Satellite Phone Guide: Cost, Plans, Best Brands


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Satellite phone guide by Outdoor Tech Lab

The Ultimate Satellite Phone Guide: Cost, Plans, Brands and How They Work

Imagine yourself lost in a vast wilderness, your cell phone a useless brick. Or, you’re a journalist reporting from the Russia/Ukraine war zone with no reliable communication.

What do you reach for? A satellite phone – your connection to safety and the outside world.

Satellite phones allow you to make voice calls and send text messages from virtually anywhere on the planet by connecting to orbiting satellites instead of ground-based cell towers.

Whether you’re an adventurer exploring remote areas, a first responder dealing with emergencies, or someone who needs reliable communication anywhere, a satellite phone could be invaluable.

This 2024 Outdoor Tech Lab satellite phone guide covers everything you need to know about sat phones, including top brands, costs, service plans, and how the technology actually works.

Satellite phone guide for 2024 tested by Outdoor Tech Lab
Top 10 satellite phones in the world

What is a Satellite Phone?

A satellite phone is a mobile phone that connects to orbiting satellites rather than terrestrial cellular networks. This allows voice, text, and in some cases data communication from any location on Earth with line-of-sight to satellites.

Unlike traditional cell phones, satellite phones don’t rely on ground-based towers, making them vital communication tools in areas with little to no cellular coverage like wilderness areas, oceans, and disaster zones.

How Do Satellite Phones Work?

Satellite phones use radio frequencies to communicate directly with artificial satellites orbiting the Earth.

Here’s a quick overview of how satellite calling technology functions:

1. The satellite phone transmits voice/data to the nearest satellite in its line of sight.
2. The satellite relays the signal to a ground station (gateway).
3. The ground station connects to terrestrial phone/data networks.
4. Signals go through this process in reverse for incoming communications.

Most modern satellite phones connect to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites around 500-1000 km above Earth. Some also utilize geostationary satellites 35,786 km away that remain fixed over the same spot.

Top Satellite Phone Brands in 2024

Several companies manufacture dedicated satellite handsets and provide global voice/data services.

The top sat phone brands today include:

Iridium Satellite Phones
Iridium is the world’s biggest commercial satellite communications company, operating a constellation of 66 cross-linked LEO satellites.

Their rugged satellite phones are renowned for working virtually anywhere, though at a premium price.

Notable Iridium models:
– Iridium 9555
– Iridium Extreme
– Iridium 9575 Extreme

Inmarsat Satellite Phones
British satellite company Inmarsat operates geostationary satellites covering marine, aviation, and land communications worldwide. Their IsatPhone lineup caters to users in remote areas.

Top Inmarsat phones:
– IsatPhone 2
– IsatPhone Pro

Thuraya Satellite Phones
Thuraya is a mobile satellite services operator whose satellites cover over 160 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Their satellite phones integrate GPS capabilities.

Leading Thuraya handsets:
– Thuraya XT-PRO
– Thuraya X5-Touch

Garmin Satellite Phones
Best known for GPS tech, Garmin offers rugged outdoor handsets like the Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator that uses the reliable Iridium network.

Other brands like ACR Bivy Stick, SPOT, and ZOLEO also manufacture satellite messengers and trackers primarily aimed at niche markets like recreation and lone worker safety.

The ultimate satellite phone guide for 2024
Top 5 satellite phones for 2024

How much is a Satellite Phone?

One of the biggest hurdles for prospective satellite phone users is the cost, which tends to be significantly higher than traditional mobile services.

Satellite Phone Costs in 2024

The satellite handset hardware itself is already more expensive than typical cell phones:

– Low-end: $500-$1000
– Mid-range: $1000-$1500
– High-end: $1500+

For example, Iridium’s popular 9575 Extreme costs around $1,395.

Garmin Satellite communicators are less and do offer text messeging.

Monthly Service Plan Costs
In addition to the phone purchase, you also need to pay for an active monthly service plan from the satellite provider. Typical costs per month:

– Basic voice/SMS plans: $50-$100
– Data bundles (per MB): $3-$10
– Unlimited voice/text: $100-$200+

Satellite Phone Service Providers

The satellite phone brands mentioned earlier like Iridium, Inmarsat, and Thuraya also serve as the primary service providers for their respective handsets and satellite networks.

However, there are third-party providers that resell airtime and services from these major satellite operators.

Popular satellite phone service resellers include:

BlueCosmo Amazon Store
SatPhoneStore Amazon Store

These companies offer a variety of bundled plans, sometimes at reduced rates compared to going directly through Iridium, Inmarsat, etc. They can be useful for finding affordable solutions tailored to your voice/data needs.

Buying Tips for Satellite Phones

If you’re looking to purchase a satellite phone, here are some tips to consider:

– Decide on your main usage (voice, texting, data) to pick the right service plan.
– Compare rates from the carrier vs third-party providers and resellers.
– Check satellite coverage maps for the areas you’ll use the phone.
– Buy an unlocked GSM phone if you want flexibility between networks.
– Used satellite phones can save money but may lack warranty.

satellite phone guide for 2024 by outdoor tech lab
Iridium satellite phones

Where To Buy Satellite Phones

You can buy new satellite phones and sign up for service plans through some major carrier websites:

Iridium.com
Inmarsat.com
Thuraya.com

 

Third-party sellers like BlueCosmo and SatPhoneStore also sell a variety of brand new and used satellite phone models online via their popular, best selling offers on Amazon.

The top 3 selling satellite phones are at the end of this guide with current prices and reviews!

Some other options include outdoor retailers like:

– Cabelas
– Bass Pro Shops

When and Why To Use Satellite Phones

While significantly more expensive than traditional cell phones, satellite phones open up reliable voice/data access virtually anywhere on Earth.

Some key use cases include:

– Remote workers (marine, aviation, oil/gas, forestry, etc.)
– Recreational use (hiking, sailing, off-roading, etc.)
– Emergency services and disaster response
– Military/government field operations
– Global travelers and explorers

Essentially, any situation where you absolutely must have mobile communication capabilities in remote, off-grid areas with no cellular coverage is when a satellite phone becomes invaluable.

Satellite Communication Device Safety & Smart Use Tips

  • Know Your SOS: Understand how to use your phone’s emergency features.
  • Battery is King: Keep it charged, consider a solar charger or backup battery.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Become familiar with your sat phone or messenger before venturing out!

The Future of Satellite Phones Beyond 2024

While satellites have enabled global real-time communication for decades now, the technology continues evolving rapidly thanks to innovations like:

– Smaller, lower-cost satellites and launch capabilities
– Smartphone integration with satellite connectivity
– Improved energy efficiency and battery life
– Faster data speeds and lower latency

For example, companies like AST SpaceMobile, Lynk, and Apple are pioneering direct satellite-to-phone connectivity that could one day let any smartphone use satellite networks, reducing the need for dedicated satellite phone handsets.

SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper are also launching mega-constellations with thousands of compact satellites to improve speed and coverage.

As costs decrease and capabilities improve, experts predict satellite communication will become more ubiquitous and integrated into mainstream mobile devices in the years ahead.

So while currently still relatively niche and pricey for most consumers, the future looks bright for global satellite phone availability and functionality.

Satellite phones enable voice/text/data connectivity in remote regions by linking directly to orbiting satellites rather than ground-based cell towers. They provide a vital communication lifeline for many industries, emergency services, global travelers, and outdoor adventurers.

While more expensive than traditional cell phones, the major satellite phone brands like Iridium, Inmarsat, Thuraya, and Garmin have developed rugged, reliable handsets that let users stay connected anywhere on the planet.

With costs gradually decreasing and new innovations on the horizon, satellite phone technology will likely become more accessible and integrated into mainstream mobile devices in the coming years.

A satellite phone is a specialized tool designed for those who push the boundaries of conventional communication. If your adventures or work take you off the grid like us, investing in one could be the smartest decision you ever make!

Satellite Phone Guide Resource Section

  • Government Agencies:

    • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): Find information on the use of satellite communications in disaster preparedness: https://www.fema.gov/
    • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Learn about satellite weather data and marine safety: https://www.noaa.gov/
  • Additional Ideas

    • Outdoor Enthusiast Communities: Find relevant forums dedicated to hiking, sailing, or overlanding. These groups often have valuable information on satellite phone use in the field.
    • International Telecommunication Union (ITU): The UN’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies. They have resources on regulations and spectrum allocation for satellite communications: https://www.itu.int/
    • Starlink High-Speed Internet: Available almost anywhere on Earth: www.starlink.com 

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