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Should You Get a Satellite Phone?

Should You Get a Satellite Phone?

Pretty much everyone has a cell phone these days, but obviously they’re not always perfect. Sometimes you get spotty coverage even in really populated areas, and in some rural areas it’s impossible to get any signal at all.

But imagine you had a phone that didn’t rely on cell tower signals, but rather used the satellites overhead to get a signal anywhere in the world. As you may know, satellite phones do actually exist, in fact I have one right here, so that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Why you might want one, how they work, how much they cost, all that. Now before we get started, I want to thank the sponsor of this video, VideoBlocks, who also provided the cool stock footage you just saw, and that I’ll also be using in more of this video.

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So be sure to check that out at VideoBlocks.com/YouTube, or click the link in the description. And now, let’s continue. So first of all, why would anyone actually need a satellite phone anyway? Well it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine, they would be really useful in any situation where your usual phone won’t work.

One example might be during a natural disaster, like the big hurricanes we’ve seen, and all the phone networks go down, landlines and all. Or maybe you’re just going somewhere with no cell service in the first place.

If you’re someone who likes hiking, maybe you trip and break a bone and need to call for help, or even something as simple as letting someone know you’re running late while hiking. On the flip side, it would allow someone to get in contact with YOU when they otherwise couldn’t.

Some other situations might be if you go mountain climbing, or camping, or even if you’re going on a road trip where you’ll be driving through rural areas with poor service. I’m sure you get the idea.

Now the first thing you’ll want to know about satellite phones is what kinds there are. Because there are several different services out there, all with their own satellites, and they are not interchangeable.

But there are really three big ones to know, which are Iridium, Inmarsat, and Globalstar. And these are the ones I’ll be using as examples. As I mentioned all of these networks have their own so-called satellite constellations orbiting above earth.

First we have Iridium, which is the only one that has 100% global coverage, even the north pole. This is because their satellite constellation consists of 66 satellites orbiting in a pattern that covers the entire planet.

And because the satellites are constantly moving at 17,000 miles per hour across the sky, this means that even if you can’t get a signal at one point, it’s only a matter of time until a satellite moves into a better position.

Though this also means you could have a connection then lose it if the satellite moves away, but at some point you will get a connection. Next we have Globalstar, which has a similar network as Iridium, except it has 24 satellites, and doesn’t have coverage right up near the poles.

So it’s got nearly complete global coverage, and it works the same way where you’ll be able to get a signal anywhere within that coverage area, even if you sometimes have to wait a bit. The third service Inmarsat, works very differently.

They own 13 satellites which serve different purposes, but for the normal satellite phone service, only 3 of the satellites are used. Now you might be thinking, three? That’s it? But there is a difference.

Inmarsat satellites are much further from earth, meaning each satellite can cover more area. And, these satellites are in geo-synchronous orbit, which means they are in perfect sync with the earth’s orbit, and stay perfectly stationary in the sky.

An advantage of this is that if you get a lock on a satellite signal, you don’t have to worry about losing the signal, because the satellite isn’t going to move. But there are a couple drawbacks as well.

If you don’t have a direct line of sight to the satellite, you’ll have to move until you do, such as if something is in the way like a big mountain. Also, these satellites orbit the equator, so as you go further north or south, the satellites have a lower angle in the sky, making them more likely to be obstructed by a land mass or something like that.

And if you go too far north or south, you won’t be able to get a signal at all. Ok so now you know about the different companies, so how much does it cost to use them? Well first you’d have to buy a satellite phone.

And you have to choose carefully, because each satellite company only makes a few different phone models at most, and they can only be used with their respective network. In any case, all of them are pretty expensive.

Iridium Phones are going to cost you somewhere around $1000 depending on where you buy it from. The one I have their latest model, the Iridium Extreme, which goes for about $1100 for example. Inmarsat’s main phone is the ISatPhone 2, which I think is actually the best looking one at least, and that goes for about $700.

Then Globalstar has the 1700 model phone, which is around $500. Of course, if you only need one for a little while, you can rent one of these for maybe 5 to 10 dollars a day. But wait, that’s not all you have to consider, because you also have to buy a service plan.

And those ain’t cheap either, no matter what service you use. And prices wil also vary because most cell plans are sold through resellers. From what I’ve seen, if you plan to actually use your phone, the bare minimum plan is going to cost you around $50 a month.

And that might get you, literally 10 minutes of talk time. Yea, it’s not much. And prices can go up to hundreds a month. Or you might be able to get an “emergency plan”, which I know iridium has, which is about $300 a year, and comes with a whopping zero minutes.

And every time you use it, it costs you $6 a minute, nothing’s included. So even to just use the phone at all, or be able to use it, it’s at least $300 a year. Which brings me to the next topic, how much it costs to make calls to a satellite phone from a regular phone.

This is going to vary depending on your phone company, but again, it’s always expensive, and it’s treated as making an international call. For example, on AT&T, calling an Iridium phone is about $4, and calling Inmarsat or Globalstar is whopping $12 a minute.

Though I should point out that you might be able to find a service that will give you a local telephone number that connects to your satellite phone, which would make it easier to call you. I know this is possible with Globalstar, where you can get a USA number, but I’m not sure about the others.

Another thing to note is apparently some cell companies block calls to satellite phones unless you specifically ask them to allow you to do that. So that would be something to look into as well, and tell people who might try to call you.

Oh and believe it or not, yes you can get text and even data service on some satellite phones, but we’ll get to that in a minute. At this point, let’s say you got your satellite phone, you bought the service, and it’s ready to go.

How do you go about using it? Well first of all it won’t work inside, because you need an unobstructed signal. But if you do have a strong signal, it probably won’t take long at all, just a matter of seconds.

If you don’t have a visible satellite, assuming you’re on Iridium or Globalstar, you probably just have to wait a few minutes or so. Of course if you’re in a really unfortunate area, you might only have a short window of signal before you have to wait again.

If you want to make a call to or from a satellite phone, it’s definitely a bit more involved. Calling from the satellite phone, you have to dial the international prefix, 00, then the country code, such as 1 for the United States, and then the regular phone number.

If you’re calling to a satellite phone, it’s even more complicated. First you dial the outgoing international dialing code for your country, which would be 011 for the US, or 00 for Europe. Then, you need to dial the prefix for the particular satellite network, such as 8816 for Iridium, or 870 for Inmarsat.

And THEN you can dial the satellite phone number. Maybe it’s best you just save the contact in your phone. We’ve almost covered everything, but we haven’t yet gone over data and texting. Yes, depending on your phone model and service plan, you can do both.

Texting is pretty straight forward, it’s mostly the same as with a cell phone. You can also use email to message a satellite phone, but we won’t get into that. Some phone models also have the ability to automatically text out GPS coordinates which is convient to let someone know where you are.

For data, as you can imagine, you’re not exactly going to get 4G speeds. In fact, it’s so slow you’ll be WISHING you had dial up. Typical data speeds are up to 10 kilobits per second, yes, that’s 1 / 100th of a megabit.

It’s pretty much only good for checking email basically. However, Iridium is currently launching upgraded satellites, so in a few years they say they can offer speeds of about 1.5mbps, that will be nice.

Also, you might be able to get separate wifi hotspot devices, like the IsatHub from Inmarsat, which can supposedly do up to 300 kbps. But either way I think it’s safe to say you won’t be streaming and YouTube videos from your satellite phone.

So I believe that should cover everything. A satellite phone probably isn’t something that most people need, but depending on what you do, it could literally be a life saver. And as I said before, if you know you’re going to be taking a trip where you could use one, you can always just rent one.

Anyway, I’d love to know what you guys think. Are you considering getting a satellite phone? Did you even know anything about them before? We can talk about that down in the comments. If you want to keep watching I’ll put some other videos right here, and if you want to subscribe I make a few new videos every week.

Again I’m looking forward to hearing from you, so thanks for watching I’ll see you next time, have a good one.


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