Satellite phones are a great way to stay in touch with civilization when you are in remote areas without cell and data services. They can be an indispensable backup in remote and less populated regions to your standard smartphone because they do not need a cell phone or terrestrial communication networks to work.
Satellite phones can cost anywhere from $500.00 to $1300.00 plus monthly or yearly minute plans. Yet, they are ideal for individuals who live or spend quite a bit of time in rural areas that have unreliable cellular or landline coverage and need a communication device.
There are many satellite phones on the market today that vary in price and services. There are also countries that do not even allow satellite phones and could result in imprisonment. Read on to find out how much the most popular satellite phones cost today, the different minute plans, and where you can and cannot use a satellite phone.
Satellite Phones Vary in Price
Although they have been around for decades, satellite phones have become very popular with individuals who travel to remote areas of the world that lack reliable cell and data services. If you find yourself living or traveling in areas in which communication is lacking, a satellite phone is a great backup to your smartphone.
Satellite phones used to be unattainable to the average person because of their exorbitant prices, but the cost has come down considerably when the Iridium network came on the scene with its global services. The top four satellite phones each have different capabilities and offerings depending on what is most important to you:
|Phones||Iridium Extreme 9575 bundle||Inmarsat IsatPhone 2||Globalstar GSP-1700||Thuraya X5-TOUCH|
|Size||5.5 inch-2.3 inch||6.7 inch-3 inch||5.3 inch-1.3 inch||5.7 inch-3 inch|
|Battery life||4 hours talk and 30 hours standby||8 hours talk and 160 hours standby||4 hours talk and 36 hours standby||9 hours talk and 160 hours standby|
|SOS and GPS capabilities||Yes||Yes||Only GPS||Yes|
|Jet water resistant||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
A satellite phone will require a line of sight to the sky in order to work since its service is through satellite signals. That means these phones are not made to be used indoors like your traditional cell phone. You may be able to use it in your hotel room with an open window, but they are ideal for remote areas outdoors without cell service.
Other things that could affect your satellite signal are mountains, tall buildings, or heavy tree coverage in a forest. However, for the most part, satellite phones are a reliable means of communication when you are in the middle of nowhere and need the ability to call or text someone or have other data services traditional cell phones provide.
What is the Best Budget/Mid-Range/High End Satellite Phone?
Before you compare the best budget, mid-range, and high-end satellite phones, you need to determine what you will be using the device for and why you want one. Are you looking to make actual phone calls or just send text messages? Do you need to access email and the Web? Do you want it to act like a smartphone with GPS and tracking?
These questions and more are imperative when comparing the different types of satellite phones on the market today:
- The Iridium phone is the only one with global coverage.
- The Inmarsat phone is the best overall value for what you get for the price.
- The price between the two illustrates the best budget versus the high end.
- The Globalstar satellite phone has a low-cost service and the Thuraya has Android Touch and GSM capabilities.
- All three companies also offer rental options for many of their phones.
If you do not want to shell out hundreds of dollars purchasing a high-end satellite phone outright, you can rent one from any of the four companies above. You just need to figure out how and where it will be used and which company offers the best service plan for your needs. This is based on how many minutes per month you think you will use it.
Who are the Satellite Phone Service Providers?
The top four satellite networks are Iridium, Inmarsat, Globalstar, and Thuraya. Each satellite network offers different types of coverage and is stronger in certain areas for calls, text, and other data services. Choosing between the top three satellite phone service providers depends on your overall needs.
Remember that Iridium is the largest commercial satellite provider in the world and the only global provider, including the North and South Pole. Neither Iridium nor Inmarsat charges long-distance or roaming charges, but Globestar does since it is a regional network that includes the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.
Does a Satellite Phone Need a Plan?
If you are going to use your satellite phone to make calls, you will need a SIM card and an active monthly plan just like a traditional cell phone. Luckily, there are numerous prepaid plans in which to choose depending on how many minutes a month you need and whether you want a monthly or yearly plan. Examples of monthly plans include:
- Iridium 10-minute monthly plan: $54.99, $1.49 each additional minute
- Iridium 20-minute monthly plan: $59.99, $1.49 each additional minute
- Iridium 40-minute monthly plan: $64.99, $1.49 each additional minute
- Iridium 60-minute monthly plan: $69.99, $1.39 each additional minute
- Iridium 90-minute monthly plan: $89.99, $1.39 each additional minute
The Iridium monthly plans can go up to 1000 minutes for $929.99 a month and $1.10 for each additional minute. The company also offers annual service plans for 150, 300, and 1000 minutes and regional and global prepaid service plans. There are some cheaper plans in which to choose, such as the company Inmarsat’s popular IsatPhone:
- IsatPhone 15-minute monthly plan: $39.99, 99 cents each additional minute
- IsatPhone 60-minute monthly plan: $54.99, 99 cents each additional minute
- IsatPhone 200-minute monthly plan: $109.99, 99 cents each additional minute
Whatever plan you choose, incoming calls and text messages are usually free. The plan chosen depends on where you will be. For example, IsatPhone offers North American plans while Iridium covers the entire globe through a network of 66 low-earth orbiting satellites across the Earth. It is the only network that offers 100% global coverage.
You will also need to check whether your satellite phone plan offers data services and Internet access before signing on the dotted line. Most satellite phone plans have limited bandwidth since they are usually used for communication emergencies. However, many higher-end options have the same capabilities as a traditional phone.
Are Satellite Phones Free?
Satellite phones are not free, but they can either be rented or purchased outright. If you think you will be using the satellite phone for six weeks or more per year, it is more lucrative to purchase the satellite phone. Otherwise, you can compare daily and monthly rental plans so that you have a satellite phone available when you need it.
If you decide to purchase your satellite phone you will still need a monthly or annual plan to make calls, get text messages, and use the other features with your dedicated SIM card. You cannot use the same SIM card for multiple satellite phones, so make sure you only purchase one unless you will be using dedicated SIM cards for each one.
Are Satellite Phones Illegal Anywhere?
Satellite phones are different from regular cell phones because they do not receive their signal from land-based cell towers and, instead, from satellites that orbit the Earth. This means these devices are perfect for world travelers, yet there are countries that either restrict or outright ban the use of satellite phones.
There are many reasons why a country may ban satellite phones. It could be to fight bad elements who may use them or to gain control over citizens. If you are traveling to a country that may have oppressive regimes or is vulnerable to this type of activity, you will want to learn the laws, both past, and present, on using satellite phones.
What Countries are Satellite Phones Illegal?
If you find you are going to visit any of the following ten countries, you will need to understand the rules and regulations in regards to using satellite phones. Each country below, listed in alphabetical order, have strict laws about even possessing a satellite phone and some even punish with time in jail:
- Bangladesh – it is illegal to possess a satellite phone and could result in jail time.
- China – It is illegal to possess a satellite phone and many other devices with GPS.
- Cuba – Forbids the possession of satellite phones unless you have a permit from the Cuban Ministry of Informatics and Communications. Otherwise, it could lead to time in prison.
- India – Only satellite phones that use the Inmarsat network are permitted, with permission from the Department of Telecommunications. Others could lead to arrest.
- Libya – Satellite phones made by the Thuraya company are banned and could lead to arrest.
- Myanmar – Check before traveling, as the government currently changes its laws on communication devices like satellite phones.
- Nigeria – Satellite phones are banned in Borno. If you are traveling to other areas of the country, contact the Consulate General of Nigeria before your trip.
- North Korea – Satellite phones are banned throughout the country.
- Republic of Chad – Satellite phones are illegal and could lead to arrest.
- Russia – You can only bring in a satellite phone with approval and the registration of your SIM card.
- Sudan – Contact the country before bringing in a satellite phone, as most electric devices are restricted throughout Sudan.
You should always do your research before traveling to the countries listed above and other countries that may have reasons to ban or make the possession of satellite phones illegal. On the calm end, they may just confiscate your satellite phone. However, you could end up being arrested and thrown in prison if you do not do your homework.
Can I Turn My Smartphone into a Satellite Phone?
If you are traveling to a country that restricts the use of satellite phones, or simply do not want to pay the money for the device and monthly plan, there are ways to turn your smartphone into a satellite phone. However, you do need a device called a Thuraya SatSleeve, which could also be banned in one of the countries formally discussed.
SatSleeves are made for both iPhones and Androids and are an easy way to turn your smartphone into a satellite phone. That way, you can use one device and paid contract to get your calls and texts when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere without cell service. You simply slide your smartphone into the sleeve and get the following:
- Call support without cell service
- SMS messaging
- Satellite data operations for email and instant messaging
- Satellite capabilities for internet browsing
You may think this sounds too good to be true, but you should be warned that the calls over the satellite will cost much more than using your basic cell phone plan. In fact, they may be several dollars per minute depending on where you are using the SatSleeve. That being said, if you need the convenience of a satellite phone it is worth the money.
The SatSleeve itself is also pricey, around $500, but it does come with a built-in, rechargeable battery and you can also get an optional solar charger to keep your smartphone charged for longer periods of time. Again, the price may be well worth it when you find yourself in a remote area and the only contact you have is a satellite.
Can You Text a Satellite Phone?
You can definitely text using a satellite phone both nationally and internationally. Unlike voice calls, which usually have a considerable surcharge if you are calling internationally, texting with a satellite phone is often handled in the same way as texting on a cell phone.
For example, both the Iridium and Inmarsat satellite phones can send and receive text messages, as well as short emails. Globalstar satellite phones can receive text messages up to 35 characters but do not have the ability to reply to them.
Satellite phones are a reliable form of communication when in remote areas that do not have cellular or data services. They can be a lifesaver if you are in the middle of nowhere and need to call or text someone for help. As long as you do your research on the different network companies and countries, you can find one that is best for you.
I hope this article has been both informative and helpful. Thanks for reading!
For more, check out Do Emergency Calls Work Without a Signal?
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