1. Introduction to Satellite Phones

Introduction to Satellite Phones

In this mini course you will learn some very handy snippets of information on satellite phones, how to distinguish the major satellite networks and their products and services, as well as their suitability for your needs.


Advantages Of Using Satellite Phones

  1. Cellular networks cover less than 15% of the earth’s landmass, and none of the oceans.
  2. Satellite Phones have incredibly wide geographical network coverage. This means you can make phone calls even from the most remote regions of the world.
  3. Satellite networks are extremely reliable. Unlike cellular networks (especially in 3rd world countries), you can count on them to ALWAYS be available when you need to make a call.
  4. You can move from one country to another within the satellite coverage area, all the time connecting to the same satellite network. This means you do not have any roaming implications (as in the cellular world).
  5. Using a satellite phone on your travels is in most cases significantly cheaper than cellular roaming, you have clear up-front call rates, and there are no incoming call charges (charges to receive calls).
  6. Your satellite phone number and dialling procedure stays the same regardless of the country you are in, and people dial the same number to reach you regardless of where in the world you are.
  7. Nowadays satellite phones have become much smaller than their predecessors of some years ago. They are now much more portable and easier to use. They even look a lot more like cell phones.
  8. Since, in the satellite phone industry, you buy the hardware outright, the satellite networks do not usually try to lock you into lengthy pay-monthly contracts, and pre-paid airtime is often cheaper than pay-monthly.
  9. Ashbury SatCom offers free messaging facilities to all our subscribers, whereby colleagues, friends, and family can send (as many as they like) free text messages to your satellite phone, rather than phoning you.
  10. Buying a satellite phone from Ashbury SatCom means that you buy into a culture of industry expertise and service excellence, from a business that takes great pride in serving your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a satellite phone call a normal cell phone or landline?

Yes, and vice versa too.

Does a satellite phone work indoors?

Strictly speaking, no – however there are accessories such as docking stations, car kits and rooftop/external antennas that can enable them to be used while indoors.

Is it cheaper to use a sat phone on my travels than using cellular roaming?

Yes. With satellite phones there are no roaming, zoning, peak or incoming call charges.

Can I permanently install a satellite phone at my office/home?

Most certainly, but you will need a docking station with rooftop antenna for that, and you can find them in our web shop.

What is the best satellite phone for use on a boat?

The Iridium satellite phones are most suited for use in the marine environment because of their omni directional antennas, pole-to-pole coverage, and high standard of ruggedness. However, the Iridium GO Satellite WiFi HotSpot is an even better option for maritime use than a handheld Iridium phone, since the Iridium GO is much cheaper, has a lot more features than just voice calls, is very practical to use on a boat, and does not require a docking station for use below deck.

I need satellite internet. Can I use my sat phone to access the internet?

In short, handheld satellite phones have very poor data capabilities and while strictly speaking all of them can make an internet connection, it will be very, very, very slow – and you really will be a whole lot better off just buying yourself a satellite wi-fi hotspot instead. We will cover this topic in-depth in a later article in this series.

How do I buy from Ashbury SatCom?

You can buy all satellite phones on our website, and you will see options to pay by bank card, PayPal or bank transfer during checkout.

How do I top-up a pre-paid satellite phone or SIM supplied by Ashbury?

Simply go into our online shop and buy the voucher of your choice, and enter your satellite phone number into the relevant field during checkout.

How does the expiry of prepaid airtime/services work?

The satellite networks set the expiry/validity for each voucher they make available to the market. You can see the vouchers in our web shop for details, however we will also take a good look at prepaid airtime vouchers later in this series.

What about warranty?

New hardware we sell is covered by a standard 1 year warranty, while used phones or covered by a 3 month warranty.


Types Of Satellite Networks

In the satellite communications world there are LEO, MEO, & GEO constellations. Iridium and Globalstar operate LEO constellations, while Inmarsat and Thuraya have GEO constellations.

LEO & MEO are distinguished from GEO constellations in that LEO & MEO satellites orbit around the earth (i.e. they pass overhead), while GEO satellites orbit directly proportional to the earth’s movement, and therefore appears to be stationary in the sky. (Digital television satellites are GEO satellites and that is why your satellite TV antenna is always pointed at the same location on the horizon).

These 3 types of constellations are also distinguished by the orbital altitude of their satellites. LEO satellites orbit quite close to the earth -about 790km altitude- whereas Geo-stationary satellites orbit at 36 900 km altitude.

Altitude also determines how many satellites are needed to provide coverage over a given area, and that is why Iridium has 66 satellites while Inmarsat only needs a handful. The number of satellites in a constellation therefore isn’t necessarily a measure of its power or advantage, and each has its pros and cons, as revealed in its products, which we will discuss later in this series.

From a usage perspective, with products that run on LEO and MEO constellations (i.e. networks in which the satellites pass overhead), you want to ensure that you have a ‘horizon to horizon’ view of the sky when you use the product, so that when one satellite drops off the horizon, your satellite phone can see the next one appearing on the opposite horizon.

With GEO constellations however, you only need to ensure that your phone has a single viewing angle towards where the satellite is situated (stationary) on the equator. However this is both an advantage and a disadvantage of GEO constellations, because GEO satellites do not provide polar coverage, and if you do not have an unobstructed view in the direction of the satellite for whatever reason, your phone may not work.

Next we’ll take a look at the coverage of the major satellite networks that offer portable satellite phones and satellite Wi-Fi hotspots.