Satellite Phone

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The four satellite phone companies, Iridium, Globalstar, Thuraya and Inmarsat are on a roll. Thuraya satellite phones, Iridium satellite phones or phones from Globalstar help you keep in touch wherever you are in the world.

As developments in business, travel and technology have led to the increased human exploration of 'remote and wild corners' on the earth, the demand for a system of communication, beyond that of cellular phones, has arisen. It is for this reason that satellite technology has been developed.

Over the last few years the use of satellite phones has been on the increase, they are now cheaper and more available than ever, however, this has not made it any easier for the consumer. With the choice of products on offer, how do you know which is the right one for you?

Satellite Phone Networks

A satellite telephone or satellite phone is a mobile phone that receives and sends signals utilising satellites instead of terrestrial lines or cellular diffusing towers. A satellite phone only requires an unobstructed line of view to the sky. The advantage of a satellite phone is that it is able to complete calls from anywhere. A satellite phone can function in the heart of the Sahara desert, at the crest of Mount Everest, or from a clearing deep within a South African jungle. It is an indispensable tool for remote expeditions of all kinds, and allows sound communication on the oceans and in the air. A disadvantage of a satellite phone is a evident time lag in conversations. The signal must first travel to the satellite, then to an earthbound gateway prior to being routed to the recipient. The receiver's reply will follow the same route in reverse, taking equally long to reach the caller. Satellite minutes are also more expensive than cellular minutes. However, these drawbacks are irrelevant when considering the function that a satellite phone serves. It can create a link to civilization from places where no other link is available. It also allows loved ones to stay in touch, as in the case of researchers, adventurers and those in the military, and it can provide backup communication in disasters when cellular towers or landlines might not be functional. The three main satellite networks at present are Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya. Iridium uses low orbiting satellites that minimize conversational delays, but more importantly, it is the only current satellite network that provides coverage over the entire earth, including the oceans. Competitor Globalstar covers about 80% of the earth's landmasses, excluding northern and southern polar regions, while Thuraya covers parts of India, Asia, Africa, the entire Middle East and Europe. For those who only wish to use a satellite phone on rare occasions, one can rent rather than buy. Rental fees start at about US$40 per week, but this does not include talk time, which can run as high as $1.75 per minute. If buying a satellite phone outright, a contract is necessary with a satellite network, or prepaid cards may be purchased. Minutes are less expensive with a contract than when renting or buying prepaid, but are still more expensive than cellular minutes. Satellite phones range in price according to network coverage areas. Iridium phones are more expensive because they can make calls from anywhere in the world. One current entry-level Iridium satellite phone sells for US$1,275, while other network phones start out at about half that price, and can be found for less. Because satphones are so expensive, they are often purchased used. Some satellite networks have partnered with cellular GSM networks to provide Internet service and email through satellite phones in addition to offering GSM roaming. This allows a satellite phone customer that lives or works at the fringes of a GSM zone to utilize GSM networks when possible, and satellite calls when necessary. Such built-in flexibility is ideal for military, disaster or relief contractors, rural ranchers, local boaters, or anyone who requires or desires guaranteed regional or global coverage.

Your Guide to Satellite Phone

This information is not intended as a definitive guide to satellite phones. Rather, it is meant as a brief introduction to some of what is available. As you can see from the three examples highlighted, there is not one all encompassing system that can out perform its rivals in all areas. Each has certain strengths and certain weaknesses.

If you decide that you need to use a satellite phone, you need to decide which satellite network is best for you. You must assess what functions are most valuable to you. Do you need total global coverage? Do you need the ability to send and receive data? Do you want something that is easy to carry? Once you are clear in your head what you expect from satellite communication then you are able to make your decision from a more informed and confident position.

Phone Satellite Systems

Four satellite systems that have gained wide spread popularity are Inmarsat, Iridium and Globalstar. Although they are all attempting to meet the same demand, they each go about this in different ways. What follows is a basic overview of some of their strengths and weaknesses.

Primary Satellite Phone Companies


The first mobile satellite system to be conceived, is a great example of how the technology has emerged from a niche market and been made available to all. Originally designed for the maritime industry, they now have over 100,000 registered satellite phone terminals.

Inmarsat - Covers most of the earth with the exception of the poles. Laptop size phone and not as portable as Iridium or Globalstar. Capable of high speed data up to 64kbps. Also has fax capability built in.


Probably the most famous, or rather notorious, of the satellite systems on the market. They very publicly went bankrupt in 1999; one year after the service was launched. However, Motorola Inc. stepped in and settled their debts.

Iridium - Iridium provides true worldwide coverage with one per minute rate no matter where you are. Portable handset and fixed units. Data rates up to 9.6kbps


They envisioned their customers as people who were working on the fringes of cellular networks, crossing in and out of coverage areas. Therefore they designed a handset that would work on both the cellular AMPS and CDMA networks and, the Globalstar network.

Globalstar - Covers most major global regions. Has better call quality than iridium and lower "home area" pricing per minute. Portable handset and fixed units. Data rates 9.6kbps.


Thuraya - Portable phone with coverage in most of Europe, Northern Africa, Middle East and western Asia (No North American Coverage). Smaller than Iridium or Globalstar and GSM cell capabilities built in for dual usage. Not as secure as Globalstar or Iridium. Averaqe voice quality.

Globalstar Satellite Phones

Globalstar is the world's most widely-used handheld satellite phone service, providing high-quality, low-cost voice and data services to businesses, communities and individuals around the world.

The Globalstar Satellite Phone Network

The Globalstar network was developed specifically with the business traveler in mind. They envisioned their customers as people who were working on the fringes of cellular networks, crossing in and out of coverage areas. Therefore they designed a compact tri-band handset that would work on both the cellular AMPS and CDMA networks and, the Globalstar network of 48 Low Earth Orbiting satellites. These satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude of 875 miles.

The downside of the Globalstar system is its coverage area. By operating on the AMPS and CDMA standards they have limited themselves to the localities where those standards are supported. At the moment this includes the Americas, Russia, and parts of Asia. Likewise their satellite network coverage area is limited compared to those of its rivals. They can only offer service in about 100 countries, their territorial waters and some mid ocean waters

Globalstar, like Inmarsat have developed their data and fax transfer capabilities, using a laptop or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) email and Internet access are possible, but like their voice service, they can only offer limited coverage.

They also share the same problem as Iridium in that there is a higher risk of loosing signals due to the need to send them via a number of satellites before connecting them with their destination.

The phones are designed to switch seamlessly between the cellular networks and the satellite network, even during a call. The phone will always use the cellular networks if available. Only when these are not available will they link to the satellite network. By using this method the idea was to offer the best cost effective service, you would only use the more expensive satellite service when there was no alternative.

Iridium Satellite Phones

Thuraya is a regional mobile satellite system that provides satellite telephone services to a region covering 99 countries. Thuraya's foontprint includes the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, Central Asia, North and Central Africa, and Europe. Thuraya offers satellite-based telephony through a dynamic mobile phone that combines satellite, GSM & GPS.

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Thuraya Satellite Phones

Thuraya was the first mobile satellite service to truly integrate satellite and terrestrial mobile services through one handset, allowing users to move freely in and out of terrestrial coverage or within structures which impede satellite coverage. Along with this, Thuraya's airtime pricing ranks with the lowest in the world, allowing a larger population to utilize this far reaching service.

Thuraya provides a range of cellular-like voice and data services over a large geographic region. The Thuraya ground segment includes terrestrial gateways plus a collocated network operations center and satellite control facility in the UAE.

The Thuraya coverage area encompasses the Middle East, North and Central Africa, Europe, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Thuraya offers GSM-compatible mobile telephone services, transmitting and receiving calls through each satellite's 12.25-meter-aperture reflector

Please click here for furhter information about Thuraya products or contact us for additional information and advice on thuraya satellite phone solutions.

Inmarsat Satellite Terminals and Phones

Inmarsat, the first mobile satellite system to be conceived, is a great example of how the technology has emerged from a niche market and been made available to all. Originally designed for the maritime industry, they now have over 100,000 registered Mini-M satellite phone terminals that are used across a broad range of industries.

The Inmarsat network consists of four geo-stationary satellites 35,600km above the Earth. The satellites are positioned at equatorial points over the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Eastern and Western sides of the Atlantic. The 'footprint' created by this configuration is able to provide almost total global communication coverage with the exception of the Poles. The first advantage that this gives Inmarsat is, once a signal is sent to a satellite, its individual 'footprint' is often large enough to deliver that signal to its destination without having to transfer via another satellite first. This minimizes the risk of the signal being lost.

The main argument that has been levelled against Inmarsat terminals regards their size; they are comparable to modern laptop computers. Inmarsat rivals, Iridium and Globalstar, use handsets that are far more akin to cellular phones, which it is claimed, weigh less and are easier to use.

This is not an entirely unfair point; it is true that Inmarsat equipment is larger than that of its contemporaries. Where they can out perform Iridium and Globalstar is in their ability to transfer data and faxes. This lends Inmarsat much more effectively to the setting up of semi-permanent offices where, along side voice facilities, more capable fax and data services are required. When used in this capacity Inmarsat's size ceases to become such an issue.

Inmarsat are planning to expand this service with their next generation satellites, due to go live in 2005. These will support B-GAN (Broadband Global Area Network). B-GAN, it is claimed, will be 100 times more powerful than the current generation of satellites and, will have 10 times the capacity. With this increase Inmarsat are aiming to supply superior Internet, Intranet and video services as well as voice, fax and data.

Please click here for furhter information about Inmarsat products or contact us for additional information and advice on inmarsat satellite phone solutions.

Satellite phone concept, implementation/technology

R290 phone on the coast Tasmania

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A satellite phone is simply a mobile phone that uses orbiting satellites instead of cell towers to connect with main phone lines. While systems vary, some satellite phones will work on just about every portion of the planet. This is satellite phones' main advantage over cell phones - they provide extra areas of coverage where cell phone networks do not.

The three most popular and most reliable satellite phone operators are Iridium, Inmarset, and Globalstar. Inmarset has over 100,000 registered satellite phone terminals. Iridium is owned by Motorola. Globalstar designed a handset that would work on both the cellular AMPS and CDMA networks and, the Globalstar network.

Satellite phones now have a relatively cheap setup cost, because there already exists the infrastructure of satellites in space. A satellite phone is used just like a normal landline or cell phone, you turn it on and dial the number. No additional training, labor, or expertise would be necessary to use satellite phones. Since most people do not have satellite phones, they would have to be shipped into a disaster area, taking at least a day. To purchase a new satellite phone it costs from $300 to to about $1,500, but you can rent one for as low as $40 per week.

In terms of operating costs, satellite phone companies charge high costs per transmission to connect to use their networks, in addition to monthly service fees of about $50 per month. Prices range from about $1 per minute to satellite phones by the same provider to $8.50 per minute to satellite phones by other providers. To call any international number its about $2 per minute. Calls to satellite phones from cell phones and land lines are also very expensive, up to $6 per minute. Data can be sent for about $7 per minute or $.25 per SMS message.

Satellite phones are open in the sense they can call any other phone number, however it is much more expensive, especially when calling other satellite phone providers’ numbers. Also, one satellite phone cannot connect to another satellite phone companies’ network, similar to cell phones. In terms of legal issues, technically you need permission to use a satellite phone in many countries. In practice, it is extremely rare to have the phones confiscated, although it has happened in China

In terms of reliability, satellite phone coverage provides access from anywhere in the world with point to point. They require a good view of the sky to work. Outside in a city with tall buildings around is possible some of the time, but the connection may get cut off. Inside a building is a no-go without an external antenna (about $150). When they work the sound quality is poor compared to a cell phone.

In terms of modes of communication available, asynchronous and synchronous are available. Data and voice are available. However, you can send SMS messages to (but not from) an Iridium phone. Rather surprisingly this is free both for the sender and the recipient. Forget "surfing" the web with a satellite phone. The data rate that is available from an Iridium phone is only about 2400bps (compared with 9600bps for most GSM phones and 30,000- 45,000bps for a POTS line). However because Iridium provide access to the Internet via their own server with compression it is possible to send and receive text e-mail via an Iridium phone. In very round terms you can send and/or receive three or four one page e-mails for about $4.00. (“Satellite Phones”, 24 Jan. 2005). Other satellite phone providers offer comparable data transfer rates and prices. Voicemail allows the phones to be turned off to save battery life.

Battery life of satellite phones is comparable to that found in most cell phones. For example, the Iridium phone is rated for 20 hours of standby time and 2 hours of talk time. Like cell phones, they can be charged from a vehicle via a cigarette light adapter.

In terms of throughput, Iridium and Globalstar connect to LEO’s and Inmarsat connects to GEO’s. Iridium Satellite Phones use a constellation of 66 low-earth orbiting (LEO), cross-linked satellites operates as a fully meshed network and is the largest commercial satellite constellation in the world. The aggregate or total capacities of each of these networks vary from 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) to hundreds of gigabits per second. The larger networks have ISLs running at 2 to 10 Gbps. This is pretty fast, considering that the fastest terrestrial lines hit a technological wall at 2.4 Gbps on OC-48 or 10 Gbps on OC-192 fiber links.

Satellite or traditional phone

So you are going to Mongolia and want to be reachable at all times. Be warned that a quadruple-band "world phone" would probably be useless because of the few cellular antennas in the region. For that trip, and other times when you cannot be sure that there is a cellphone network, the only option is a satellite phone.

The technology emerged in the commercial market in 1998 but faded quickly after the two biggest service providers, Iridium and Globalstar, filed for bankruptcy protection. Those failures raised the question of whether satellite communications could be a viable business in competition with cellular networks. Yet Iridium and Globalstar emerged from bankruptcy within the past couple of years and have since been run profitably, as have other satellite phone companies, as coverage and call quality improved, prices fell and data transfer speeds increased. When Inmarsat's satellite service reaches the Pacific in 2007, it will be possible to have true global broadband coverage.

The satellite market has a future, because there are always going to be cases where you can't have other types of phone services. There was a huge resurgence in interest after Hurricane Katrina because in areas without any infrastructure, or with cellphone towers destroyed and landlines not working, the only way to communicate is by satellite phones.

Satellite phones are the prime communications tool on many oil rigs, around the North and South Poles, while crossing the oceans and in deserted areas of developing countries with no cellular base stations. The choice of which satellite phone service to use depends on several factors, including where and how often the phone will be used and if the user will send e-mail, photographs or other types of data.

The satellite phone service providers have helped their future, Edwards said, by introducing calling plans that have a number of minutes and the price of the phone included in a fixed monthly fee. In the past, looking at your satellite phone bill was often a cause for heart failure, but now people can know what their costs are without having to wait for the end of the month to see how scary the bill is.

For those who need truly global satellite phone coverage from Antarctica to the North Pole and everywhere in between, the only choice is Iridium Satellite, formerly just Iridium. But voice quality is lower than competing services and data speeds are snail-paced. A handset costs about $1,000, and the price of calls, as with the other service providers, may be about $1.20 a minute depending on the subscriber plan.

For slightly faster data transfers and cheaper phone calls and handsets, which cost $500 to $600, there is Globalstar, though the company does not have coverage in sub-Saharan Africa, India and around the poles. Globalstar phones can roam onto GSM networks, but the costs are usually higher than what it costs to use the satellite service.

Another option is Thuraya Satellite Communications, which is based in Dubai. Data transfer speeds are faster than with Globalstar and the phones are comparable in size to small cellular phones, but coverage is limited to Europe, most of Africa and Asia west of China. Thuraya phones can also be used on GSM networks.

For sending large amounts of data, the best option is the Inmarsat service BGAN, for Broadband Global Area Network, Edwards said. Instead of hand-held phones, Inmarsat users have portable units similar in size to laptop computers and weigh 1 to 3 kilograms, or 2.2 pounds to 6.6 pounds. Prices range from about $2,000 to $5,000, with the best connection speeds comparable to a midrange broadband Internet connection. Calls can be made while data are being transferred. Inmarsat said its coverage did not yet reach the area around the Pacific Ocean, including the eastern half of Australia, though coverage should begin some time next year.

Globalstar has more than 200,000 and Iridium has 159,000 subscribers. For Thuraya and Inmarsat subscriber numbers were not available.

Iridium Satellite Phone Tips

1 - Use the free incoming SMS Iridium satellite phones offer free incoming text messages, using these can decrease your bill dramatically. 2 - Send SMS to multiple phones at the same time All Road Communications is the only company to offer you the ability to send the same text message to multiple satellite phones at the same time. You can even send the same text message to different satellite phone networks simultaneously, check it out at: 3 - Use your Iridium phone to send email: You can send an email of up to 160 characters from your Iridium phone: Press Envelope key Scroll down to 'Message Editor' and press 'OK' Enter email address (to get '@' sign press the '1' key 7 times) Enter blank space by pressing '#' key twice Enter your message Select 'Send message' by pressing 'OK' When asked for destination number enter '+*2' and press OK 4 - Get a mag mount antenna for car phone service Many satellite phone users get frustrated when they realize they cannot use their sat phones inside a vehicle. Solve that problem by getting a magnetic mount antenna for your Iridium phone. These antennas come in 1.5 or 5 meter lengths, custom lengths made to order. 5 - Use Iridium's 2-stage dialing system Direct dialed incoming calls to Iridium phones are free for the Iridium user, but the person dialing your Iridium satellite phone may pay a hefty price. Because Iridium has its own country code (8816), every call to an Iridium phone is an international long distance call, and the rates go as high as $12 a minute! The Iridium 2-stage dialing system provides you with an Arizona phone number (480-768-2500). When you dial that number you will then be prompted for the Iridium number you want to call. Just enter that and you will be connected to the Iridium phone. The Iridium user will be deducted minute for minute (base rate $1.99 per minute) and you will pay the price of a regular US long distance call (about 5 cents a minute typically). Combined, this price is just $2.04 per minute instead of $12. You do the math. 6 - Register faster Sometimes you need to Register fast. If the phone is slow to register, just hit the up-arrow (located bottom right of the keypad) then press '8'. This will force registration. 7 - Is your antenna loose? Because the regular antenna is removable it can cause problems. If the antenna gets loose then the phone will either not work or it will constantly drop calls. Remove the antenna and replace it as follows: Press and hold down the button above the antenna and the antenna is easily removed. Keep holding the button down and replace the antenna (you should never have to force it). Once the antenna is snugly in place, release the button. NOTE: Always perform this task with the antenna fully retracted and pointing straight down the back of the phone only. 8 - Dial 001 first This sounds obvious, I know, but you should see the problems people with this one. When you want to call a US number from an Iridium phone start the call with 001 + area code + the number. For example, if you want to call All Road Communications from your Iridium phone (our number is 619-596-4574) you would dial 001-619-596-4574. Remember, Iridium has its own country code, so even if you are in California and you want to call a San Diego phone number, it is still an International Call. 9 - Toll Free Numbers won't work Don't expect to be able to call a US Toll Free Number from your Iridium phone, it won't work. Just like it wouldn't work if you tried to call the same number from a Dublin payphone. Get the direct dial number before you leave town. 10 - Do not forward your cell or landline to your sat phone Unless your last name is Gates and your first name is Bill and you own a software shop in Redmond, Washington, do NOT forward your cell phone to your satellite phone. The fact is that hardly any cell phones allow you to forward to such a long number anyway (think 011-8816-4144-XXXX and you see my point). But even if you can forward calls to a number that long, you will be paying international long distance on your cell phone bill to Iridium, does $12 a minute sound familiar? Just give your friends your sat phone number, or if you really like'em give'em the 2-stage dialing number.

The satellite phone or the Satphone does not, like a regular mobile phone, communicate with the nearest base station; it communicates with the nearest satellite! This connectivity eliminates the issues confronted due to network connection. What is a satellite phone or the Satphone?

The satellite phone or the Satphone directly communicates with the LEOS or the low earth orbit satellites. These are researched to be not only much faster, but offer the user a better range of coverage too. These satellite- cellular phones are wireless devices and the functions are executed with the help of cells. This is why they are also referred to as cell phones. The operation of these satellite phones or the Satphones is carried out via the division of the whole network area into smaller areas, with individual antennas installed in each segment or area. These segments or towers connect the range between each movement of the cellular phone.

Understanding the ‘ground’ work:

The coverage is offered as the cellular phone user keeps moving and enters from one cell range to another. When the instrument crosses over the borders, it actually transmits a signal to the Mobile Telephone Switching Office. The control channel the database of the Mobile Telephone Switching Office or MTSO helps the satellite phone or the Satphone to relocate within the new cell area or coverage range. These phones use the Low Earth Orbiting or LEO satellites that are registered for usage of a particular company. Whenever a satellite phone or the Satphone is switched on, the instrument transmits a signal to the satellites of the designated or registered group that the phone company is affiliated to.

The ‘satellite angle’:

While using a satellite phone or the Satphone, when a person uses the handset, he or she unknowingly sends up a signal to the nearest orbiting satellite and this satellite in turn, connects to the ground station or ‘gateway’. The ground station then connects the call to the destination number. A satellite telephone or satphone is basically a mobile handset that enables the user to communicate via direct connectivity with the communication satellites orbiting the earth. The range or coverage offered by each of the satellite phone or the Satphone companies largely depends on the infrastructure and architecture of the particular system. The coverage may hence, be applicable anywhere around the globe or restricted to use within specific regions.

The satellite phone or the Satphone equipment:

The satellite phone or the Satphone mobile equipment is also referred to as the connecting terminal or ground station. It varies widely and the existent range of satellite phone handsets come in a size and weight not very different from the earlier ones, but today they flaunt a retractable antenna. The satellite phone or the Satphone is very popular on expeditions and joruneys that take one to some remote area. The users enjoy a connectivity with the outside world even in regions or areas where regular terrestrial cellular service is not available. The equipment also includes a fixed installation. The ship-board usually includes rack-mounted electronics and a steerable antenna. The purpose is to automatically track the overhead satellites.

The satellite phone or the Satphone reception:

The satellite phones or the Satphones are not very popular with users for their indoor connectivity. The possibility of a consistent signal near a window exists only if the roof is sufficiently thin. The satellite phone or the Satphones come with ‘connectors’ for external antennae. These are installed in vehicles and buildings tops. These phones are connected via special ‘country calling codes’. Some satellite phones enjoy conncetivity via the satellites in the geo-synchronous orbit of the earth and thus, a global coverage! The disadvantage of geo-stationary satellite system is that the required ‘sight’ between the phone and the satellite is obstructed in the presence of hills and forest cover and the user has to locate higher ground to be able to effectively use the phone. In the Low Earth Orbit service, the obstacle ceases to remain one as soon as another satellite passes overhead.

The satellite phone or the Satphone is built under license and contract and the OEM operators influence the selling price.

satellite phone

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