Satellite Phones – The Ultimate Buying Guide

From clandestine forces to weekend warriors— satellite phones have a reputation as the “tool of choice” to keep you connected, safe, and productive when nothing else will.

Now more mainstream and affordable than ever, satellite phones come in various shapes and sizes, each boasting different features and abilities that make some models better suited for certain applications. There’s a lot of information to be aware of, and a lot of product specifications to sort through…
 

So, if you’re in the market for a satellite phone, you’re probably wondering:

How can I quickly find the best satellite phone that will meet my needs?
 
We can help you with that:

This is the ultimate satellite phone resource and buying guide—it’s packed with great information and, most importantly, includes two handy tools to give you some much needed insight and answers on your quest for the best satellite phone:

  1. Our exclusive satellite phone finder tool will recommend the best product for you—based on the features, capabilities and specifications that you select.
  2. Our satellite phone comparison chart provides detailed product specifications for each satellite phone—great for a fast side-by-side product comparison.
  3. The detailed satellite network information section. If you want to dive into greater detail – this section will help you learn the pros and cons of each satellite network.

Important to remember:

Choosing the right satellite phone is not just about choosing the physical phone itself—a satellite phone is only as good as the network behind it, so it’s vital to understand each satellite network, what they have to offer and how they will impact your satellite communications. You’ll find more information about the different satellite networks below our satellite phone comparison chart.

1.) The Satellite Phone Finder Tool

Receive Immediate Product Recommendations:

Simply select the features you want in a satellite phone, select your application requirements, and check-off the locations where you plan to use it—then hit the “Find Products” button—you’ll be taken to a results page which will list the satellite phone products that match your needs, based on what you selected.

Clicking on any of the recommended products will take you directly to that phone’s product page where you can dive deeper into the details and specifications prior to purchasing.

Satellite Phone Finder

Select your requirements. View product recommendations.

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Please keep in mind that this selection tool only gives results for products categorized as satellite phones. However, there are other products, such as satellite hotspots, that pair wirelessly with your smartphone to provide satellite voice connectivity—on your existing smartphone! These are typically lower in cost than traditional satellite phones, and may be a good choice for some users.

2.) The Satellite Phone Comparison Chart

In-Depth Product Details:

Our satellite phone comparison chart highlights the main and most important features of each phone that we carry. This chart lists all the useful specifications, and is based on our customers’ most popular questions.

NOTE: If you cannot view the entire chart on your screen, use or the scroll bar at the bottom of the table, to move it left and right. You can also scroll on your track-pad, or by using the scroll wheel on your mouse.

Iridium 9555 Iridium Extreme 9575 IsatPhone 2 Globalstar GSP-1700 Globalstar GSP-2900 MSAT G2
Network Iridium Iridium Inmarsat Globalstar Globalstar MSAT (Legado)
Coverage Area Global. Even works in mountainous terrain Global. Even works in mountainous terrain Global between 50 degrees N to 50 degrees S. Mountainous terrain may pose difficulties Near Global See coverage map Near Global See coverage map North America Only Mountainous terrain may pose difficulties
Usage Type Portable: Handheld Portable: Handheld Portable: Handheld Portable: Handheld Fixed: (in-building) Mobile or Fixed:(in-vehicle or in-building)
Battery Life 3hr talk / 30hrs standby 4hr talk / 30hrs standby 8hr talk / 160hr standby 4hr talk / 36hrs standby N/A (requires external 12V power source) N/A (requires external 12V power source)
IP Rating N/A IP65 (dustproof, jet-water resistant) IP65 (dustproof, jet-water resistant) N/A Antenna suitable for all-weather use. Antenna suitable for all-weather use.
Audio Quality
Antenna Retractable, omni-directional Retractable, omni-directional Fold-out, directional Fold-out, directional Fixed-Mount, omnidirectional Radome: directional, auto-tracking. Fixed or Magnetic Mount capable.
Communication Features
Phone Calls
Text Messaging Receive Only
Push-to-Talk
GPS Position Reporting/Info
(only during a call)
Send an SOS
Data Connectivity For Email
Data Connectivity For Internet
Use in a Building?
with external antenna and docking station.

with external antenna and docking station.

with external antenna and docking station.

with external antenna and docking station.

Installation required.

Installation required.
Use in a Vehicle?
with external antenna and docking station.

with external antenna and docking station.

with external antenna and docking station.

with external antenna and docking station.

Installation required.
Overall Customer Rating
Purchase View Product View Product View Product View Product View Product View Product

3.) Satellite Phone Networks

A satellite phone is only as good as the satellite network behind it—so it’s a good idea to compare the different phone models as well as the capabilities of the networks that support them.

What is the best satellite network?

Ultimately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” best choice—sorry, but it’s the truth. We lean towards certain networks (and therefore certain phones) for certain applications, but do not believe that one is overall better than another. They each have their pros and cons that will affect your experience with their service in different usage situations.

Remember this:

You need to remember these four points when analyzing any satellite network to determine if it’s service capabilities will meet your needs:

  1. Your satellite phone must have a clear line-of-sight connection to a satellite in order to work (this is a constant factor across all satellite networks).
  2. It’s hard to establish a line-of-sight when you’re located in areas with high terrain features—mountain valleys, tall buildings, etc.
  3. Low-Earth Orbiting satellites make it easier to establish line-of-sight in areas with high terrain features, but connection time may be short and sporadic.
  4. Geosynchronous (GEO) orbiting satellites provide continuous connectivity once a line-of-sight is established—but it’s harder to establish line-of-sight in areas with high terrain features when using GEO satellites.

With these points in mind, read the following overviews about the Iridium, Globalstar, Inmarsat and MSAT satellite networks.

The Iridium Satellite Network

Iridium offers voice and low-speed data services, and provides true global connectivity…even at the North and South poles—something that Inmarsat, globalstar and MSAT cannot advertise.

Iridium’s constellation of 66 Low-Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites have an orbit speed that is faster than the Earth’s rotation—so they move through the sky and are never in the same place at the same time.

Thanks to this large number of satellites and mesh-style network design, Iridium provides the most comprehensive global satellite coverage on the market—calls are dropped less frequently and time spent waiting for a signal is minimized in most situations.

Best choice for mountainous terrain:

In mountainous terrain, where your view of the sky may be limited or restricted, you may only get a signal when a satellite passes directly (or almost directly) overhead.

In these cases, the connectivity “windows” can be very short and sporadic—sending a text message, or SOS alert might be your best chance of communications. These methods use Iridium low-speed data services and only require a very brief window of connectivity to be sent successfully. The Iridium Extreme 9575 and Iridium GO! offer SOS functionality and all Iridium products offer texting ability.

Keep in mind that sending an SOS alert is serious business and must be reserved for true emergencies only.

Because the Iridium satellites are constantly moving, you will get a signal if you’re patient and stay in the same place. This makes the Iridium network and Iridium satellite phone products your best choice for use in mountainous terrain.

In general, the average connection time that you will experience with an Iridium phone call is 9 to 15 minutes (depending on terrain)—enough time to relay some important details, but not ideal for lengthy discussions.

iridium coverage map

The Inmarsat Satellite Network

Inmarsat offers voice and high-speed data services that are suitable for Internet browsing and other broadband applications. These higher-speed data services cannot be accessed with an IsatPhone 2, you’ll need an iSavi or BGAN portable satellite Internet terminal for that.

In general, the Inmarsat network also provides global coverage, but not in extreme polar regions—their coverage is poor in latitudes above 50 degrees North and 50 degrees South.

With a network of three geostationary (GEO) satellites, which orbit “in-time” with the Earth’s rotation—they do not move across the sky like Iridium’s LEO satellites. Rather, they appear to remain in the same position all the time. This gives Inmarsat the unique ability to provide continuous coverage to users throughout the world.

What is continuous coverage?

Once you have a connection, it can be sustained indefinitely—your calls will never get dropped unless something interrupts the line-of-sight between your phone and the satellite.

  • The IsatPhone 2 satellite phone uses an omni-directional antenna, which means you can walk around and still maintain your signal.
  • The iSavi and the portable BGAN products have highly directional antennas that should not be moved while operating because their satellite-lock will get disrupted and your service will be disconnected.
  • Mobile BGAN products have auto-tracking antennas that can be moved while in operation with no affect to service (unless they are moved to a location where the line-of-sight connection gets blocked).

Keep in mind:

If something is preventing your line-of-sight with a satellite, moving to a more open area is the only way for you to get a signal when using Inmarsat satellite services.

 

Inmarsat does provide global coverage, but it weakens the closer you get to the North and South poles. Typically their coverage is best in latitudes between 50 degrees North and 50 degrees South.

Why?

The three coloured circles on the coverage map represent the coverage of their three communication satellites. The closer you are to any of these circle’s edges, the closer the satellite will be to the horizon (from your perspective). Generally, if the satellite’s elevation is less than 20 degrees above the horizon, you will have trouble getting a line-of-sight connection over nearby terrain features (mountains, buildings, general terrain undulations, etc.). This is common with across all networks using geosynchronous satellites.

inmarsat coverage map

Inmarsat is not ideal for mountainous terrain:

Inmarsat is a great choice for many applications because they can provide continuous coverage. However, it’s necessary for you to consider where you will be using your Inmarsat device to ensure you aren’t surprised by poor coverage.

As previously stated, if you can’t get a connection, you have to re-locate—so if you’re operating close to steep mountainous terrain where your view of the Southern sky could be blocked, an Iridium satellite phone is likely a better choice than an IsatPhone 2.

The Globalstar Satellite Network

The Globalstar network uses 24 LEO satellites—far fewer than Iridium, but they orbit nearly twice as high to make up for it (the higher the orbit, the less satellites needed to cover the Earth’s surface at any given time).

Although Globalstar is advertised as a global satellite network, they really only provide good coverage in specific regions, such as mid-latitude areas. They do not provide coverage over the North and South poles, international waters and most of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Further, their service is patchy in large portions of South America, Australia and New Zealand—but it works great everywhere else!

So while Globalstar is popular with many customers due to the excellent audio quality, localized phone numbers, and low hardware and service plan costs, you’re coverage is limited to certain regions of the world.

Generally, Globalstar satellite phones are a good, economical choice for users in the Continental USA, Canada, Caribbean and Western Europe.

globalstar coverage map

The MSAT network

Legado Networks is the company that operates the MSAT network using their two MSAT satellites to offer voice, push-to-talk, and low-speed data services in North America only.

Like Inmarsat, the MSAT satellites are positioned in a GEO orbit—so they provide reliable, continuous coverage and repeatable performance.

While not applicable for handheld, portable applications, MSAT satellite phones are a popular choice for public safety, business continuity and emergency preparedness agencies throughout Canada and the United States—largely due to the affordable push-to-talk satellite communication abilities that they provide.

Popular Questions From Our Customers

Can satellite phones call cell phones?

YES! Your satellite phone can call any valid phone number in the world, regardless if it’s a landline or cellular phone number. The Iridium and Inmarsat satellite phone networks have no roaming charges, so you pay the same rate for an outgoing call no matter where you are or where you’re calling.

However, the person you’re calling will be charged higher-than-usual long distance rates (depending on their long-distance plan) to receive a call from a satellite phone. These rates vary by landline/cellular service provider, but can be upwards of $7.00/minute in extreme cases.

A note for corporate customers:

It’s common for corporate entities to block any long-distance or international calling abilities on their employees’ cell phones. In these cases, a satellite phone may not be able to call a cell phone successfully—the cell phone certainly would not be able to call a satellite phone number. Usually this can be determined and rectified by contacting the corporate IT department or equivalent group managing the wireless devices within your organization.

How much does it cost to call a satellite phone?

It depends on your long-distance service provider. These days, most telephone companies publish their long-distance rates specifically for calls to satellite networks—they aren’t inexpensive.

The costs tend to vary dramatically by service provider, but can be upwards of $7.00/minute in extreme cases.

Why use a satellite phone?

There are really only two reasons why anyone would need to use a satellite phone:

  1. To stay connected (for safety, productivity, or other reasons) in areas where no other communications infrastructure is available.
  2. To stay connected for emergency preparedness, management/response or business continuity

Typical landline and cellular phone/Internet services will be unavailable following a large-scale disaster in your area. Even large public events (such as concerts, parades, etc) can disrupt cellular service at the local level due to the amount of subscribers using the service in a very concentrated space.

Satelilte phones do not rely on local land-based infrastructure and are a great option for staying connected when everything else has failed. In such cases, you won’t be able to call any local landline or cellular phone numbers, but you can contact landline/cellular numbers who are outside of the affected zones, as well as contact other satellite phones.

How much is a satellite phone?

Price range by brand and network. You can review the prices on our satellite phones page.

How much does it cost to make a call on a satellite phone?

Satellite airtime is more affordable than ever, with monthly or prepaid options to suit almost any budget. We provide satellite airtime plans for all the major satellite networks, and the rates do vary between them. We offer multiple plans for each network, which also vary in cost to suit different budgets and operational requirements.

Most of our plans offer FREE Incoming calls, but the average cost of an outgoing call to a landline or cellular number is around $1.00 to $1.50.

For full details and satellite call rates, please check out our offerings for:

Can satellite phones be traced?

This should be a two part question:

1.) Can the phone itself be traced?

YES! The Iridium Extreme 9575 and IsatPhone 2 offer sophisticated GPS tracking capabilities to improve user safety in case of emergency. So in that case, yes, the satellite phone itself can be traced quite easily by anyone with access to the tracking software.
The Iridium 9555 and Globalstar GSP-1700 satellite phones do not have advanced GPS tracking features.

2.) Can the calls be traced in order to locate the satellite phone?

YES! These days, anything can be traced with the right know-how, equipment, and connections—satellite phones are no exception. There are varying degrees of speculation on how difficult it is to trace satellite phone calls but the general consensus is that a satellite phone call is only “easily” traceable by the network service provider because of the sophisticated information and equipment required to do it. Even then, it’s unclear if they can trace satellite phone calls in “real-time”.

Why Should I Choose Chroma SATcom For My Satellite Phone and Service?

When you choose to purchase your satellite phone and airtime from us, you’ll join a community of many happy and satisfied customers and receive our complimentary value-added services to help you manage your airtime costs.

See what customers like you have to say about their experience:

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We aim to serve you better than “the other guys”:

  • We do our utmost to educate you about our products so that you can make an informed purchase decision.
  • We make it easy to get THE solution that will meet your needs.
  • We will keep you up-to-speed on you airtime usage with automated alerts, and other exclusive perks to ensure you get the best experience possible.
  • We offer after-hours customer support, billing options in Canadian or U.S. dollars, and customized corporate service plans.