The use of satellite phones is becoming better established in the boating community and improved technologies and accessories make using this space age communication system easier and less expensive.
Sat phones rely on a network of satellites that are either fixed in orbit anywhere between 500 to 1,000 miles above the earth or directly above the Equator. Reception is seldom affected by violent weather, they operate well nearly anywhere in the world and weigh about the same as a cell phone. While you may not have considered buying a sat phone for use on your boat, you may have a change of heart after reading a few of the following sat phone facts.
A Little Sat Phone History
In 1965, Intelsat changed how the world communicated with the design and launch of the infrastructure for the primary satellite network. It produced incredible communications capabilities, especially in the maritime world. Because the 10 satellites are stationed 22,000 miles from earth, a powerful signal is needed to transmit uninterrupted voice and data.
Iridium was launched to bring sat phone technology to the masses. With an extensive number of low-orbit satellites only 430 miles from the earth, the Iridium network offers complete worldwide coverage.
Because the satellites are close, using handheld phones is possible. The satellites are configured to share data during a call so you always have coverage and a live link to ground stations and land phone networks.
Globalstar is the third main player in the sat phone market. Also a low earth orbit system, Gobalstar satellites cover most continents and oceans, except for those seas in the Southern Hemisphere. The new satellites offer baud rates for data that are three times faster than Iridium, but still aren’t powerful or fast enough for surfing the Internet.
Sat Phone Prices
Costs for sat phones are all over the place. Globalstar has introduced two sat phones, one under the SPOT label, that retail for about $500, which is about half of what an Iridium phone will cost you. In between these two, INMARSAT has introduced a handheld phone with a flip up antenna called the iSatPhone that retails for around $700. These prices are for the handheld phones only and do not include remote antennas or docking stations.
The remote antenna for an iSatPhone2 runs about $845, so you see that the cost of the phone itself is just the beginning. For the same IsatPhone equipped with a marine docking station below decks, an active remote antenna and the cable to connect the antenna, you’re looking at a total of about $2,800 for a professional grade sat phone setup that is truly worldwide.
If you do choose to go the Globalstar route with a docking station, remote antenna and cables, the total cost is about $1,000. With the addition of the new Globalstar satellite network, this becomes a very attractive option for boat owners who tend to stay in domestic waters or closer to home port.
If you do a lot of traveling and need a true world phone, Iridium is the best choice. The 9555 is the middle of the road model and retails for under $1,200. Add a docking station for below decks mounting and a remote antenna and you are looking at close to $2,000. The above systems and prices only include voice and texting components.
Sat Phone Features & Capabilities
Most sat phones offer Internet connectivity, but data rates are typically slow. At 9.6kbps, Globalstar provides the fastest data rates, while the Inmarsat and Iridium models limp along at 2.4kbps. Due to the slow speeds, your sat phone may require special apps or software in order to improve data speeds and operate efficiently.
Don’t lose all hope, though. If you absolutely must have internet access with web browsing on your boat, portable IsatHub or BGAN terminals both offer sat phone internet solutions. Both rely on a passive, stationary antenna to receive a good signal and efficiently transmit data.
For those with ridiculously deep pockets, a $16,000+ broadband satellite terminal (KVH V3) will deliver seagoing Internet with speeds of 2 Mbps down and 128 Kbps up. You’ll receive 50 MB of airtime starting at about $49 per month.
Airtime costs for sat phones vary from less than $1 to about $150 per minute, include a monthly commissioning charge and access fee of $50. A 12-month or longer contract is often required.
One fun advantage of owning multiple satellite phones is being able to communicate with family members and friends by exchanging 120-character “tweet-like” messages from the sat phone manufacturer’s website for free.
Satellite communications is truly the rising star in the future of marine electronics. As size, price and airtime costs continue their downward trend, instant voice communications and Internet access from any spot on the water will become more commonplace.
For fast, two-way communications with few limitations, a sat phone is tough to beat, no matter if you own a blazingly fast speedboat, a shore-hugging pleasure boat or a larger blue water cruiser or fishing boat.
~ Glen Community Support