Satellite phones (satphones) can be very useful for emergency communications - when they are able to connect via their satellite network.
The major advantage of a satphone is that you have two-way communications and can convey information about your situation by voice or SMS. Unlike an PLB or Spot device, you can get confirmation that your message has been received. Some satphones also now support email. SMS and email communications can be much cheaper than voice communication.
Disadvantages of a Satphone include:
- You must acquire a satellite from the phone's network provider for it to function.
- Calls to the Satphone can be very expensive
- Calls from the Satphone can also be expensive, although prepaid options now offer no ongoing fees or flagfall or roaming charges or minimum spend and call rates of $1.20+GST to any landline anywhere in the world and half that for an SMS or email text message.
- Not all makes/models have an "emergency button" to call a programmed emergency number
- The phone cannot send a distress message (like and EPIRB/PLB can) that is picked up by commercial and search and rescue aircraft
- May not be usable within a moving vehicle. An external antenna may be available for some models to overcome this.
- Can be slow to acquire satellites and may not work under a dense tree canopy.
Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro
An example of a satphone availabe in Australia is the Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro:
- Dimensions: 17 cm x 5.3 cm x 3.8 cm Weight 277.8 g
- Shock resistance: 2.2 m (7.22') drop test Operating range -20°C to 55°C
- Talk time: Up to 8 hours Standby time: Up to 100 hours
- Network: 3 geostationary (GEO) satellites in fixed orbit 32,000 km from Earth on the equator, one above PNG, one above Africa and one just south of Mexico. There is no reception in polar regions.
- Requires GPS fix and network registration to operate.
- Bluetooth supported for connection to headsets.
- Users can view their GPS coordinates (lat, long) and send them via SMS or email.
- Contacts can be uploaded from and synchronised with a computer using supplied software and MS Outlook.
- SMS messages can be sent to IsatPhone Pro phones for free from http://isatphonelive.com/
- No SOS button (that can be programmed to send SMS to specified contacts)
The Australian Government is also currently offering a subsidy for the purchase of a Satphone for eligible users:
- You must apply for the subsidy before you buy the phone
- You must specify the dealer you intend to buy the phone from on the form - it is best to source a copy of the form from the dealer.
- To place an emergency call in Australia (normally 000) from a satphone, the number is +61 2 9002 0900.
- Use the phone where you have a clear view of the sky, keep it still and point the antenna upwards.
- Keep the phone turned off when not in use to preserve its battery life.