Quick Guide: Buying the Right Satellite Phone
Faced with the daunting task of having to choose the right satphone? Help is at hand with our handy Buyer’s Guide.
First off a little background
A satellite phone uses satellites in the sky to communicate with other satellite phones, landlines and even mobile phones. This is different to the land based stations that mobile phones use. Satellite phones can be used in areas where there are no landlines or mobile phone signal. They are also critical in disaster response situations when landline and mobile phones may fail due to congestion.
There are 3 service providers (just like Vodacom, Cell C and MTN), each with their own phones and connectivity.
• Iridium has 66 satellites in orbit providing excellent coverage over the whole planet. The US army and many other military and police worldwide use their phones on the battlefields. Their latest phone, the Iridium 9555 is a rugged and durable phone that provides voice calling, SMS text messaging and data at dial up speeds (perfect for downloading emails)
• Inmarsat with 3 satellites in the sky, also provides good coverage of most of the planet except for the two poles. Whilst the Iridium phone wins on coverage, the Inmarsat phone wins on price. Their newly launched phone, the Isatphone Pro, has a neat design and provides reliable voice and SMS text messaging capabilities. The phone is data capable but this feature is not available yet. Bluetooth is a killer app on this phone allowing extra maneuverability whilst operating the phone.
• Thuraya is a mid-market player with 2 satellites providing coverage for Northern Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. Their new colour phone the Thuraya XT, provides voice, SMS text messaging and data services and is well-priced.
Besides the phone you will also need a sim card to access the network which will give you your own personal satellite phone number. Each provider has different costs for airtime but pre-paid is the most popular. Iridium offers a cheaper African package in addition to their normal Standard package. The difference is self-explanatory – African airtime can only be used inside of Africa + Indian Ocean Islands, whilst Standard minutes can be used anywhere. The phones include most accessories like wall and car chargers and data cables. Optional extras include solar chargers and docking stations.
So now (hopefully) you are equipped to make your choice; 1. Coverage – where will you using the phone? If you need global coverage Iridium is our recommendation otherwise consider the Isatphone Pro 2. Mission critical – if it is vitally important for you to have signal at all times in every place we recommend Iridium otherwise the Isatphone Pro 3. Price – If price is your concern then Isatphone Pro is your choice. 4. Need data – choose either Iridium or Thuraya 5. Need GPS – Isatphone Pro or Thuraya 6. Phone – looking for the look and feel of a mobile phone? Opt for the Isatphone Pro or Thuraya. If you need a tough, rugged phone that will withstand the harshest conditions Iridium is the way to go.