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.
Inmarsat phones are a very good option if you are planning to travel between 50° North and South latitude. Inmarsat uses three geostationary satellites positioned near the equator. Coverage is technically available on almost the whole globe minus the poles, but the farther away you get from the equator, the closer to the horizon the satellites will be, and the more difficult it will be for you to get a line of sight to them as is required to access satellite phone service. The plus side is that if you are in the service area, the geostationary satellites (orbiting at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation, causing them to stay in place) offer very reliable call quality, as opposed to orbiting satellites which move in relation to you.
Iridium is by far the most reliable satellite phone network as it utilizes 66 satellites orbiting the Earth in a consistent configuration. The Iridium network offers complete coverage all over the globe, including the poles, and is the only satellite network that does so. Their handsets are expensive but very durable and resistant to weather conditions. There are much fewer issues with establishing a line of sight, as latitude is a non-issue, however, the satellites do move so dropped calls are to be expected. Iridium satellite phones are a necessity for any globetrotter who, for whatever reason, finds themselves in places all over the world.
Thuraya is based in the Middle East and their coverage map is limited to Europe, Asia, Australia and most of Africa. This may seem limited compared to other satellite networks, but if you are traveling in those regions, Thuraya is definitely worth a look. They offer a line of unique accessories such as the SatSleeve+ which can turn your existing smartphone into a satellite phone. This versatility is a feature that the other satellite phone providers do not have. Thuraya also sells some of the smallest satellite phone handsets available, and just released a new Dual Mode GSM/Satellite phone that utilizes both GSM and satellite networks to provide reliable coverage. Definitely look into Thuraya as an option if you are going to be in their service area.
Globalstar phones are generally the most affordable brand, both hardware- and service-wise. Their satellite network consists of 48 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites providing coverage between latitudes of 70° North and 70° South (which is most of the Earth minus the poles), however, service is not necessarily available in every location. Globalstar’s coverage map shows a primary service area covering most of North America and some of Western Europe, with extended service in some Middle Eastern and North African countries. Some service is also available in Central America, Asia, and Australia but these are outside of Globalstar’s Home Zone and cannot access certain features. In order to receive a reliable signal, you must be in the center of one of the orange areas of their coverage map, limiting the utility of Globalstar phones unless you plan to use them in the USA, Canada, or the Caribbean.
Now you know the basics regarding the differences between the satellite phone brands that we carry. For more information, don’t hesitate to contact Outfitter Satellite and we will help you choose the satellite phone that is right for you.