Talk Is Cheap

With a number of powerful satellite communication systems now available for traveling anglers who enjoy getting off the grid, there’s no reason not to call home and check in. And in the unfortunate event you need to call for help there are a host of improved technologies and tools to keep you connected. Anglers who routinely scour uncharted territory know they can’t rely on cell phone and VHF coverage and depend on satellite communication devices. Isn’t it about time you get with the times?


Image 1 of 3

Photo: Iridium

In recent years satellite phones were bulky and expensive for both initial activation and service charges. But these steep price points were actually rather reasonable due to the extreme circumstances required for long distance communications. The inherent problem with staying in touch no matter where you go is that you must connect with expensive satellites orbiting Earth. Because of the cutting-edge technology needed and incredibly high cost barrier to enter the market, there aren’t a whole lot of providers launching satellites into the sky. Add in the fact that these expensive pieces of equipment have a relatively short lifespan and it’s a tough business.

Iridium provides global service by way of 66 cross-linked Low Earth Orbiting satellites.

However, in an attempt to gain market share satellite phone service providers have released technological advancements across the board. As a result, satellite phones are now lightweight, reliable and affordable. The top players in the game are Iridium, Inmarsat and Globalstar, with each bringing new offerings to the table and increased performance with expanded capabilities. The bottom line is that you can’t put a price on safety and whether you’re going deep in the backcountry or headed on an open ocean transit, a satellite phone may very well be your only link to safety and civilization. But before you make a final purchasing decision it’s important you understand how the various satellite systems influence service and coverage.

Iridium provides global service by way of 66 cross-linked Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites. According to Iridium, their satellites travel at approximately 17,000 miles per hour, completing an orbit around Earth in about 100 minutes. The resulting network and large coverage area provides increased performance and reliability for users in remote destinations around the globe. At low orbits, Iridum’s satellites require a clear line of sight for users to send and receive calls. But these 66 satellites—and several in orbit spares—circle the Earth extremely fast so if you don’t have signal it’s only a matter of time before a roving satellite comes within range. A fully stand alone unit, Iridium’s Extreme 9575 weighs 247 grams and is built with military-grade durability.

Globalstar also utilizes LEO satellites but has had issues in the past with satellite constellation service for two-way communications. They have since taken significant steps to solve the issues and upgraded their infrastructure, with three of four launches now complete of the second-generation satellite constellations. Call connection-reliability has already improved significantly and service issues are back to normal. The final launch is planned for February 2013. At 7.05 ounces, Globalstar’s GSP-1700 is one of the smallest options on the market and resembles a typical mobile phone.

Inmarsat is a leader in satellite communication and owns and operates a network of three global constellations of 10 satellites flying approximately 22,240 miles above Earth, compared to Iridium and Globalstar’s satellites that fly at an altitude of 500- to 900-miles. Unlike LEO satellites that travel at incredible speeds, Inmarsat’s satellites remain stationary so if you are within sight of the satellite you can rely on dependable service with fewer dropped calls and signal interruption. Inmarsat’s IsatPhone Pro weighs 9.8 ounces, but provides eight hours of talk time and 100 hours standby. The phone is shock, splash, and humidity resistant, and has GPS built-in. In addition to standard phone transmissions, users can also send and receive text messages, send emails, make a five-way conference call and use a Bluetooth headset. While these features are intriguing, there have been reports of lengthy wait times for satellite connectivity.

When it comes time to make a final purchasing decision you need to be honest with yourself. Do you need basic two-way communication or complete connectivity for excessively long conversations? If you’re only going to need a sat phone on certain occasions it may be in your best interest to rent a satellite phone instead of purchasing one outright. Although service prices vary from retailer, on average users pay a small monthly fee in addition to rates from $1.00 to $1.50 per minute. All providers have their own unique attributes that may seem appealing depending on your particular requirements, however one thing we can count on is that the future of satellite communication will continue to grow as new options and software make communication easier, more affordable and more reliable than ever before.