In the era of smart mobile phones, that serve us as an external brain memory, many people wonder if the satellite phones are still in use?
Well, if you’re planning to go “to the edge of the earth,” where conventional GSM networks don’t work, you need a good satellite phone. It will also prove useful as an emergency means of communication if the coverage of mobile operators in your region is poor. We have prepared some guidelines for you to follow and compare the types of satellite phones, most suitable for your needs before you make a final decision to buy. An overview of the best satellite devices from the latest ranks of well-known companies can be found on this website that offers a selection of the most functional and reliable devices.
The two most important criteria based on which you should start the comparison of the satellite phones are the networks they use. But first, let’s explain how a satellite phone works. A satellite phone, as the name suggests, uses satellites to transmit signals instead of base stations on earth. That is why they work best outdoors. A network of satellites in Earth orbit is used for this purpose. Satellite networks are divided into geosynchronous and low-orbit.
Low-orbit satellite networks (LEO systems) use a multitude of satellites that move in relatively low Earth orbit – usually at an altitude of 650 to 1100 km. The biggest drawback of such networks is that the range of a satellite is not large, so you can easily lose the signal. However, this drawback is compensated by the number of satellites in one network and their speed. If you lose or cannot catch the signal, it is enough to wait a while in the same place and you will catch it again, as soon as another satellite of the same company arrives at the appropriate position in the sky. They orbit quickly around the Earth – it takes them about 1 – 1.5 hours to orbit the whole planet. Thanks to that, low-orbit networks can still cover the territory of almost the entire planet (depending on which network you use). Some of them provide you with a signal even in very remote parts of the world, such as the North and South Poles (some do not).
Because low-orbit satellite networks require less power to operate, the satellite phones you use to connect to them are smaller. They are only slightly larger than ordinary mobile phones.
The signal is transmitted from your satellite phone to the nearest satellite and then transmitted further to the person you are calling via the satellite network of the same company. If you call someone on a non-satellite device, the call is transmitted to the local telephone network via a station on Earth that is in charge of picking up the signal from the satellite. So, yes, you can communicate with users of a regular mobile or landline phone from a satellite phone.
Geosynchronous satellite networks (geostationary satellites) function a little differently. The number of satellites in these networks is much smaller, but they are located at high altitudes – about 35,000 km from the Earth’s surface. Only one such satellite covers a very large territory and follows the Earth’s rotation so that it is constantly at the same point in the sky. The building, launching, and placing these satellites in orbit is a very expensive process.
So, once you catch a signal from this satellite, it cannot be lost like the signal of low-orbit satellite networks. But their main drawback is that the signal is often delayed due to the greater distance that the signal needs to travel to the satellite. If you do not have a signal, you will have to move until you catch it. Also, the satellite phones used to hang on to these networks are significantly larger than conventional phones. By their size, they are closer to a laptop. Another drawback about them is that these networks have poor or no coverage around the equator (from 70 degrees north of the equator to 70 degrees south of the equator) due to the lower angle that the satellites coincide with the Earth’s surface, and large masses in relief, like mountains, can interfere with and block the signal.
The third most important criteria based on which you compare the satellite phones is internet access. Surely, you will want to have access to your e-mail.
Aside from being able to contact other devices on landline and regular mobile networks, with the help of satellite phones, it is also possible to send and receive messages and access Internet content. In terms of messaging, the possibilities are similar to those of ordinary mobile phones. However, with the Internet, things are drastically different. The internet via satellite phone is slow. It’s so slow that you’ll wish you had to dial-up. If you can even remember dial-up. The average data exchange rate (flow) in LEO systems is on average about 10kbps. Such a slow internet is only good for checking email. Geosynchronous networks have slightly faster internet, from 50 to as much as 512kbps.
And the last, but the most important thing to many is to compare them based on their price.
Each of the satellite companies produces its satellite phones and only with them, it is possible to get in touch with the satellites of the given satellite network. The price of a satellite phone ranges between 600 and 1200 $ (500 and 1000 euros). However, that is not all. If you want to use a satellite phone, you have to pay for the appropriate package of services, which can be very expensive (from 200 to 6000 $).
However, there are emergency packages or subscriptions in which you do not get minutes, and cost about 400 $ per year. This is a subscription without any services and amenities, and each call costs you around 6 $ per minute.
Hopefully, this article gave you an idea of what to consider when choosing the satellite phone. Besides all that has been mentioned, it’s important to know that satellite phones are not legal everywhere. Countries, like India, China, Russia, Sudan, and many others, have declared satellite phones as illegal.