Firmware upgrade on the Motorola Iridium 9505 Original Version

I thought I’d write a quick post on the firmware upgrade situation for the Iridium 9505 (not the 9505A) as there was a lack of reliable information online.

Apparently, upgrading the 9505A is as simple as plugging it into the computer and running a little program. You might be fooled into believing it would be the same way with the earlier 9505 — WRONG!

Telling the difference

To check the firmware version on the phone, dial *#91#. It is apparent that many of the 9505s with “Motorola” (not “Iridium”) on the bottom of the screen were shipped with an earlier firmware. They could have been upgraded at some point depending upon their heritage, though.

I ended up with two 9505s, one with “Iridium” on the screen and firmware LAC0307, the other with “Motorola” and LAC109G. It won’t be very obvious that the versions are different unless you attempt to reply to a text message and the latter won’t let you 🙂

The last firmware version for the 9505 appears to be LAC0307. This version allows the following:

  1. Outbound text messages — some earlier firmware versions including LAC109G, do not support outbound texting just like on the 9500.
  2. Disabling the antenna lock override — on LAC0307, you can dial *#92#, reboot the phone, and it will not disable the radio when the antenna isn’t detected in the right position. This influences some dock compatibility.

Upgrading — the bad news

Unlike the 9505A, the 9505 firmware upgrade requires a mythical box called the EMMI (mumble Motorola mumble Interface?). According to the man at NorthernAxcess who sounded like the premier expert on all things Iridium, there exists currently one such box in the known universe. It is owned by Iridium.

Supposedly, Iridium is not incredibly keen to continue supporting these ancient 9505 phones. The engineer who actually performs the upgrades seems to do so with no particular SLA. And supposedly, due to the age of the phones the upgrade doesn’t always seem to go as planned.

So it is possible to get the firmware upgraded, but the cost will be somewhere in the $150 area and take an unknown amount of time. I was quoted “up to a month once in the hands of Iridium” and presumably there will be some latency getting the phone to NorthernAxcess. It didn’t sound, from my direct communications with Iridium, that it was possible to send equipment to them directly for such service.

Alternatives

NorthernAxcess is offering credit and trade up to the 9505A. The 9505A seems thoroughly the product of a half-assed revamp of the original 9505 to deal with component changes. Some changes:

  1. Same pinout on the bottom except that they don’t route power through the pins anymore. Some changes were made (new or moved notch) to make sure that you don’t connect the 9500/9505 charger to the 9505A because it won’t work.
  2. Annoying: even though the RS-232 pins are the same, they made a new data adapter for the 9505A that doesn’t have the power input on the bottom. NorthernAxcess claims you can pry off the notch and carry on using your 9505 adapter. Unclear what would happen if you managed to apply charging power to the base.
  3. Also annoying: Power only goes through the side. For this reason, docking stations for the 9505A had to have a pigtail DC cable to plug into the side of the phone, which seems ridiculous. But apparently functional. Supposedly the military was having problems with the fragile proprietary plastic connectors becoming broken in battle.

Supposedly there are a number of advantages to the 9505A:

  1. Power cable uses a barrel jack, not a ridiculous 1998 plastic paperclip contact scheme. Is possible to get third part connectors. 9505 power adapter actually has two voltages — 4.2V for main charging and another active pin that appears to be for signaling or maybe a second voltage, which came in around 2V. Not clear what happens if you apply power to only the 4.2V rail.
  2. Although the barrel jack is rated for 6 volts, people seem to have luck charging it off a 5V USB apparatus. Service man said people “had phones do wonky things” with third party USB power supplies. Unclear if voltage or power quality problems (I’d want to use it with Anker or some such).
  3. There are service parts available, like replacement LCD screens. At this point you’re pretty much SOL if your 9505 runs into problems.
  4. Upgraded internals, faster processor, more memory. Probably not hugely important to the average user.

One major question is whether you may want to upgrade to the 9575 or 9555 instead of the 9505A, but the refurbished 9505A seems to be a pretty good deal and I think the original antenna setup seems most reasonable. The 9555 has a kludgy antenna adapter mount through the back, whereas the 9575 requires a base attachment for both antenna output and charging.

Anyways figured I’d publish a note on this for future satellite phone explorers.

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