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16th July 2019

Satphone FAQs – what you need to know!

There are many reasons people across the world use satellite phones, but with the official hurricane season upon us for the Atlantic Basin; the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico, we wanted to take a timely look at the global satellite phone market and what is available from leading suppliers.

Through our easy to follow satphone FAQs we hope to answer some of the most asked questions when looking to buy a satellite phone. You never know when you might need one!

  1. Why and where would I need a satellite phone?

Anytime you need to communicate outside of regular telephone coverage is a time where you could use a satellite phone. For those who travel through or work in remote areas where there’s no cellular signal or landlines, it can become an everyday essential piece of kit, just like a mobile phone is to the rest of us.

Another scenario where satellite phones can prove essential and even vital, are in emergency situations, where networks that often operate close to capacity, can become overloaded due to a spike in call volumes. Or following a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake, where damage to terrestrial network infrastructure such as cell towers can cause communication black outs.

A satellite phone in any of these scenarios allows the lines of communications to stay open.

  1. Who uses satellite phones?

As touched on above, a wide variety of people and industries use satellite phones every day.  

For adventurers, explorers, hikers and travellers, a satphone can help them keep in touch with home or be a lifeline enabling a call for help should they get into difficulties.

For industries with remote offices or plants, such as scientific research organisations, or utilities, mining and oil and gas companies, satellite technology can help workers stay connected to colleagues in other locations, share information and conduct their business in general. 

In the aftermath of a disaster, satphones can help NGO’s, charities and aid organisations co-ordinate relief efforts, and they can provide an additional form of communications for emergency services operating in remote regions (think Australian outback), or the army and special forces when on military operations.

  1. What can I do with a satellite phone?

With a satellite phone, you can travel the world with one phone on one subscription. The advantage of a satphone is that its use is not limited to areas covered by terrestrial coverage close to cell towers, it can be used in most or all geographic locations on the Earth's surface to communicate.

In terms of usage features, handheld satphones are not dissimilar to the mobile or cell phones we all use. They enable users to make and receive phone calls from remote locations, send and receive SMS (short message services) for brief notifications and updates to other handheld devices.

One of the key features of most satellite phones that differentiates them from cellular telephones, is a pre-programmable emergency or SOS button which is quick and simple to use. In an emergency, the single touch button will trigger a call to a predefined number, and SMS to a pre-programmed list of recipients of your choice, enabling your whole team to be alerted at once, and some GPS enabled devices can notify help emergency services when required  and alert you when help is on the way.

As supporting languages include English, French, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish; satellite phones are geared up for international distribution and use worldwide.

  1. Do satellite phones have data services?

As well as the key voice services provided by satellite phones, a modest data capability is available with most satellite handsets. It won’t be as fast as a 3G or 4G connection but can be used to support email and other light data applications.

Some handsets support short message emailing via the handset, whilst some have a USB port for connection to a laptop to support email and low speed data applications.

For example, the Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 comes with a data service capable of supporting applications such as short message emailing and GPS look-up-and-send.

The Iridium 9555 and Iridium Extreme 9575 phones can be connected to a computer with a standard USB cable for basic data communications to enable email and low speed data.

For internet capabilities closer to what we are used to accessing on our smartphones today, the Thuraya SatSleeve+ is a sleeve which can transform an Apple iPhone or Android smartphone into a satellite phone. Its 60kbps data service can be used to access messaging services, social media apps and basic internet browsing. As 3G starts at about 600kbps, although advanced in comparison to the capability of other satellite phones, the SatSleeve still has limited data capabilities.

If you have slightly more room in your back pack (and you still won't need much), the iSavi from Wideye is a satellite hotspot that delivers the Inmarsat ISatHub service, providing a higher data rate of up to 384kbps, much closer to that of 3G. With this powerful device you can connect multiple devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops and access data and voice services with ease. 

  1. Do satellite phones work everywhere?

Technically yes - as long as there is line of sight to the satellite (void of obstacles like tall buildings and trees etc) satellite phones can work anywhere! When choosing a satellite phone however it is handy to know that satellite network providers offer slightly varying levels of coverage

The Iridium satellite communications network is the only one to offer 100% global connectivity, covering everywhere on the planet. Inmarsat offers near global coverage with their phones able to operate in every area apart from the polar regions. Thuraya satellite phones operate in over 160 countries across Europe, the Middle East, North, Central and East Africa, Asia and Australia.

It is also important to note, that some countries place certain restrictions on use of satellite phones including Burma, Cuba and North Korea, and only certain services and handsets from specific providers and distributors are permissible in China, India and Russia.

  1. Do satellite phones work indoors?

Satellite phones, like most satellite communications receivers and transceivers, need direct line of sight to the satellite to operate, and therefore cannot be used indoors on their own.

However, with docking stations from accessory manufacturers, ASE and Beam, compatible satphones can be used indoors with an antenna mounted outside. Similarly, the Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot (a variation on the SatSleeve + we mentioned earlier) and the Iridium GO! (with Fixed Installation Kit) enable users to connect their smartphone to a satellite Wi-Fi network from up to 30m away, so users who prefer to use their smartphone inside or under cover, can still make calls.

In addition, vehicle mountable antenna solutions are available for communications on the move, so that users do not have to get out of the vehicle to communicate over the satellite phone.

It may also be helpful to know that some satellite phone networks provide a one-way paging channel to alert users with a poor connection (such as when indoors) of an incoming call, prompting them to move to an area with better coverage to be able accept or return the call.

  1.  How much does it cost to buy and use a satellite phone?

As a more niche communications service, buying and using satellite enabled technology has traditionally cost more than regular terrestrial phone services over the years, however, as technology advances, satellite phones are becoming much more accessible. In Satcom Global’s product portfolio, there are a range of satellite phones available meeting varied requirements and budgets of different users.

As with cellular phones, you can sign up for a variety of subscriptions with different rates for making and receiving voice calls to and from satellite phones to landlines, cell phones and other satellite phones around the world. There are also regional plans that offer greater value for use in specified geographic location such as Africa, North America, Canada or Alaska.

In addition, services are available on both a post-pay and pre-pay basis. Post-paid plans offer the convenience of ongoing voice and data communications without the need to be concerned about a prepaid account expiring or having a low balance.  Pre-pay services avoid contracts and billing hassles, which are especially useful for occasional users, where you simply buy and top up your satphone as you need to with a prepay voucher eg Iridium offers 50 to 5,000 minutes with differing time period validity.

  1. Are satellite phones water, heat, dust and drop proof?

Satellite phones are specially designed to be durable and robust, providing users with upmost confidence in their reliability and performance in extreme environments. They can be used when exposed to the elements such as in rainstorms, dust storms, searing sun (+55°C temperatures) to sub-zero snow (-20°C temperatures), tropical humidity up to 95% and freezing fog. Regardless of the harsh environment, satphones can provide excellent voice, SMS and GPS services and reliability where other cellular phones might fail to operate or not have signal.

Most satellite phones from Satcom Global have an Ingress Protection rating to help advise on their level of durability against dust, shock and water, and help guide you to choose the most appropriate handset for your needs.

The Iridium Extreme 9575 is the toughest military-grade satellite phone in Satcom Global’s varied portfolio with military-grade 810F MIL-STD approval, and an Ingress Protection rating of IP65, making it dust proof, shock resistant and water-jet resistant.

Most satellite phones also boast an impressive battery life, which is important for longer expeditions or in emergency situations. For example, the Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 has up to 8 hours talk time and up to 160 hours standby time meaning that they can last for nearly a week when idle without being connected to a power source and recharged.

  1. How big are satellite phones?

Satellite phones vary in size and weight, but all the phones we provide at Satcom Global are lightweight, can be held in the palm of your hand and can be easily stored in small bags or backpacks for transportation and quick deployment.

Satcom Global’s range of satellite phones range from 12.8cm through to 17cm in height,  and range from 186g to 316g in weight, which is less than a can of fizzy drink!

You can compare the size and weight of Inmarsat, Iridium and Thuraya satellite phones via our Satellite Phone Comparison Guide here.

  1. How easy are satphones to use?

All the satellite phones available from Satcom Global are easy to use and offer different benefits for users such as large screens with trans-reflective display which are readable even in bright sunlight, high-visibility colour screens and larger keypads for easy dialling with gloves on. In addition, the intuitive cellular phone style user interfaces enable you to make calls quickly and send emergency information instantly.

The IsatPhone 2 from Inmarsat for example, boasts network registration in under 45 seconds ensuring a call is connected within a minute of setting up and you even receive notifications of inbound calls when the antenna is stowed.

All satellite phones come with manufacturer user guides in the box as standard, and to help our customers see just how simple satellite phones can be to operate, Satcom Global has developed a variety of additional resources available to help users on our online Resources library. Check out our simple user guides which give step-by-step instructions on how to insert the sim, charge and turn on the satellite phone, make calls and send SMS from the satellite phone, use GPS, and set up and check voicemail.

 

We hope you found this Q and A helpful! If you would like to speak to one of our friendly experts about satellite phones and which is the best product for you, please don't hesitate to contact justask@satcomglobal.com or alternatively, please take a look at our online Resources library to check out the full range of product sheets for each satellite phone.

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Satphone FAQ