Commonly known as sat – phones, satellite phones are a unique mobile phone model that nearly looks like a cell-phone but so different in functionality. Unlike cell-phones that use towers or terrestrial cell sites, sat phones use orbiting satellites worldwide to transmit and receive signals for effective communication. These phones were invented in the late 1980s to allow communication in areas that standard cell-phones cannot access. For detailed understanding of these phones, walk with us to the latter.
How Do Satellite Phones Work?
After realizing that this is a very commonly asked question, we decided to explain it in detail for better understanding. As stated above, sat phones use satellites that are normally in motion around the earth’s orbit to allow communication throughout the entire planet. That is why with sat phones, it’s easy to make effective calls or send messages on mountains, planes, mid-oceans, or remote places that cellular networks cannot access.
To work effectively, these phones depends on two types of satellite networks. The geostationary and the low earth orbit satellite. The geostationary orbit normally appears above in the sky at a distance of (22,236 mi) above the earth’s surface.
On the other hand, low earth orbit uses lower altitude orbit that is normally from 640 to 1120 km above the earth’s surface. So how do satellite phones work? They work by sending signals to either the geostationary satellite or the LEO satellite that is at the nearest point. In turn, the satellite sends signal to the nearest land-based center (also known as gateway). Then, the gateway sends signal to the recipient’s phone for effective communication.
Is a Satellite Phone Worth It?
Yes. Although some of these phones are pocket-shaking, they are worth buying. This mostly applies to people who travel a lot or work in very remote areas where cellular signals can’t avail at ease. They are also worth because they are vital and essential in natural disaster scenes where cellular terrestrial network has been damaged.
These phones are also easy to use and provide a fast and reliable connection across the globe with no signal hindrance. This also makes it worth an investment.
Who Uses Satellite Phones?
Anyone can use a sat phone as long as it’s connected to a network of satellites. In the early days, these phones were mostly owned by the government, marine companies or rescue organizations for rescue purposes during disasters. Things have changed since private individuals also own satellite phones. Mostly;
- If you are an explorer, traveler, or hiker, you need to use a satellite phone to reach out to friends, family or ask for help in case of an emergency.
- Suppose you work for industries with offices in remote areas such as mining industries, scientific research organizations, or plant industries. Regular cell phones cannot access in such remote areas. Therefore, you need satellite technology to stay connected.
- If you work in NGOs or aid organizations, you need satellite technology to coordinate communication and relief efforts to victims in case of a disaster.
6 Best Satellite Phones For Backpacking
1. BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 Satellite Phone Kit
Nothing will make your camping or travel experience more satisfying than this device. First of all, its simple, non-cryptic design makes it very easy to carry around. Besides that, this device allows its users to make and receive voice calls from anywhere around the globe. Although this device works effectively in most places, its manufacturer clearly states that it doesn’t work in both the extreme north and south Polar Regions.
If you need this device for camping, it will keep you fully covered thanks to its impressive durable battery. Its Lithium-ion battery allows for up to eight hours of talk time and upto160 hours of standby time to be more precise. As if not enough, this device features a tough military exterior design, shock resistance, and ingress rating of IP65.
Moreover, its humidity tolerance runs from 0 to 95℅. Whether you are in a cold or hot area; its workability will not be compromised as it allows an operational temperature range of 55°C to -20°C. On top of that, it can comfortably withstand dirt, dust, and water from any trajectory.
A18 months warranty is allotted to this device so that buyers can be helped just in case the device develops any unexpected malfunctions. In addition, there is a technical team that is on standby 24/7 to help you whenever the need arises. Further, it comes with an international AC wall charger with global plugs. The kit comprises other accessories i.e., an automobile DC charger, a holster with clip, a hands-free earpiece, and a lanyard. Last but not least, this satellite phone is equipped with a transflective display technology that improves visibility.
- Has a great battery life.
- Exhibits a tough design that allows for usage across harsh environmental conditions.
- Can be used in the majority of places around the world
- Easy to carry around.
- It comes with a long term 18 month warranty.
- It cannot be used around some polar regions.
- It lacks an interactive SOS trigger for emergencies.
2. BlueCosmo Iridium 9555 Satellite Phone Bundle
Built with two-inch display size, the above device boasts a very simple exterior outlook. This makes it very easy handset to carry around. Just like with any other Bluecosmo phone, once you buy the latter, you will always have 24/7 technical support at your disposal. This means that if your phone develops an issue, you are free to seek technical support from Bluecosmo. Once you buy this phone, you will receive airtime notifications from Bluecosmo whenever your balance is running low or when it’s about to expire.
If your airtime runs out unexpectedly, worry not. This is because Bluecosmo offers an automatic refill option. This ensures you never run out of airtime. It also comes with a prepaid sim, which you can activate at any time. More to that, this device is powered by 66 cross-linked.
Low Earth Orbit Satellites. These satellites give ultimate coverage over the entire earth’s surface including the Polar Regions. Therefore, with this device you are assured of safety wherever you go. Although it’s quite a small phone, it has an excellent performance thanks to its super inbuilt antennae. This ensures that it doesn’t incur any network problems while in use.
On the other hand, it comes with a total of 18 months of warranty. This comprises a FREE 6-months extended coverage and a 12-month manufacturer warranty. Its strong Li-ion battery allows for 3 hours of talk time as well as 30 hours of standby time. Nonetheless, the device’s subtle tough design renders it an operating temperature range of -10°C to 55°C. Also, it boasts of an illuminated weather-resistant keypad that is backed up by an integrated speakerphone.
- Has a long term warranty
- Can be carried around quite easily.
- It can be used anywhere on the earth’s entire surface including the Polar Regions.
- Its design allows for usage even across harsh environmental conditions.
- Lacks an interactive SOS trigger for emergencies.
3. Globalstar gsp-1700 satellite phone
The above device is ranked as the smallest and lightest satellite phone design by Globalstar. According to the manufacturer, it weighs only 17.6 pounds. Therefore, with these two features, this makes it one of the best satellite phones for backpacking. It measures exactly 5.3H × 2.2W × 1.5D. It equips with a backlit color display and keyboard, making it very convenient for dark time use.
A long-life rechargeable battery is inscribing to ensure that you can use your device anywhere and for exemplary long hours. To be more precise, it allows for up to four hours of talk time and up to 36 hours of standby time. On the downside, the device’s design is not robust enough to withstand extreme environmental conditions.
- It is quite light in nature.
- Can be used in a variety of places.
- Very easy to carry around.
- Cannot withstand tough environmental conditions.
- It lacks an interactive SOS trigger for emergencies.
4. Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro2 handheld satellite phone
Powered with a built-in GPS, this satellite phone allows users to track their position anywhere around the world. It also has wide network coverage. However, it does not offer coverage around the Polar Regions as it uses geostationary constellation. Basically, this means that you cannot make or receive calls or messages if you are around the Polar Regions.
When you buy this handset, it comes with a SIM that you can activate using the many available prepaid and monthly contract airtime options. Note that when it comes to matters concerning airtime pricing, you should verify with the seller. It also comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty, lithium-ion battery, USB cable, Lanyard, hands-free earpiece, holster, DC charger, and international plug kit accessories. Furthermore, it is a simple and light satellite phone that weighs only 11.2 pounds. This makes it very easy for the phone to carry around.
- It is exemplary light in nature.
- It comes with a one year warranty.
- Easy to carry around.
- It is not built to withstand tough environmental conditions.
- It cannot be used around the Polar Regions.
5. Garmin inReach Mini GPS Satellite Communicator
Here is yet another modern satellite phone that ensures you are not cut off from the world irrespective of your location. It uses the 100 percentage global iridium network to allow a two-way text massaging capability.
It has an interactive SOS trigger that allows you to contact the 24/7 search and monitoring center in case of an emergency. This guarantees your safety. To boot more on that, this device ensures it can never be lost as it allows location tracking and sharing. You can also access downloadable maps, color ariel imagery, and so much more via its free Garmin app and other compatible devices.
More to that, it has a high-resolution power of 128 × 128 pixels. The device is also very light in nature and easy to carry around. As a matter of fact, it only weighs 0.31 kilograms. Lastly, the handset exhibits a reliable, rugged design that allows it to withstand harsh environmental conditions.
- Effective communication anywhere around the globe.
- It comes with an interactive SOS trigger that keeps you covered in case of any emergencies.
- Can withstand tough environmental conditions thanks to its rugged design.
- It doesn’t come with a warranty.
6. Garmin inReach Explorer+ Handheld Satellite Communicator
Last but not least, this device closes our list of the ten best satellite phones for backpacking. To begin with, the device supports Bluetooth connectivity. It also allows easier messaging just by syncing it with your cell phone to reach anyone in your contact list. As if not enough, it boasts of a100 percent global Iridium satellite coverage. This ensures that you can easily text or receive texts conveniently in very remote or hilly location.
Also, it comes with an interactive SOS trigger, which ensures your safety in case of emergencies. In addition to that, a modern onscreen GPS and digital compass are both inscribe. They allow users to track their location from anywhere across the world. A rechargeable lithium-ion is also included to ensure that the phone lasts long. This device comprises a rugged exterior design with a water resistance rating of IP×7. Therefore, it can perform very well even when in areas with harsh environmental conditions.
- It exhibits an interactive SOS trigger for emergencies.
- Can be used anywhere around the world.
- It snycs with both Apple and android devices via Bluetooth.
- Its rugged design allows it to withstand harsh environmental conditions.
- It doesn’t come with a warranty.
Key Considerations When Buying Satellite Phones
It’s with no doubt that choosing a convenient and reliable satellite phone can be hectic. This requires you to conduct thorough research or ask for advice from people with experience. In this guide, we have provided some helpful factors to consider before buying your satellite phone.
1. Type of constellation
There are two types of constellation in satellite networks; geostationary and low earth orbit constellation. When choosing your satellite phone, consider the right constellation as the two have different areas of coverage. Geostationary satellite covers almost the entire globe as it orbits the earth at a high altitude.
However, it does not cover around the poles. If you live close to the poles or around Hills, Mountains, or trees, avoid geostationary because such factors affect its signal. LEO constellation system orbits at a lower altitude and has multiple satellite systems overhead. Unlike Geo system, if you leave across the poles, LEO has no signal defaults. Its signals are also not destroyed by trees, mountains, or buildings like that of GEO. Therefore, choose the right constellation depending on your location.
2. Satellite Network carriers
Four satellite network carriers are well known for their effectiveness. There is; Inmarsat, Iridium, Thuraya, and Globalstar. When buying your satellite phone, you should keenly choose the right carrier. Avoid Inmarsat carrier if you live around the North or South Pole because their satellites are normally placed over the equator. This makes its signals so weak at the poles.
Iridium carrier is convenient to consider as its network operates under multiple satellites in a polar orbit. This makes it possible to relay its network coverage across the entire globe. It does not restrict any location.
Thuraya does not provide coverage everywhere. Consider this carrier if you live only in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East.
Avoid Globalstar if you are in North America.
Satellite phones are expensive to acquire. For that reason, ensure your phone’s durability is not at stake before purchase. Ensure your phone has high weather, water, and breakage resistance ability to avoid frustration when in harsh outdoor environments.
3. Purchase and maintenance price
Price is a very vital factor to weigh before buying your satellite phone. However, you should have in mind that high cost is relative to quality. It’s said that Iridium phones are the toughest, most quality, but most expensive. You should thus set your budget high and get a reliable and quality satellite phone.
You should also consider airtime plans before getting your phone. Some carriers have high-cost plans than others. However, most carriers offer call plans ranging from 1.15 to 3.50 $ per minute.
4. Pre-paid deals
It is important to consider carriers with prepaid deals while buying your phone because they are cost-effective. These plans are exquisite to users that travel a lot hence not aware how often or little they might use their satellite phone. In case they use their phone a bunch and more than expected, then there will be no additional cost.
It’s important to consider additional features like internet or email access while buying your satellite. Also check out your phone’s texting limit, Bluetooth capability, and safety measures like ‘one-button SOS ability’ to call for help during an emergency. Other factors like; battery life and country/ region restrictions are also important to consider.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Are satellite phones illegal?
Satellites phones are not universally illegal. Some countries legalize them; others legalize with conditions while others restrict them completely. In countries like China or Bangladesh, satellite phones are illegal, and owning one can lead you to jail. India has also restricted these phones apart from Inmarsat satellite phones. Thuraya phones are illegal in Libya.
How do I turn my smart phone to a satellite phone?
This is possible through SatSleeve Hotspot and SatSleeve+ that sit in sight of the nearby satellite location. To turn your smartphone into a satellite phone, you just need to download SatSleeve hotspot app from your Google Play or Apple App Store. Through the app, you can easily connect your smartphone and SatSleeve through WIFI.
How long do satellite phones last?
This entirely depends on the type of network, location, and maintenance of your battery. However, satellite phones with high battery capacity and proper maintenance can last up to 30 hours of talk time.
How much does it cost to use a satellite phone?
This depends on your provider and geographic area. In most cases, the cost of usage varies from $1.15 to $3.50 per minute.
Can you text from satellite phones?
Yes. It’s very possible to send a text message from a satellite phone to another satellite phone. It’s also possible to send a text message from a cellular phone to a satellite phone as long as their carriers approve texting of satellite numbers.
Do Verizon offers satellite phones?
No. Verizon is a cellular network provider that offers cellular phones and not satellite phones. However, you can call your Verizon cellular phone to Iridium satellite phones for $6 a minute.
Can you call a satellite phone from a cell phone?
Yes. It’s so easy to make a call from a cell phone to a satellite number. All you need to know is the recipient’s exit code. In USS, the exit code is 011, Mexico 00, Australia 0011 among others. After, dial your recipient’s satellite carrier number and connect to your satellite call.
Does AT&T offer satellite phones?
Yes. In 2010, AT&T introduced its first satellite compatible phone known as TerreStar Genus. The phone uses satellite network for data and voice communications, has internal antennas, unlike other satellite phones whose antenna is outside. The handset goes for 799$.
As much as satellite phones are costly to buy and use, these phones are important to own. They act as a safety measure in case of a disaster. They are also important because they are not limited to any coverage area. If you are a frequent traveler to remote or isolated areas, pick the best satellite phone from our list above. However, ensure that your country or region does not restrict these types of phones before purchase.