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Satellite phones

Satellite phones- what are they?

A satellite phone is a mobile phone that connects to satellites rather than the traditional cell phone towers which typical cell phones connect.  Depending on the how the particular service is designed coverage may be a specific area all the way to the entire earth.  Many systems require a direct line of sight to the satellite which requires the user to be outside rather than in a dwelling where the structure will block the signal.  Buildings, trees and other obstructions can have an impact on the signal strength and affect the quality of the call. 

How a satellite phone works.

Satellite phone showing size and antenna.Satellite phones send radio signals to a satellite which then transmits back down to earth where a station will then route the call to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).   In some cases the satellite phone provider will transmit from one satellite to another satellite which has a connection to an Earth station. Outbound calls are relayed from the satellite phone on the ground to one of the satellites within the line of sight.  Next the call is relayed from one satellite to another at which it reaches the correct satellite to then connect back down to the appropriate ground station. The call is then transferred to the public voice network or Internet when it reaches the recipient.

How much do satellite calls cost?

Satellite phone user with remote hot spot set up.Costs associated with voice calls from a satellite phone will vary anywhere from around $0.15 to $2 per minute, with typical rates being from .80 to 1.50/minute.  Some providers will offer better rates within specific geographic areas for even lower rates.  Calling a satellite phone from traditional landlines and normal cell phones is quite more expensive than other normal calls.  Satellite calls between different satellite phone networks is often very expensive, with calling rates of up to $15 per minute.  Most satellite phone networks offer pre-paid plans, with amounts ranging from $100 to $5,000.

Who uses satellite phones?

Typically the types of individuals who use satellite phones are ones with a need to have communication from remote locations.  Although the cost of these phones and services has dropped significantly over the last 10 years and more and more people are finding a need for them, the large numbers of users are associated with aviation, emergency services, government, maritime, military and adventure travel.

Satellite phone features

Just like cellular phones, satellite phones use SIM cards and offer an array of features.  These would typically include low battery and signal strength displays, call forwarding, phone books, voicemail, and text messaging.  Hand held satellite phones are battery-operated and would usually provide about 4 hours of talk time and 36-40 hours of standby time.  Many satellite phones have additional features such as:
  • GSM compatibility enabling the phone to be used as a cellular phone.
  • GPS displays of longitude and latitude.
  • Solar panels for remote recharging of the battery.
  • Paging, data transmission and faxing capabilities.
  • Made for rugged environments with water, shock and dust resistance.