Here are some satellite phone tips that will help you get the most from the service and save money at the same time.
If you travel extensively and need worldwide communications capabilities, then Iridium would be your best choice for satellite phone service. Iridium's coverage area spans the globe including some of the most remote locations with the following exceptions - Poland, Hungary, Northern Sri Lanka and South Korea.
If you need service for use primarily in the United States (Hawaii not included), Canada, or the Caribbean, then Globalstar would be the best selection. Service is also available in up to 120 countries internationally. Globalstar service offers call quality that is crystal clear, and its call rates are among the lowest available in the industry.
Note: using a Globalstar phone outside the USA in areas where roaming rates apply can result in a call rate that's as high as $4 per minute!
If you intend to use your satellite phone in the Middle East, Asia Minor, North Africa or Europe, then Thuraya offers very good coverage in these areas with a service that offers the versatility of seamlessly switching between satellite and GSM cell phone networks to ensure consistent service with overall lower call costs.
Your decision should be determined by the length of time, as well as, how often you need to use a satellite phone. If you need a satellite phone only once or twice a year for a week or two each time, then a rental may be your best option. Any usage that is longer and more frequent would justify the purchase of your own phone.
You can rent a satellite phone for as low as $7.00 per day. Along with the rental, many satellite phone rental companies will also include an AC travel charger with an international plug kit, a lithium ion battery (holds a longer charge), a car charger, leather holster with wrist strap, and a pelican case for safe transport. Usually, you can also rent accessories, such as, portable solar chargers, car antennas, data kits, and an extra battery, if needed, for a nominal fee.
For those who decide to own instead of rent, you can buy a satellite phone like the Qualcomm GSP 1600 for use on the Globalstar Satellite Network for around $600. The Hughes 7100 satellite phone used with the Thuraya network sells for approximately $900., and the Motorola 9505A for use with the Iridium Network costs about $1500. Keep in mind, when you buy a satellite phone you will pay less for call time than if you rent.
You must have a clear view of the sky outdoors in order to use a satellite phone. Any nearby obstructions to a clear sky view, such as, a location surrounded by trees, tall buildings or at the bottom of a valley will affect your ability to make and receive calls. The only exception would be if your phone is connected to an outdoor fixed mast antenna.
Without an outdoor antenna, satellite phones will not work inside any building, even near a window or from an underground location. If you would like to use the service from inside a vehicle, then an external magnetic mount antenna will be required. For boats, a fixed mast antenna will give you the proper connection.
Always take a power supply with you. If you are going hiking, hunting, fishing or on any other trip where you will not have access to an electrical source, then make sure that you take along a portable solar charger. It connects to the satellite phone via a cigarette lighter adapter, and it can generate up to 25 Watts/12 milliamps of power with continuous sunlight. That's enough to fully recharge a dead phone battery or laptop computer in about 3.5 hours.
Whenever you travel, especially in foreign countries, take extra care of your satellite phone - rental or purchase. It will be a target for unsavory individuals and terrorists.
You can get email and Internet access through a satellite phone, but connection speeds are rather slow. Both Globalstar and Iridium satellite phone services offer internet access with the use of a data kit. Globalstar connects to the Internet at 2.4Kbps and Iridium at approximately 18Kbps. These speeds are suitable only to check email.
If you want to surf the web, switch off images in your browser to reduce the loading time. If you need a fast internet connection, then the best choice is
BGAN service from InMarsat.
BGAN service from InmarSat is capable of delivering download speeds of 300Kbps or higher. You can rent a unit like the Thrane&Thrane Explorer 100 (formerly the Nera WorldPro 1000) for about $120 per week plus $7 per MB of data transfered.
Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya satellite phone services all provide free incoming SMS (Short Message Service) text messages. The emphasis is on short. However, message length varies from carrier to carrier with Globalstar allowing up to 19 character messages free and Iridium up to 160 characters.
Sending a message from a satellite phone is not free. It can cost 50 cents per message or more. Still, the use of SMS text messaging can save a lot of money as opposed to actual voice calls via satellite phone.
This is not even close. Ship-to-shore rates from most cruise ships average $12. to $15. per minute, while the average outgoing call rate for satellite phones is around $1.69 per minute. You can further reduce your call charges by sending a text message instead of a voice call, and then spend only 50 cents per text message. So, if you take a cruise vacation and you need to stay in touch, take along a satellite phone. You will save a considerable amount of money!
Stay away from this one, if possible. Calling from one satellite phone network to another (for example- Iridium to Globalstar or Thuraya or reverse) can cost up to $12. per minute. If you need to call someone on another satellite phone network, using a landline phone whenever possible can be cheaper. Always check calling rates with your long distance or wireless provider first. Calling an Iridium satellite phone user can be inexpensive - see below.
If you are in the United States and you need to call someone at an Iridium satellite phone number, you can call them and save a significant amount of money thanks to Iridium 2-stage calling. Here's how it works...
Toll-free dialing works only with Globalstar satellite phones; however, standard air time rates apply. Globalstar also is the only service to offer standard US dialing. Neither Iridium nor Thuraya offer toll-free dialing for their network subscribers.
Is your service constantly dropping calls or just not working?
The cause may be a loose antenna. Try repositioning your antenna as follows. Remove the antenna by depressing and holding down the button above the antenna. The antenna should slide out from the phone case easily.
While holding the button down, re-insert the antenna (you should never have to force it). Once the antenna is snugly in place, release the button. Remember, always perform this task while the antenna is fully retracted and pointing straight down the back of the phone only.
Keeping the above satellite phone tips and tricks in mind, you can approach the task of selecting the right service and getting the most from that service with confidence.
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