Satellite Phone

A Satellite Phone, satellite telephone or SatPhone is a kind of mobile phone that connects to circling orbiting satellites as opposed to terrestrial cell sites. Compared to terrestrial mobile phones, they deliver very similar purpose such as voice, short messaging service (texting) and low-bandwidth internet access functionality are supported through most system infrastructure. They can also be called Satellite Mobile Phones.

Terrestrial cell site (Bet you've seen many around)
Circling Orbiting satellite

A satellite is an artificial object which has been intentionally placed into orbit unlike the moon that is a natural satellite.

Depending on the satellite constellation architecture of a given system, coverage may cover the entire Earth, or just specific regions.


The four satellite networks (below) give basically the same services, however in very different ways, with different kinds of coverage, quality and technology.  Which Sat system is right for you?  Depends on where and how you will make and receive phone calls, and what other supplementary services you may require, such as satellite internet access, connectivity for email, VoIP telephones, GSM and SMS messaging, to name a few.

Iridium is a constellation of 66 low earth orbit (LEO) communication satellites

Satellite mobile phones equipment differ widely, some Satphone handsets have a weight and size similar to those of the middle 80s but then again their primary function is not to look sexy with thrills and frills but more for safety and peace of mind among other critical essential things, most have large retractable antennae.

However in the last few years a number of recent satellite telephones are now alike in size to normal mobile phones even some have no difference from an ordinary smartphone. See right-->

Explorations into remote areas

However there is an increasing trend where a big number of private people are purchasing satellite phones as a safety net against becoming unable to communicate with the world, especially if they are with their families and loved ones because in some places where mobiles phones dare not wander -- that's where satellite mobile phones show us what they are made off.

Some people in the past may have needed a satphone, but couldn’t......

The TerreStar Genus is the first Sat Phone that's also a full-blown smartphone.

Satphones mostly, are in their element when used for  expeditions and explorations into remote areas where terrestrial normal mobile service is not available, satellite mobiles  allow mission-critical voice and data connectivity in the most extreme of conditions.

As you would no doubt expect that sat phone buyers are mostly public safety agencies, government and energy companies, shipping, search and rescue organizations.

Holidays into remote places

Some people in the past may have needed a satphone, but couldn’t, now things are different as some major factors have now come into play, for instance there has been a heavy reduction in the cost of satellite phones and airtime over the past few years.

  Why We Need Satellite Phones

Iridium extreme 9575 (LEO SatPhone)

That technological leap unleashes satellite phones (or sat phones) from the bonds restricting their Earth-based brethren. Thus, they are the communication devices of choice in areas with minimal or non-existent cell coverage, such as sparsely populated or poor countries, locations where governments restrict cell and Internet access, or where natural disasters wreck ground-based systems.

Thuraya SG-2502 Satellite Phone (GEO SatPhone)

Cell phones require cellular towers, which connect with varying (and often disappearing) signal strength

World Satellite Phones don't rely on a terrestrial cell phone network. Instead, they beam their data directly to and from satellites orbiting Earth.

Globalstar GSP - 1700 Satellite Phone (GEO SatPhone)

Sat phones rely on a network of satellites that are either fixed above the Equator (GEOstationary) or in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) anywhere from 500 to 1,000 miles above the earth.

Inmarsat Isatphone 2 (GEO SatPhone)

Sat phones are rarely affected by violent storms and, depending upon their system architecture, work virtually anywhere in the world. The devices weigh a few ounces and may be about the same size as your cell phone.

Satellites fly above destructive storms

The differences between normal and sat phones

As with cell phones, terminals (SatPhones) have all basic phone features

Yet, even though they are heavier and bulkier than cell phones

They aren't brimming with the nearly endless capabilities and functions that your smartphone has.

A sat phone is a stripped-down phone that you'll primarily use to place calls or send short text messages.

The Two Types Of Satellites

Some companies developed low Earth orbit (LEO) systems like Iridium . And others went with Geosynchronous satellites like  Globalstar, Inmarsat and Thuraya for deferent reasons, each configured constellation, has its advantages and disadvantages.

Geosynchronous satellites also called high earth orbit satellites or GEO orbit satellites are in sync with the earths rotation as it spins (hence the word Geo Geography and sync synchronised), which means that they remain and stay in a fixed spot in the sky.

And because of this difference in calibrated configured constellation Satellite mobile phone systems technologies work quite differently depending on what company you are focusing on.

Centred above the Earth's equator and maintaining a high altitude orbit of around 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) they're simply “out of this world” (literally)

The different types of Satellite Orbits to help you know the Satphone you need

Geo satellites are massive powerful satellites indeed, and because they are very far away from earth 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) just one of them alone can transmit service to a very wide geographical area of the Earth's surface. Now with a constellation of about only four GEO satellites, service can be provided to most of the Earths surface. 

Thuraya XT Geo Satellite Phone
Globalstar GSP- 1700 Geo Satellite Phone

They transmit all sorts of Data such as voice calls, texting, video streaming, file sharing, television to mention just a few.  Now in terms of Satellite Mobile Phones Inmarsat, Thuraya and Globalstar are two accepted Major companies that use geosynchronous configurations to provide Satellite Phone Services through out the world.

Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites have much lower altitude, of up to 930 miles (1,500km), Iridium operate at these orbits.

If geosynchronous satellites are the condos (can fly as high as 4600 feet) of the industry, LEO satellites are the pigeons (can fly as high as 7000 feet). LEO Sats, much smaller and lighter, and there are a lot more of them in orbit.

Iridium 9555 LEO SatPhone
Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro Geo SatPhone

As we know how low the orbits of LEOs are, a satellite net work provider such as iridium, will need as many as 60 LEO satellites (picture above) to cover most of the world. So to maintain a consistent transmission to any position on the planet at any given time a Sat Phone user may be in range of two or more of these satellites as they propel around the planet in space, at around 17,000 miles (27,359 kilometers) per hour, at these phenomenal speeds they circle the  Earth in roughly two hours.

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