking for was a better two way communication tool where we could send a message and have the guide retrieve that message when it was convenient for them. Given the nature of our work, it isn’t always safe or possible to answer the phone when a call comes in.
After exploring a number of options, we recently purchased 15 Delorme InReach devices and activated them under Delorme’s Enterprise Program. We chose the Delorme Explore SE as we felt that met our needs. We chose the SE over the more expensive and feature rich Delorme Explorer for a couple of key reasons. Our primary use of the Delorme would be two way communication. The functionality of the Explorer adds waypoints and navigation features that we felt wouldn’t be used since all of our guides have GPS devices they are familiar with and have spent years mapping their own routes and waypoints. If you didn’t already have a GPS device, the Explorer would likely be a good all in one device.
The downside to using a personal GPS and the Delorme Explorer SE is that you are now carrying two devices versus one. We saw this as low impact since we already carry two devices (GPS and SPOT) today. Plus, as an additional safety mechanism, the guide usually has the client carry the locator beacon (while they carry the radio/satellite phone) so the communications devices aren’t all with one person.
The SOS function on both the Explorer and Explorer SE is exactly the same as is the two way messaging. Both devices also pair with a smartphone but since we will have multiple people using the devices this was not a deciding factor for us. The keyboard on both the Explorer and Explorer SE is not conducive to sending long messages but we feel if the guide in the field needs to communicate with us, they can use a satellite phone. The decider of the Delorme over additional SPOT devices, for us, was the ability to communicate from our base to the field and have the guide retrieve a message during pre-established or convenient times.
So far here is what we like and don’t like about the Explorer SE.
- As already mentioned, the ability to communicate from our base to teams in the field is a wonderful enhancement. The battery life is advertised at approximately 100 hours so we set periods during the day where the guide must turn on the Delorme and check for messages. Over the capabilities of the SPOT, this is what tipped our decision.
- Customized messages: Like the SPOT this is a one click option for the person in the field to send a ‘Check in ALL OK’, request a weather forecast or any other customized message. You can customize three pre-set messages. There is the ability to add other customized text but so far we are only using the pre-sets. I’m sure as our use evolves, so will the pre-set message feature.
- The SOS function is interactive. We have had issues with the SPOT device where the guide was uncertain if the SOS message was actually sent. With the Delorme the header turns red and you are supposed to get a response from their communications center (disclaimer: we have yet to use the SOS function).
- You can program a number of pre-set contacts. This way the person in the field doesn’t have to type in an email address on the little screen. The messages are sent via email and not SMS.
- A GPS signal appears to connect quickly and in under a minute. There is a ‘Share Location’ function and we set up message delivery to show longitude and latitude with every message sent. This is a good feature and allows us to track progress.
- Messages sent from the device are literally received within a minute or two from sending. During testing we expected this to be a bit longer but were pleasantly surprised.
- The Enterprise Account has a Control Panel that lists all units, shows when they last communicated and provides an opportunity to message all or each unit. Again, assuming an Enterprise use, this is very handy. Once set up, the Enterprise Features are intuitive to administer and one place to manage the devices.
- The Enterprise “Assign Device” is not conducive to what we feel is a true enterprise function. Right now each device needs to be assigned to a person with a unique email address. In many cases we will have a Delorme in an area all season and have multiple people carry it throughout the year. Being forced to assign it to an individual doesn’t seem very ‘Enterprise-like’. We would prefer to be able to assign by location or discipline versus individual. In the truest sense every time someone handed the device off to another person, an administrator would have to go in, create a profile for that person, unassign the device, then assign the device to whoever has it now. This is painful and we had to develop a work around.
- Setting up Each User and the contacts for each user/device should be easier under an Enterprise Functionality. You have to create contacts for each device even though in our case those contacts are universal to our Enterprise as each device is programmed with the same messages and contacts. This seems like such an easy fix if Delorme wanted to make this a better experience. Activating, setting up users, assigning devices, setting up contacts for each device and testing send/receive took over 15 hours or a little over an hour a unit. This was much longer than anticipated.
- Unlike messages sent from the device, which are delivered quickly, messages to the device can take up to 20+ minutes to receive in our experience (the range was 9 to 21 minutes). We were somewhat surprised in the discrepancy between the time receipt of messages the device sends versus receives. We adopted 2 hour windows where the device needs to remain on at certain times during the day to mitigate this. Don’t expect to be messaging back and forth with any speed.
- The cost: You really need to think about the monthly network fees. Even at the lowest rate of $35/month for the Pro 5K plan, that is essentially the same cost as a satellite phone plan. We wrestled with this and while we still feel the plan is expensive, you are somewhat limited in your two way field communications options. Hopefully as the network develops and competition with Satellite Phones evolve (SMS Messaging) the pricing will become more competitive.
- We had some set up issues with two of the 15 devices not properly activating. We received good support from the Canadian Tech Line but these issues further delayed our set up.
In general, we chose the Delorme InReach Explorer SE and so far, are satisfied overall. In our business, communication is key and the two-way messaging feature adds additional features to our operating plan. We will roll out the use of the Delorme this summer on a variety of our programs and if all goes as planned we will purchase additional units and make it a universal tool.
While not as user friendly on the set up as one would expect, we recommend the use of the Delorme InReach SE and the Enterprise Application for a two way field communication device.
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures received no actual or implied compensation at all to write this review or purchase Delorme InReach devices and are not expecting any future compensation. We were not given a discount on services or unit purchase price. In our own research we were not able to find any reviews on the Enterprise Plan so this post is designed to potentially assist others looking at this option.