Are you planning to hunt or travel in Africa? Though cellular coverage in Africa has made great strides in recent decades, traveling in remote areas of Africa still requires a satellite phone.
The newest satellite phones are compact portable satellite hotspot devices designed to work with your smart phone or tablet. You can make phone calls, send texts and even browse the web using a free app. In a life-threatening emergency, you can send an S.O.S. message with the press of a button.
There are many choices including the Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot, the Inmarsat iSavi, and the Iridium GO!. All three work with both iOS and Android devices. All three use Wi-Fi to communicate with your smart phone or tablet. This means that your smart phone will still work as a cell phone and inbound cellular call will take precedence over satellite-mode calls.
The chart below highlights the most important capabilities and specifications of these new satellite hotspot products. A more detailed discussion of each product follows.
Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot:
The Thuraya Hotspot app lets you call or send texts, emails and tweets through the SatSleeve. The Thuraya GmPRS service reaches up to 60 kbps down and 15 kbps up. This is fast enough for web browsing, though not as fast as the Inmarsat iSavi that will be discussed later in this article.
An emergency S.O.S. button feature allows you to make an emergency voice call to one predefined number. The SatSleeve Hotspot has a built-in microphone and speaker so you can make the S.O.S. call without your smart phone if necessary.
The SatSleeve Hotspot battery offers about 3 hours of talk time. To conserve battery, you can disable the Wi-Fi feature. This means you can still make a call to the pre-defined phone number using the S.O.S. button. You can also receive inbound calls using the S.O.S. button. The SatSleeve Hotspot can operate for about 70 hours in standby mode with the Wi-Fi disabled if you are waiting for a critical call. The SatSleeve Hotspot can be recharged in about 2.5 hours. An LED turns from red to blue when a full charge is achieved. Outfitter Satellite offers solar charging systems.
The Thuraya coverage area includes much of Africa, western Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia, but it is much smaller than the coverage area of the Inmarsat iSavi or Iridium GO! devices to be discussed next.
Outfitter Satellite offers both prepaid and postpaid service for the SatSleeve+ and SatSleeve Hotspot. GmPRS internet usage is billed by the MB of usage, not connection time.
Iridium GO! Satellite Hotspot:
The Iridium GO! is the only hotspot with complete global coverage. Because Iridium uses low-earth orbit satellites, coverage is available even in extremely mountainous areas and the polar caps. Terrain masking in mountainous areas is often a problem for users trying to access the geostationary Thuraya or Inmarsat satellites. The flip side of that coin is that Iridium will drop calls fairly frequently. Thuraya and Inmarsat users rarely experience call drops if terrain masking is not present.
The Iridium GO! satellite hotspot has a built-in GPS receiver & emergency S.O.S. button that let you know your exact location and text it to friends. The S.O.S. button also lets you quickly initiate a phone call to your pre-designated emergency number and send a text stating your location and that you have an emergency. You can also program the Iridium GO! to leave a GPS bread crumb trail automatically. The GPS location reports are transmitted as SMS messages. Since Iridium offers several plans with unlimited SMS messaging for a fixed monthly fee, the Iridium GO! is a great personal or vehicular tracking system.
The Iridium GO! is pretty easy to recharge using USB, AC wall power, DC car power, or solar power. An optional solar charger for your back pack charges while you hike down the trail.
Inmarsat IsatHub Satellite Hotspot:
The Wideye iSavi satellite hotspot by Inmarsat is very user friendly. You can use it with iOS and Android smart phones and tablets. Make calls, send texts, and access the web using a free app.
Unlike the Iridium GO! and Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot, you can also use the Inmarsat iSavi with Windows and Macintosh laptops. Laptops use a straightforward web interface to control the iSavi.
At 1.94 lb, the iSavi satellite hotspot is about three times as heavy as the Iridium GO! or Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot, but it is still fairly light and in exchange for the extra weight, the iSavi offers a best effort data speed of 240 kbps up / 384 kbps down. This is much faster than the Iridium or Thuraya satellite hotspot products. A built-in firewall lets you control the types of traffic that are passed.
Inmarsat coverage is global except for the polar regions. Because Inmarsat uses geostationary satellites, there are some areas shown as covered that may suffer from terrain masking, especially in heavily mountainous areas. See the coverage map for more details.