What will you do if there is an emergency—perhaps a tornado, flood, or hurricane—and the local telecommunications infrastructure goes down? It doesn’t take much for a cell tower to go out of commission, and if it does, your standard cell phone is not going to work. But during an emergency is when you need your phone most. The solution? Consider purchasing a satellite phone. This phone can function as a reliable backup if the local cell tower goes down, and you will be able to stay in touch with family, friends, and emergency workers.
Thinking of buying a satellite phone, but not sure what you need? Check out the comparison chart below to view features and prices for highly-rated models.
|Iridium Extreme 9575|
|Inmarsat IsatPhone 2|
Looking to learn more about satellite phones before you buy your own? Read on to learn everything you need to know to shop for the right phone.
What is a Satellite Phone?
With a satellite phone, you can usually communicate even if you are in the middle of nowhere. Most of them work globally with almost total coverage. Traditionally, satellite phones (which look a lot like cell phones) have been used by emergency and government workers, but now they are available to the general public to purchase and use as well.
How They Work
Satellites do not receive or send their signals from cell phone towers. As their name indicates, satellite phones communicate through a network of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or which are fixed in geostationary orbit above the equator. Because the satellite network is located 500-1,000 miles above the planet’s surface, they are generally safe even from harsh weather.
Questions to Ask When Shopping for a Satellite Phone
Why use a satellite phone?
Do you really need one? Not everyone necessary needs a satellite phone, but you might if you live in an area which is prone to natural disasters. If the cell phone tower goes down, you will still be able to call others, which may be essential for your survival. A satellite phone is also a great purchase if you regularly travel or live off the grid. For those who do a lot of hiking in the backcountry for example, a satellite phone offers a means to stay in touch and also stay safe.
What is your budget for airtime?
You can either get on a monthly service contract for airtime on your satellite phone or you can buy it through prepaid cards. Airtime for satellite phones is generally significantly less expensive than cell phone roaming charges. Keep in mind that airtime is still quite pricey compared to standard cell charges, so you definitely will want to use your satellite phone for emergencies.
Where will you use the phone?
This is important to consider for reasons of selecting a phone which offers you the right coverage. You should also check the operating temperature range for the phone you are considering if you are going to be using it in an area with a harsh climate (i.e. Antarctica).
Iridium vs. Inmarsat?
These are two of the major brands for satellite phones. Read more about both below.
Coverage on Iridium is a mixed bag; sometimes it is not reliable, but there are also locations where an Iridium phone works where another brand would not (like inside a canyon). This has to do with the way that the satellite network is structured. If you need North or South Pole coverage, Iridium is the only network you can use. An Iridium phone may be more costly than one from another provider, but it may also include extra features like panic alerts, GPS, and tracking.
Inmarsat has been operating for around three decades. The satellites are geostationary around the equator, so the connection is reliable after you establish it. If you are on a budget, Inmarsat is a great choice, with some of the least expensive satellite phones on the market. These phones may not be as feature-rich as Iridium phones, but they are often easier to use.
Features and Add-Ons to Look For When Shopping for a Satellite Phone
If you need a feature-rich satellite phone (like those developed by Iridium), by all means, buy one. But if this is going to be your first satellite phone, you may want to consider an Inmarsat phone or another which offers you superior ease-of-use. Remember, you may be using your phone in emergencies. You could be dealing with harsh weather conditions, darkness, and even injury or illness. If that is the case, the last thing you want to do is struggle just to send a simple text message or call.
This comes back to the discussion about Iridium vs. Inmarsat. Iridium’s network of satellites is in motion, while Iridium’s are in geostationary orbit. This is why coverage with Iridium may sometimes be less reliable—when for example the satellite you are using moves out of range. But it is also why Iridium’s satellites are sometimes able to provide coverage in canyons or behind mountain ranges where Inmarsat’s fixed satellites cannot reach. You need to ask yourself where you will be using the phone, and then pick a network which offers you the flexible and reliable coverage you need.
This is a standard feature in most satellite phones, but there are many voicemail features which may vary. How long can your messages be? Are you able to easily navigate through your messages to replay, save, delete, or skip as needed?
Text and email messaging
Most satellite phones allow you to send text and email messages, not just voice calls, just as cell phones do. While you are shopping around for a phone, also be sure to check airtime plans to see how these messages are charged.
Emergency assistance button
This is an especially important feature if you are going to be backpacking in the wilderness with your phone. With a satellite phone equipped with onboard GPS, you can push a button and transmit your location instantly to emergency workers. No matter where you are in the world and no matter where they are, they will be able to come and find you.
There may well be times when you need to talk on your satellite phone, but cannot use your hands. In these situations, hands-free operation can be a lifesaver. Check to see whether the phone you are thinking of purchasing includes a headset for this mode of operation.
This is arguably an essential feature for any quality satellite phone. Think about the circumstances where you are likely to use the phone. If a storm knocks out your local cell phone tower and you need to place a call, the last thing you need is for your phone to be damaged by the same storm!
Or imagine you are buying the phone to stay in contact with family and friends while you are mountain climbing, backpacking, or working a season in a remote environment. Your phone may be exposed not only to extreme temperatures, but also to rain, snow and dust. A phone which lacks robust weatherproofing is not going to offer you a reliable connection with the rest of the world.
You now know some of the most important features to look for when you are shopping for a satellite phone, and understand some of the key distinctions between Iridium and Inmarsat, two of the most popular and well-established networks. Scroll back up to the top of the page and take a look at our comparison chart to select the satellite phone which is right for you!
Iridium Extreme 9575: Setup a WiFi Hotspot in the Middle of Nowhere
Extreme 9575 is the only satellite phone we’ve seen that’s capable of setting up WiFi hotspots. With this device, you’ll be able to get to the web no matter where you are, so long as you have access to the sky. Another good thing about the Iridium Extreme 9575 is that it is easy to use compared to other satellite phones.
- Built-in GPS. Make calls from anywhere in the world.
- Easy to use. Just mash the power button, wait a few seconds and then make a call.
- Excellent battery life. If you have an Iridium Extreme 9575 and fresh batteries, you’ll be able to talk for 4 hours straight.
- Heavy duty. This phone is engineered to resist water and dust (IP65).
- Panic button. Send a quick SOS signal if something really bad happens.
- Sends SMS and emails. Communicate via the web or send text messages.
- Setup a WiFi hotspot. Share your connection with nearby devices.
Like most satellite phones, the Iridium Extreme 9575’s monthly subscription fees are pretty outrageous.
Inmarsat IsatPhone 2: Military Grade Toughness
If you’re looking for a satellite phone that will let you connect to the rest of the world in the harshest weather conditions, look no further. The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 is engineered to endure very hot and very cold weather conditions. It also features a glare proof screen and comes with a nifty set of accessories.
- Tough and rugged. The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 is fully compliant with IP65, IK04 standards and is built to tolerate extreme cold and brutal heat.
- Quick response. It only takes 45 seconds to connect to a satellite.
- Works anywhere in the world. Guarantees that you’ll be able to call for help in the event of an accident.
- Comes with accessories. In the box you’ll find a belt clip, a wall charger with international plug adapters, plus an earpiece and a battery.
- Sends and receives emails. Like most satellite phones, the IsatPhone 2 can send and receive email messages.
- Glare resistant screen. Prevents you from making mistakes when the sun is beating down on your display.
- SOS button. If disaster strikes, use SOS to send your position to rescue services.
The battery drains when the phone is off. If you stick the Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 in your shelf, you’ll have 3/4ths of a charge in 6 months.
Iridium 9555: A Compact, Rugged Satellite Phone for Harsh Environments
Trying to find a sturdy satellite phone for your adventures which you can set up and use with ease? The Iridium 9555 is equipped with an array of sophisticated features and is connected to a powerful global network.
- Talk for up to 4 hours. Additionally, the Iridium 9555 provides you with up to 30 hours of standby.
- SMS and email. Iridium has enhanced the email and SMS capabilities of the 9555 over previous models.
- Sturdy design. This satellite phone is designed for use in harsh, remote environments. As such, it has the rugged build needed to stand up to use in those environments.
- Compact build. The small, lightweight design sits comfortably in your hand.
- Great ease of use. The 9555 is intuitive and easy to operate.
- Everything you need in one purchase. When you order the Iridium 9555, you get the unit itself along with a hands-free headset, international adapters, an AC charger and DC travel charger, a leather case, an upgraded USB data cable and a 5’ auxiliary antenna and adapter. There is a fully integrated speakerphone. You also get a user manual, CD-ROM with software, and Quick Start guide.
- Multiple plans are available. These include both prepaid and post-paid plans. So whatever your budget, you can find a plan which will fit your needs.
- Some units feature charging issues. Basically, getting the batteries to make contact with the points inside the charger is sometimes problematic, which then means they do not charge. This flaw appears to only affect a minority of phones however.
- This is a costly phone. There is no getting around this. It is a great phone though, so if it is in your budget, it is worth thinking about.
Iridium GO! 9560: A Powerful Satellite Terminal Equipped with a Wi-Fi Hotspot
Looking for a way to enhance your mobile devices with satellite capabilities so that you can make use of them wherever you are, even if you are out of range of terrestrial networks? Then you may be interested in the Iridium GO! 9560 satellite terminal with wi-fi hotspot.
- Compatible with a wide range of devices. Whether you use Android or Apple systems, you can provide them with satellite connectivity using Iridium Go! Features include a wi-fi connection with a radius of 100 feet, support for up to 5 mobile devices at a time, and apps for weather monitoring, SMS, email, and voice calling. You can even use Iridium’s apps to activate an emergency SOS.
- Compact and portable. This little unit can easily be stowed in a backpack and carried with you wherever you go.
- Rugged design. Make use of this satellite terminal even in harsh environments. It is rated with MIL-STD 810F military-grade durability and has an ingress protection (IP) rating of IP65. It is resistant to dust and jets of water, and also can withstand shock.
- Get access to Iridium Mail & Web. This extra feature provides you with accelerated browsing, email, social network updating, photo sharing and more.
- Everything you need is included. In the box, you will find the terminal itself along with a battery, universal AC travel charger, AC adapter, USB charging/data cable, four international adapters, and a protective cover. Also included are a user manual, GEOS Emergency Services Brochure, and a booklet with legal information.
- There are situations where you may find it hard to connect to your device. It is wise to check with customer service to make sure your device is compatible in advance if you are in any doubt.