A few months ago, we bit the bullet and bought a used satellite phone to take our onshore camping adventures with us. A number of factors, including the presence of older parents with health problems at home, led us to buy a used satellite phone and a modest service plan. We’ll get to what we eventually chose to go with later, but first let’s take a quick look at the basic options when choosing a satellite phone and service plan for overlapping in North America.
The three main providers of satellite telephone services – pros and cons
The Inmarsat satellite phone service is used worldwide by sailors, the airline and others who need reliable, global coverage. The system uses a constellation of 3 powerful satellites orbiting the Earth, high above the equator.
Inmarsat is known for relatively good call quality, including no interrupted calls, and offers service plans for only $ 39.99 / month. However, there is a catch. Because the satellites that Inmarsat phones use are high above the equator, you may find it difficult to receive signals from them at higher latitudes and in deep canyons or other areas where you may not get the best view of the south. sky.
For our overlapping trips, it was important to be able to reliably make and receive calls in mountainous terrain and in places up north. For this reason, rather than price, we chose not to buy an Inmarsat satellite phone.
The Globalstar satellite phone service is a relatively inexpensive alternative that is very popular with travelers and outdoor explorers. Spot Global phones use Globalstar, but if you’ve read reviews about reliability in some parts of North America, the service doesn’t seem to be all that cracked. (It seems that Spot no longer sells satellite phones using Globalstar, but only their messenger devices, um, wonder why?) Also, Globalstar coverage is extremely non-existent in parts of the Northwest Pacific and Alaska that are impatient. we are to explore more.
Despite the relatively low price of the phone – only around $ 375 and the service plans starting at $ 49 / month – we decided to give Globalstar satellite phone service a pass until some of the shortcomings are clarified, and we hope to add some satellites that to cover Alaska and the far north. Globalstar satellite phones may be a good choice for land communications if you plan to travel to the lower 48 states only.
Iridium is the same satellite network that uses our Garmin InReach messenger. It is true that at one point the company that launched the first Iridium satellites was bankrupt, but a new owner improved and expanded the system. The second-generation Iridium satellite constellation includes 66 operational units that offer near-global coverage without the Inmarsat “southern sky” problems. There are 9 more “backup” satellites orbiting the Earth, ready to be activated if others fail.
We chose to use an Iridium 9555 * satellite phone, which we bought used on eBay for less than $ 500. For our service plan, we went with the Iridium Go plan – $ 55.99 / month with 10 minutes of talk time, with the extra minutes costing $ 1.49. At this price per minute we will not talk long, but we can cancel the plan when we finish the trip without penalty. So far, we are quite happy with how our phone works, but the service has occasional problems. To ensure good call quality, we pay close attention to the signal meter and move to an open area before making a call.
Because the Iridium system “transmits” your call every 55 seconds or more to another satellite, hiccups sometimes occur. It is reported that a few years ago these problems were quite common, but nowadays they are much rarer. However, it is best to keep the conversations as short as possible – which we do anyway, due to the cost of airtime.
Note: In the Gila Forest in New Mexico, we could not make a call for more than a minute or two last summer, despite the good signal strength. However, we have not had this problem in Utah, Arizona or Colorado. We are curious to see if this was just a recurring problem when we return to this area next year.
Beware of fine print!
As with all satellite phone plans, there are often hidden “difficulties”. One of them is incoming calls, which are listed as “free” in our current Iridium Go plan. The small print below shows that the caller is being charged a very high fare if he does not use a “toll bypass number”. When they use this bypass number, we pay $ 1.50 per minute for incoming calls, so just be sure to read the fine print before using your satellite phone.
A toll-bypass number (two-tier) is a public access number that allows callers to bypass the high international telephone rates of the local telephone company. Use 2-step US access to call an Iridium satellite phone. Calls made using this number are charged by the receiver at $ 1.50 per minute.
Incoming calls made directly to an Iridium phone by dialing + 8816-XXXX-XXXX from a landline or mobile phone are FREE for the recipient. Instead, they are charged by the caller from the local telephone service provider AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Boost USA at first-class international prices. These fees can range from $ 6 – $ 10 per minute. Use a taxi bypass number to call an Iridium phone to prevent high costs.
Prepaid plans for satellite phones – a good alternative, but with some drawbacks
For many in the land community, having a satellite phone that they can activate just before an off-road expedition is a good solution that can save some money. Just keep in mind that with some of these prepaid plans, after a few minutes, you’re done talking – until you can go back to civilization and log in to refill your card. With the Iridium GO plan we chose, we can walk a month without a contract for $ 55.99 a month.
Satellite phone technology is always evolving
Satellite phone technology and plans are always evolving, so be sure to do your own research before you buy an expensive phone and sign a contract.
Is a satellite phone really worth overlapping?
If you are going to spend some time away from the sidewalk, in remote areas where there is no cell phone coverage, at least one person from your party should probably have the phone down. Our satellite messaging device, Garmin InReach, works well for sending and receiving short text messages, but if we really had to have a detailed conversation with someone from the outside world – such as how to deal with a serious injury – or even resolve a crisis at home , doing so via delayed text messages would be inconvenient.
In terms of the cost of a land vehicle and all related equipment, the $ 55-a-month satellite phone plan is unlikely to upset the bank for most people and could even save lives.
For more information on satellite messaging devices, see “Satellite Messages vs. EPIRB”.
* This article may include affiliate links to products we use and recommend.