Comparing satellite phones is vital when matching the mission critical needs of your application with the function and capabilities of the respective satellite communications equipment. A satellite phone is only as good as the network behind it. Each network: Iridium, Inmarsat, and Globalstar have various strengths and benefits. The comparison chart below is designed to help potential customers select which satellite phone is best suited for the job at hand in terms of QoS (Quality of Service), potential limitations, and advantages one handset may have over another. A satellite phone is only as good as the satellite network that it operates on, and Iridium is currently the only satellite constellation to offer its customers seamless global coverage, including both Polar regions. Inmarsat's IsatPhone handsets, while somewhat more economical, lack coverage in the extreme northern and southern latitudes due to their stationary satellites over the Equator. Globalstar is a good economical choice for users in the Continental USA, Canada or Caribbean, but not recommended for travelers outside these areas.
|Iridium Extreme||Iridium 9555||IsatPhone 2||Globalstar
|Coverage||Global||Global||Global (Minus Poles)||Regional
|Weight||8.7oz (247g)||9.38oz (266g)||11.14oz (316g)||7.05oz (200g)|
|5.3” x 2.2” x 1.5”|
|Battery Life||4hr talk / 30hrs standby||3hr talk / 30hrs standby||8hr talk / 160hr standby||4hr talk / 36 standby|
|Antenna||Retractable omni-directional||Retractable omni-directional||Fold-out directional||Fold-out directional|
|Network||66 Low Earth Orbit satellites||66 Low Earth Orbit satellites||3 Geostationary satellites||40 Orbiting Satellites|
|Text Messaging (SMS)||Supported||Supported||Supported||35 Character Receive Only|
|GPS||Yes||N/A||Yes||Yes - During Call|
|Interfaces||Mini USB, Audio||Mini USB, Audio||Micro USB, Bluetooth||Mini USB, Audio|
|Data Connectivity||Yes, via USB or AxcessPoint||Yes, via USB or AxcessPoint||Yes, via USB or AxcessPoint||Yes, via USB or AxcessPoint|
|2.4 Kbps SLOW||2.4 Kbps SLOW||2.4 Kbps SLOW||9.6 Kbps SLOW|
Satellite phones have been around for decades, but until the launch of the Iridium network, subscribers typically needed fortune 100 or government sized budgets to pay for the privilege. Satellite phones operate independently of terrestrial communication network and are typically a valuable backup to cell phones. Traditional wireless service can be unreliable or non-existent in remote, unpopulated regions and can be vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters.
Unlike cell phones, satellite phones generally require line-of-site with the sky to receive a signal for service. Consequently, do not expect your satellite phone to ring in the hotel lobby of your hotel in the Congo or inside a stateroom while at sea. However you might be able to receive a signal if you are by a large window. Hardened structures, buildings, mountains, heavy tree cover, etc can all negatively affect your signal. Pilots can often leave a satellite phone or more likely an Iridium GO! on the dashboard of their planes cockpit to receive a signal.
While voice calls to a satellite phone incur a significant international calling surcharge, texting is often treated as any traditional SMS to a cell phone. The cell phone subscriber with an international SMS feature can text to a satellite phone at no more of an additional charge to say, texting a cell phone in Mexico. Inmarsat and Iridium satellite phones can send & receive text messages(SMS) or short emails. Globalstar can receive a 35 character messages only, but cannot reply.
The Inmarsat IsatPhone offers global satellite connectivity at an affordable price. In addition to voice and text, the IsatPhone also includes a built-in GPS receiver. While signal acquisition is somewhat slow due to the placement of the Inmarsat I-4 satellites and GPS acquisition, the call quality is reasonable. For the ultimate in satellite communications the Iridium 9575 Extreme is the most rugged, and full-featured satellite phone on the market today. Utilizing the Iridium network for unparalleled quality and coverage, this IP65 rated handset can be dropped into a puddle and still be able to call a taxi from the North Pole. In fact you can even send the taxi driver your GPS coordinates, including elevation, via SMS or email.
While many satellite phones do offer data, very few offer Internet access and even those few have severe bandwidth restrictions. However many common, popular online functions may be carried out with an added accessory to a standard phone. Others connect directly to a smartphone via in-built Wi-Fi. It is important to note that browsing webpages is simply out of the question even for the most patient and meditative subscribers. A Wi-Fi enabled satellite device will offer limited Internet capabilities such as email, compressed photos, or tweets.
The Iridium GO! satellite hotspot is the first portable Wi-Fi hotspot that enables satellite phone to let subscribers call, text, email, all from their iOS or Android devices. Best of all it is the least expensive hardware solution to give customers access to Iridium, the most reliable satellite network.
For true Internet access with web browsing, a portable BGAN or IsatHub terminal are among the various mobile satellite internet solutions we recommend. Portable BGAN and IsatHub terminals like the Wideye ISavi utilize a passive antennae that must be stationary to receive a signal and transmit data. Even on a cruise ship which might not be moving all that fast you may have trouble maintaining a signal. The mobile satellite phones listed on this page can maintain a signal even while traveling in a car, train or plane.