When leaving on your next trek into the outer reaches, satellite phone choice is as important as bringing the right footwear or clothing. Depending on where your trip will take you, Iridium and Inmarsat possess definite strengths and a few challenges that will make the choice relatively painless.

A World of Difference

Iridium carries the distinction of being a truly “global” phone. An Iridium phone will function at any location on the planet. Use of their low-earth orbit constellation of 66 satellites makes this possible. Those satellites are in constant motion overhead, completing an orbit around the earth in about 90 minutes. For end users, that means that a satellite passes overhead from horizon to horizon rather quickly. And while it passes overhead, a satellite phone can lock on to place a call. This has the advantage of being able to be used even in partial obstruction.

Inmarsat utilizes 3 geostationary satellites in high equatorial orbit. Their essentially motionless satellites afford the end user long connection times without dropped calls. The Isatphone 2, Inmarsat’s primary handset, also registers to the network very quickly. The geostationary system, however, necessitates a line-of-site to the satellite to be used. This means, you must be below (in the north) or above (in the south) the 50 latitude line or the curvature of the earth will obstruct the signal.

Location, Location, Location

Where you will be traveling heavily influences satellite phone choice. Consider the following factors:

  • Tall mountains or deep canyons: large, natural obstructions can block equatorial views; choose Iridium
  • Canada, Alaska, northern Europe or Asia, Polls: above or below the 50 latitude line causes curvature of the earth obstruction; choose Iridium.
  • Open ocean: clear, unobstructed views; choose Inmarsat.
  • Geographic location close to the equator: angle to satellite nearly directly overhead; choose Inmarsat.

Pros and Cons

Basic functionality of both Iridium handsets and Inmarsat’s Isatphones are the same. All Iridium handsets from the 9505A to the current 9575 Extreme as well as the Isatphone Pro and Isatphone 2 have SMS texting abilities and low speed data transfer. The 9575 Extreme and Isatphone 2 also have GPS tracking abilities with programable emergency buttons. However, the similarities end here.

The Isatphone 2 offers superior call quality and call length to the Iridium. So if long, clear connection times are needed, the Isatphone 2 is the obvious choice. Also, airtime options for the Isatphone 2 are more economical than their Iridium counterparts. If, however, there is concern for possible terrestrial obstruction for an emergency situation, then the Iridium, with its ability to register and make calls even with partial obstruction, is the choice to make. Iridium also offers the GO! wi-fi hotspot which allows the pairing of a smart device as the conduit for a satellite device. This enables calls, easier SMS texting and even text-based email.

Outfitter Satellite provides new and used purchase options for the Iridium 9505A, 9555, GO!, 9575 Extreme (with service) as well as the Isatphone Pro, and Isatphone 2 (with service).  If your trip is shorter in duration, or if you don’t want to have to maintain equipment, rental options for the Iridium 9555, GO! and Isatphone 2 present an attractive alternative to purchase.

Satellite phone choice, either purchasing new or used, or renting, is easy when making an informed decision.  Knowing your terrain, location, and how you want to use the device are all factors in making the right pick.