5 Questions to Ask Before Renting or Buying a Satellite Phone

In the past, the people who purchased satellite phones worked for government agencies, emergency services or search and rescue groups. Now, ordinary buyers have become more interested in satellite phones, largely because of a significant drop in prices. When buying isn’t an option, many customers rent satellite phones. To pick the right phone and network, you should ask yourself some important questions about the phone’s usage, your budget and your Internet needs.

Question 1: How Will You Use It?

If you’re a rural homeowner in the U.S. who is worried about losing cellular communication during a natural disaster or emergency event, then a barebones model and a cheap, regional satellite connection will probably work for you. However, if you’re an adventurer who travels the world, and you’re carrying the phone to contact the outside world during an emergency, then you’ll be more concerned about having a satellite provider that maintains highly reliable global coverage. Alternatively, you may be an EMT, police officer or fireman who works as a first responder in dangerous situations. In addition to a rugged phone that can withstand tough conditions, you’ll want a high-availability regional network with capacity for an emergency communications center.
Asking yourself how you plan to use your satellite phone can also help you to choose its features. For example, the adventurer may want GPS, and the EMT may want Bluetooth so she can communicate hands-free. An Army officer may need a satellite phone that has military-grade rugged construction.

Question 2: Where Will You Use It?

If you’re going into the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand, then a satellite phone won’t be of much use to you. Satellite phones work far better when you make and receive phone calls outside in a clear area. Even outdoors, a tall, dense tree line or a mountain can interfere with your connection. Also, choose the satellite carrier that provides coverage where you plan to use your phone. For example, if you’re in North America, then you can’t use Thuraya, and if you’re in Antarctica, then you won’t easily connect with Inmarsat.

Question 3: Who Will You Call?

Satellite phone owners who make and receive international calls will quickly discover that calls to a satellite phone can cost as much as $10 per minute. If you’ll be using your phone to make or receive international calls, then make sure that it has direct inward dial (DID) capability. For example, if you’re a university student in a foreign country and you plan to use your phone to talk to your family, then your family can dial into a U.S. number that will automatically ring your satellite phone’s real number.

Question 4: What Is Your Budget?

With your satellite phone, you’ll get more features if you’re willing to pay more. Inmarsat phones tend to be the easiest satellite phones to use. However, Iridium phones are packed with so many features that the extra cost may be worth paying. The principle of “you get what you pay for” also applies to carriers. Iridium has unbeatable coverage and a 98-percent connection guarantee, but you’ll pay more for their service. For the rural U.S. homeowner who wants a satellite phone only in case of emergency, either Globalstar or a less-expensive regional carrier may be more cost effective.

Question 5: What About Internet?

If you plan to access the Internet with your satellite phone, then be aware that speeds aren’t as fast as 3G and 4G connections. Although satellite connections are constantly improving, you’ll have connections speeds that are in the dial-up range. While you may not be downloading videos during your camping trip in Yellowstone, you’ll be able to check email and perform simple online functions.
Keep in mind satellite phones experience more voice latency than cellular phones. This latency occurs because satellite phones limit their bandwidth to optimize power requirements. Also, you’ll need to keep your antenna exposed and not tucked in a briefcase, pocket or backpack. Otherwise, you won’t be able to receive incoming calls.
Satellite phones probably won’t replace cellular phones anytime soon. Still, you’ll be pleased to discover how affordable and technologically advanced they’ve become.
About the Author: Steve Manley is the president of Globalcom Satellite Communications, a leading distributor of satellite phones for both purchase and rental. To choose the satellite phone and carrier that’s right for you, visit http://www.globalcomsatphone.com/products.html.