What You Need to Know About Satellite Phones
It is important to compare satellite phones and other satellite equipment to ensure they match your critical personal communications needs. What do you need to be able to do with your satellite phone or device? Are you looking to make calls and send text messages? Do you need basic email access? Do you want to be able to use your smartphone or tablet for satellite voice or data access? Do you want to be able to send SOS alerts, or track your location? Do you need to access the internet or broadcast capabilities?
TIP: Remember, a communications device is only as good as the coverage and reliability of the network behind it.
Major Satellite Phone Brands
2017 Satellite Phone Buyer's Guide
Discover how the top satellite phones compare!
The comparison chart below is designed to help you select the satellite phone best suited for your needs including quality of service (QoS), potential limitations, and advantages one satellite phone may have over another.
How are Satellite Phones Typically Used?
Satellite phones have been around for decades, but until the launch of the Iridium network, they were unaffordable for many people. Satellite phones can be a valuable back up to traditional phones because they operate independently of terrestrial communication or cell phone networks, which can be unreliable or non-existent in less populated regions and can be vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters.
Unlike cell phones, satellite phones require line-of-site with the sky to receive a signal for service. Don’t expect your satellite phone to ring in the lobby of your hotel 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, and heavy tree cover can all negatively affect your signal. Pilots often leave a satellite phone or an Iridium GO! on the dashboard of their plane’s cockpit to receive a signal.
While voice calls to a satellite phone incur a significant international calling surcharge, texting is often treated much like texting on a cell phone. The cell phone subscriber with an international SMS feature can text to a satellite phone at about the same cost to say, texting a cell phone in Mexico or other international numbers. Inmarsat and Iridium satellite phones can send and receive text messages (SMS) or short emails. Globalstar phones can only receive messages up to 35 characters, 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 function for voice calling or sending your GPS coordinates via SMS or email.
Satellite Phones and Internet Access
Many satellite phones offer data but few offer Internet access and most have very limited bandwidth. However, many popular online functions can be carried out with an added accessory to a standard phone.
Other devices connect directly to a smartphone via built-in Wi-Fi. Note that browsing webpages is simply out of the question even for the most patient subscribers! A Wi-Fi enabled satellite device will offer limited Internet capabilities such as basic email, compressed photos, or tweets. The Iridium GO! satellite hotspot is the first portable satellite Wi-Fi hotspot that enables subscribers to call, text, email, all from their iOS or Android devices. Best of all it is the least expensive device to offer access to Iridium, the most reliable satellite network.
For true Internet access with web browsing, a portable BGAN or IsatHub terminal are the 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 slow moving cruise ship you may have trouble maintaining a signal. Whereas satellite phones from Iridium and Globalstar can maintain a signal even while traveling in a car, train or plane.