Satellite Phones!

Now we’re talking … satellite phones! Hey … we all know that women have an exceptional talent for talking on the phone and no matter where in the world we are … land or water, we have an emotional need to keep in touch!

So how are we going to share our travels with our loved ones, our friends and family and email home?

Just because we are at sea does it mean we have to miss those important days with our family, or saying ‘I love you’ whenever the urge takes us?

So … you are only coastal hopping and you have your mobile/cellular phone with you to call home, as Aussie’s would say, ‘no worries!’ Sorry ... wrong!

In sailing up the east coast of Australia and living in the Whitsundays I can say with out a doubt there are a lot of places with absolutely no reception. I’m sure Australia would not be alone! This is what encouraged me to do some research on satellite phones and look at what benefits and features manufacturers and suppliers were saying.

Marine communication has come a long, long way. In our every day life we rely on mobile phones and the internet for communication, and with modern technology and improved phones which are smaller, with better handsets and affordable wpe can kee in touch on a blue water cruise or just sailing up the coast.

Marine Phones & Mobile/Cellular Phones:

I learnt the way mobile/cellular phones work... they use zones or small base stations called “cells”. As you move from one area or “cell” your call is “handed off” from the old to the new cell.

In a perfect world the cells or zones would cover the planet. But this is not possible because it is not cost effective for the cellular providers to put up cell towers in many third world countries, and they don’t reach far out at sea where there would be low usage. 

This leaves vast areas of the world including many coastal waters and the ocean with no coverage. It is impossible to place towers out in the ocean far from land, again making your cellular phone worthless when not close to a cell tower.

Satellite Phones: 

Satellite Phones do not use “cells” or cell towers. The most popular hand held satellite telephones use Low Earth Orbiting or LEO satellites.

 When you turn on your satellite phone the signal goes up to any number of satellites in a compatible constellation where it is then registered with the constellation.

Globalstar has 48 satellites and Iridium has 66 that orbit the earth. When making a call the satellite signal goes to the satellites then is directed down to a ground station. The call can be directed to a land-line as well as a cellular network. The reverse is also true. 

Any land-line or mobile/cellular network can call a sat phone. This allows you to use your phone even when you are in the middle of the ocean or far from any cell tower.

If you call another compatible sat phone the call is transmitted up to the satellites and then down to the ground station then transmitted back up to the satellites then down to receiving satellite phone.

Which system is right for your needs?

In Australia there are four competing systems with their own satellites.  There is Inmarsat, Iridium, Globalstar and Optus, the different systems cover different portions of the world. It depends where you intend using your sat phone as to which system and provider is best for you.

Comparing satellite phones is vital to matching the mission critical needs of your application with the function and capabilities of the respective satellite communications equipment.

Ultimately a satellite phone is only as good as the network behind it and each network, Iridium, Inmarsat and Globalstar have various strengths and benefits.  BlueCosmo has a satellite phone comparison guide that covers all of this and more. 

Globalstar Satellite Phones:

Globalstar operates through a network of service providers and international telecommunication companies who have a network of 48 satellites orbiting above the earth.

A great feature with this satellite phone is that a Globalstar Telit SAT – 551 phone can function as both a cellular and a satellite phone and automatically switches over.

So when you are out of normal mobile range it will switch to sat phone or when you extend the telescopic antenna. This one really sparked my interest for that reason.

A maritime kit is available with a cradle and small mast mounted radome and the phone can be unclipped for use on deck or land. A data terminal is available to connect the phone to a computer for accessing the internet and emails.

This is what the manufacturer says about one of its popular phones; "The Qualcomm Globalstar GSP-2900 fixed-site satellite phone is designed for permanent fixed-site applications and uses AC power. It is easy to use, versatile, and dependable.

It combines the ready availability of a two-wire telephone interface with the superior performance of state-of-the-art digital wireless technology; 9600 bps internet access requires an optional data kit. Sound quality is excellent, and coverage is available in North America and other regions". 

Iridium Satellite Phones:

This system gives world wide coverage for small craft, though there can sometimes be a noticeable voice delay because of the way they work. Operated by Boeing they give voice, SMS and data including internet browsing most places in the world. They are politically restricted from use in Poland, North Korea and Sri Lanka.

This phone is slightly larger than an average mobile phone and has a foldaway telescope antenna, with all the features you’d expect from a mobile phone. The only external parts are a battery charger and a small external mast mounted Radom. 

If you need flexibility a handheld Iridium 9505A or 9505 phone can operate on or off your yacht, and a docking station is recommended. The docking station has an RJ-11 port so that you can plug in conventional analog phones and cordless phones.

Sophisticated sound filtering removes most of the whine and distortion that sometimes occurs on the Iridium network.

Inmarsat Satellite Phones:

This phone provides extremely high quality voice communication, fast fax and data transmission. Inmarsat gives a range of phones giving different qualities of service; the smallest is a mini-M with a terminal the size of a notebook computer. The handset is joined to the case and cannot be taken on deck.

The marine antenna is pole-mounted so as to get a clear view of the sky and continuously tracks the communication satellite -- even in the roughest conditions. The handset can be located below deck at distances up to 12 meters from the antenna (optional cabling can extend this up to 80 meters). 

If you use WorldPhone Marine it includes a built-in handset, and can also be connected simultaneously to an auxiliary/secure phone, fax, and PC to provide a complete unified office solution while out at sea. So relax, you are always in touch!

The Isat Phone has high quality satellite phone service from Inmarsat currently providing coverage in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, using Inmarsat's latest generation Inmarsat-4 satellite over the Indian Ocean Region.

With Global coverage the Isatphone is an affordable option for people who work, live, or sail to areas where communication may be non-existent. It is one of the smallest satellite phones on the market today, easy to use, lightweight, and rugged.

Optus Mobile Sat:

Designed and developed in Australia, the Optus MobileSat has a handset the size of a large mobile phone connected to a transceiver the size of a laptop computer.

The transceiver is connected to a small mast mounted radome. The phone can be connected to a GPS receiver to automatically transmit position; it also provides fax, data transmission and email.

It provides mobile phone coverage across the entire Australian continent and minimum 200km out to sea, including parts of East Timor, PNG and the Solomon Islands.

MSAT Satellite Services:

MSAT is a Maritime Broadband service provided by Australian Satellite Services and is “always on”, shared IP service capable of delivering broadband communications to vessels operating in the Australia, New Zealand and South West Pacific region, and provides internet, voice and fax services at very competitive rates.

MSAT service enables you to sustain reliable communication whether for business or leisure purposes, if you are coastal sailing or blue water sailing. The stabilized equipment is designed specifically for maritime use and is able to withstand extreme marine environments.

Some of the benefits of MSAT:

  • IP access to the Internet and corporate networks with unlimited data transfer allowance
  • CIR and QoS settings to ensure high quality voice and fax transmission. (1 PSTN number provided)
  • Low cost Pre Paid domestic and international voice rates – sell cards to your customers/staff.
  • Wireless Access Point and Pre Paid Internet Options to allow you to charge
  • Efficient use of space, time and cost (small footprint, high speed, cost efficient)
  • Coverage from Australia, New Zealand and certain areas of Western Pacific. 

Satellite Phone Rental & Second hand Phones:

If you only need phones for a short time or a single voyage why not consider renting one. There are an extensive range of phones available to be rented for short or long term period.

Equipment can be rented daily, weekly or monthly. Depending on the application, we can supply a satellite telephone that is capable of voice, data or fax, for Australia and worldwide coverage.

As we all know technology is progressing faster than you can speak … almost! You can purchase a used satellite phone cheaper but it will also be older technology. 

If you are at sea and you want all the comforts of home , you want to call someone, surf the internet, or even email from your yacht, even if you have lost sight of land, with a satellite phone assuming you have chosen the right one for your needs,..... no problem just dial and go!

It needn’t just include a sat phone you can also consider with modern technology a marine satellite TV system to keep you busy and help pass the time.

This is just based on my research and the part of the world I live and sail in is always wise to look into it for your needs and where you sail!

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