5 Common Myths about Satellite Phones

5 Common Myths about Satellite Phones


Despite their usefulness, satellite phones have been relatively slow to catch on with the population at large. This is mostly because people don't understand how they work and why they are worth the money. Obviously, no one is going to see a need for a product they don't know about, or worse: have wrong impressions about.

There are a few persistent myths that usually form the backbone of the popular misinformation about satellite phones. These incorrect assumptions are actually dangerous, because they discourage people from using a product that could save their lives one day. This article will attempt to break down 5 of these myths.

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Satellite Phone Brand and Network Comparison

Satellite Phone Brand and Network Comparison

Satellite Phone Brand and Network Comparison

When purchasing a satellite phone, you have some very important details to consider. The process is more complex than buying a regular cellular phone, because not only do you have handset features to compare to one another, you must also be mindful of the differences between each carrier’s satellite network. Coverage area, call quality, and reliability is all dependent on the satellite network utilized by a given provider. You cannot make an informed decision about purchasing or renting a satellite phone without this knowledge.

Our buyer’s guide goes into more detail, but here is a quick summary of satellite phone providers and their coverage areas, plus a few strengths and weaknesses of each one.

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Satellite Hotspots

Satellite hotspots enable the iPhone, iPad and Android to connect from the remotest places on earth.   This article covers the newest satellite hotspots for Iridium, Inmarsat, Thuraya and Globalstar.  Some of these satellite hotspots provide broadband internet while others only allow texting and light email or photo-sharing.  But, which is the best fit for you?

Stand-Alone Satellite Hotspots

The Wideye iSavi uses the new Inmarsat IsatHub service.  It is designed to be lightweight, very user friendly, and wireless.  In fact, the only cord most people would ever use is the power cord.  Its internal battery provides about 2.5 hours of use or about 24 hours of standby time.

Smart phones and tablets can make calls, send texts, and access the web using a free app.   Laptops use a straightforward web interface to control iSavi satellite hotspots.

The ultralight 1.94 lb iSavi has a best effort data speed of 240 kbps up / 384 kbps down meaning it is much faster than Iridium, Globalstar or Thuraya.  It has a similar speed performance to a class 3 Inmarsat BGAN.  A  built-in firewall lets you control the types of traffic that are passed.  There are some downsides to the iSavi, though.  At the time of this writing, no true prepaid service has been developed.

The Iridium GO! Satellite Hotspot is a stand-alone device for use with  iOS and Android smart phones and tablets.  Iridium GO! is a great choice for making voice calls or sending texts from your smart device.   At 0.65 lbs, it is much lighter that the iSavi.  In fact, it will fit in your shirt pocket.  Its major weakness is its slow 2.4 kbps data speed.  Clearly, it is not a broadband internet device like the iSavi, but we found it good enough for sending emails with attachments under 100KB.  Web browsing is positively painful via an Iridium GO! and Outfitter Satellite does not recommend Iridium GO! to users expecting to browse the web.

Iridium GO! service plans with unlimited texting and unlimited data are available for a very reasonable monthly fee.  One really great feature of the Iridium GO! is an SOS button.  Just press it and it will notify a pre-defined text recipient of your emergency situation and your GPS location.  Another advantage of the Iridium GO! and all Iridium products is global coverage even including the polar caps.

Outfitter Satellite offers special solar charging equipment for the Iridium GO! making it ultimately portable.  For more information, see our Iridium GO! review article.

The Thuraya SatSleeve+ and SatSleeve Hotspot can be used with  iOS and Android smart phones.  Thuraya pioneered satellite hotspots. The original SatSleeve used Bluetooth connectivity.  The new SatSleeve+ and SatSleeve Hotspot use a more reliable Wi-Fi connection.  They provides Thuraya users with access to phone calls, emails, instant messages and popular social media apps right through their regular smart phone using Thuraya satellite mode with coverage across much of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

Wi-Fi satellite hotspots for use with stand-alone satellite phones

The Optimizer Satellite Hotspot is a peripheral device that lets you use a stand-alone satellite phone or terminal to create a satellite hotspot.

The Optimizer Satellite Hotspot works with the Iridium 9555, Iridium 9575 EXTREME, Globalstar GSP-1700, Thuraya XT, Inmarsat GSPS, or Inmarsat BGAN to use as a satellite hotspot.

If all you need is web browsing and email communications with tight control over wasted traffic, the Optimizer Satellite Hotspot is a great choice.

By default, the Optimizer Satellite Hotspot is configured to block all traffic except its own XGate email and XGate web browser software.  The XGate email program automatically detects inbound emails with large attachments and allows you to make a decision as to whether you want to merely read the text of the email or download the attachment.  The XGate web browser uses compression graphics in order to reduce data usage. 

We recommend the Optimizer Satellite Hotspot over network specific satellite hotspots like the Thuraya XT-hotspot or Iridium AxcessPoint.

One irritating draw back of the Optimizer Satellite Hotspot is that it requires external AC power or +12 VDC power.  Outfitter Satellite rents and sells a 10-Watt Solar Charging System that can be used to power the Optimizer Satellite Hotspot.

* The unlimited Globalstar plan referred to above applies to unlimited Basic Rate voice calling which does not include roaming calls or calls to international destinations.  Please see complete details in the service agreement.  The service plans discussed in this article exist as of the time of this writing but rates and availability of these plans are subject to change without notice.

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Want a Free Globalstar GSP-1700, Learn How!

Through September 25, 2015, when you activate a Galaxy 1200 Annual plan for $780 per year plus a one time $50 activation fee, Outfitter Satellite will ship you a free Globalstar GSP-1700.*   Call us at 615-889-8833 for complete details on this promotion.
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Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspots: BYOD Bring Your Own Device

In the last few years, Satellite Wi-Fi hotspots have demonstrated themselves to be the long awaited solution for iPhone, iPad, and Android users trying to connect to the internet over satellite from remote locations beyond the reach of conventional cellular or internet providers.  All the satellite Wi-Fi hotspots compared here enable smartphone and tablet devices to access the internet through a satellite network. Some but not all of the satellite Wi-Fi hotspots support phone calls and texting through your smart device.
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Globalstar Sat-Fi Review

Globalstar has launched a new Wi-Fi hotspot aimed at smart phone users. Globalstar executives expect the new Globalstar Sat-Fi to become the company's leading product.  The reason for this is that Globalstar Sat-Fi gives the familiar smartphone access to the Globalstar satellite network when it is beyond the reach of conventional cellular services. Our Globalstar Sat-Fi review discusses some of the unique advantages of the Sat-Fi.
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Iridium Satellite Phone Time Epoch Problem

The Time and Date on Your Iridium Satellite Phone May Not Be Right

No, Iridium didn't lose any time. Unfortunately, the time Iridium added earlier this month will have to be deleted soon. Isn't that embarrassing!  Don't know what I am talking about?
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Globalstar Satellite Phones versus the IsatPhone PRO: Which is Better?

Is the new Inmarsat IsatPhone PRO a better alternative to Globalstar satellite phones such as the GSP-1600?   This article compares them and discusses special discount offers for active Globalstar subscribers transitioning to Inmarsat.
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Satellite Phone Providers - Which one is the best?

Satellite phones are increasingly indispensable during regional emergencies.   Terrestrial communication networks can become disrupted by a regional crisis -- crippling the communications between local police, fire, and medical organizations.  A disruption can be caused by physical damage to the network or simple network congestion due to high regional call traffic by the general population.  During the recent Boston bombing, for example, the local cellular networks were almost immediately congested.
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Globalstar Moving Forward

There has been a lot of positive news for Globalstar recently.  In 2007, Globalstar announced major technical problems with its satellites.  Now, Globalstar has successfully built 24 new second generation satellites.  Of those 18 already have been launched and the remaining 8 are scheduled to be launched in February of 2013 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.   There was a technical problem with the rotors on a small number of the first 18 satellites, but Globalstar and Thales Alenia Space were able to resolve this issue by uploading new software.

Currently, in the continental U.S., Outfitter Satellite is observing roughly 75% call completion rates for Globalstar users.   It is expected that this rate could climb to around 95% when all 24 second generation satellites are launched and then eventually put into commercial service, probably by mid-2013.

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