5 best satellite phones for backpacking

satelite phones

Satellite phones are not newfound technology and have been in existence for quite a long time. Their commercial use, however, is a fairly new concept. They transcend the physical boundaries and work across the globe, unlike the traditional cell-phone, whose signal strength and availability vary from location to location. Cellphone signal strength diminishes as the user moves away from a physical tower. This is an expected caveat of cellphone technology and is the primary reason why you should opt for a satellite phone in remote locations. 

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#1BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1

#2Iridium 9575 Extreme Satellite Phone

#3BlueCosmo Iridium 9555 Satellite

#4Thuraya XT-LITE Satellite Phone

#5 Globalstar GSP-1600 Satellite Phone

What is a Satellite phone? 

A satellite phone looks exactly like a regular cellphone (apart from the obvious difference in physicality). They can be operated exactly like you operate a cell phone, i.e., pick a number, dial it along with the country code using the keypad, and voila your call is placed. They lack almost every other feature that is present in a current-generation smartphone. Satellite phone, as the name suggests, work with satellites to transmit and receive signals. The satellites provide better connectivity as they are always orbiting the planet earth and the only thing quintessential to establish a connection is a clear line of sight. 

How does it work? 

As mentioned earlier, satellite phones require a direct line of sight to the satellite to establish a connection and make a call. As soon as you receive a signal on your satellite phone, the phone is connected to a satellite depending upon your carrier. The calls that you make are sent to the satellite and are then subsequently sent to the nearest station owned by the network, on earth. The station then routes your call to a Public Switched Telephone network or a cellular network. All that is done in a fraction of a second and the delay is unnoticeable in most of the cases. 

Types of satellite phone systems 

Satellite phone systems make use of mainly two types of satellites that orbit the earth. These are Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit, also known as Geostationary satellites and Low Earth Orbit satellites. 

Geostationary Satellites 

Geostationary satellites are ginormous satellites that are situated in high geostationary orbit and are located 35786 kilometers from the earth’s surface. The term geostationary is designated to these satellites because they orbit the earth in parallel with the same angular velocity. That makes it appear as they were in a fixed position in the sky, to a viewer on the earth. Due to the massive size, a geosynchronous system can provide the global-coverage with a fleet of three to four satellites. 

The distance from the earth is massive as compared to a Low Earth Orbit satellite and therefore a noticeable delay is observed while communicating with a system using these satellites. But the sheer capacity of the Geostationary satellite enables it to provide higher bandwidth to the users ranging anywhere from 60-512 kilobits per second. The satellite phones using the geostationary satellites are only suitable for lower latitudes.  

A primary difficulty that the users may face is finding the line of sight, even in open areas as the signal might be blocked by a mountain or high trees from a forest that is not visible directly. Such invisible hindrances might require the user to change its location and scout for a location without any obstructions. But once the connection is made there is a minimal chance that it will drop, and thus provides a robust connection to make calls once you are connected to it. 

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites 

Low Earth Orbit Satellites are located significantly closer to the earth as compared to the Geostationary satellites. The LEO satellites are located at a distance of 160 to 2000 kilometers from the earth’s surface. They are fast-paced and can cover one rotation of the earth in 70 to 100 minutes. Its location in the lower orbit requires it to have a fleet of 40 to 70 satellites to provide global coverage. 

The advantage of LEO satellites is that they are fairly close to the earth. That minimizes the turnaround time and you get a much faster response rate than a geosynchronous system. Making a call using the LEO satellite induces a seamless conversation between the two parties as if you’re talking on a regular phone. The lower delays in communication make the device consume less battery to maintain a connection to the satellite. 

While the line of sight is not a major problem, the phone might suffer connection drops if it uses an LEO satellite. This is because of their fast-paced nature that provides very little time of connection to a single satellite. It hands over the call to the next satellite in its fleet and the process continues. This minimizes the time-frame that you get during a single pass of the satellite 

Factors to consider before buying a Satellite phone 

We’re sure everyone has second thoughts while buying a satellite phone. There are a few factors to be considered in depth before making your first purchase. 

Need 

The requirement of a satellite phone is only in places a normal cell phone doesn’t work. That includes remote getaways, trekking, hiking, and other adventurous yet distant locations from the city where the chances of finding a cell phone tower are very slim. They can also be kept as a backup in case of prolonged electricity outages, natural disasters such as floods, landslides, hurricanes which can cripple the functioning of cellular networks. Think of a satellite phone as a contingency plan in case every other means of connection dies out. Many rescue operations are successfully conducted due to the interception of the geolocation of a satellite phone when a call is made. 

Cost 

The initial investment cost of a satellite phone is very high. That too for a phone that does very little in other areas other than simply making a call and, sending and receiving text messages. Once you make up your mind, you need to think about the operating costs of the satellite phone. You can choose between a prepaid and a postpaid plan. For users that intend to use the satellite phone for shorter durations such as a weekend getaway, or an impromptu hike should go for the prepaid plan. The plan allotted a fixed validity along with limited minutes of call time. As long as you don’t engage in hour-long calls on a satellite phone, the prepaid unit should last just fine. 

For users that are away for a longer period, let’s say a month or two should go for the postpaid plan. The postpaid plans offered by the brands are costly as they charge you per call along with a rental charge for each month. So keep your calls short and limited and read the additional charges before going for it. 

Network Coverage 

The satellite phone’s rules and regulations vary with the continents and countries. That compels every manufacturer to clearly state on the cover about the regions in which the satellite phone will work. It is better to see if that covers the region you are buying it for and if it is unrestricted for usage in that country. 

Otherwise, you will be left with a device that costs as much as a smartphone flagship that can’t even make calls. Iridium is a brand that boasts of a constellation of 66 satellites making it the numero-uno service provider to offer global coverage. Inmarsat is a viable choice too if you not visiting the poles (north and south). Other brands cover only a subsection of the world so choose wisely. 

Ruggedness 

Flimsy builds won’t last very long in the wilderness so a satellite phone needs to be rugged with no creaks and cracks. The satellite phone should be impervious to water and dust, both of which can create a problem out there. Look for an IP65 rating on the box and in the description in buying form a website. The body should be able to absorb shocks and abrupt falls without falling apart. The screen should be completely visible in the outdoor surroundings and should possess anti-reflective properties.  

Portability  

The handheld weight of the satellite phone is greater than a cellular phone. That is partly due to the protruding antenna installed on the phone. So make sure it fits your backpack and does not weight too much. A few models come with foldable antenna and can fit in tight spaces due to the improving technology.  

Battery  

The battery capacity of a satellite phone does matter much like the cellphones. Ideally, no one turns on a satellite phone for hours, as they are intended for quick calls, just to give updates. However, the standby time should be at least a day before charging it again. The talk time is shorter than the standby time and lies in the range of 4-6 hours. Keep in mind greater the battery capacity greater will be the weight of the device.  

Very few devices come with the obsolete pin chargers of different width. The models with a USB port for charging should be preferred over anything else as the can be charged by a power bank or any device with a USB port. 

Quirks 

The satellite phone makers have introduces a few extra yet useful features in the devices. A few of them worth considering are the location-based services, SOS feature that comes in handy if you are not able to reach anybody on the planet.  

Can you use the satellite phone for everyday purposes? 

No. The satellite phone works only when it is in line of sight of the satellite. That property makes it useless for indoor use as the signal to the satellite is blocked. There is no point in spending a ludicrous amount of money for a basic phone, which will be used in urban areas with lots of connectivity options that include landline, cellular networks. The phone comes with minimal features such as call and text and cannot serve the needs of the present generation. Even if you go with the expensive ones that come with internet connectivity, the speed will shatter your confidence. 

Moreover, the charges incurred for calling a number are very high as compared to the basic cell phone charges. There are charges on the incoming calls too if you are wondering and can put a dent in your budget. It’s best to avoid them for everyday use. There are many rental options also available that can be used if you require it for a short period. They are considered a contingency option and must be used for that purpose only. 

We’ve listed the 5 best satellite phones for backpacking that are as follows – 

1. BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 

BlueCosmo Inmarsat
BlueCosmo Inmarsat
Editors Rating:

The BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 is one of a kind when it comes to features paired with portability in a budget. The phone is manufactured by BlueCosmo and uses the Inmarsat technology to provide connection and is one of the near-perfect companions for hiking around the mountains. At 318 grams the phone does weight more than the conventional smartphone. The ergonimics of the phone make it very convenient to hold in palms and the grip around the phone prevents it from accidental drops. 

Even if you drop it the rubberized grip around the edges is sure to protect it from any damage whatsoever. To calm your nerves, the phone comes with IKO4 durability certification and guarantees safety if you drop it. The phone is also IP65 certified and makes it completely usable in moisture-laden conditions and unavoidable splashes. The network coverage is global with reduced coverage in the extreme North or South corners of the globe.  

The device has access to 3 equatorial Geostationary satellites and initiate a connection with them. The rigidity and compact form factor makes it easy to fit in backpacks. The battery promises a talk time of up to 8 hours and a standby time of 160 hours that is fit for most users. The brand promises global coverage with no roaming charges as long as you use it on earth. The phone comes with GPS location and tracking along with the SOS feature is you encounter unwavering problems. The phone comes with 18 months extended warranty and includes a Lithium-ion battery, International AC wall charger with international plugs, Automobile DC charger, Holster with belt clip, Hands-free earpiece, Lanyard, USB cable, a USB thumb drive with documentation, Quick start guide, SIM card. 

Pros 

  • Rugged and ergonomic build 
  • GPS location, tracking, and SOS available 
  • 8 hour long battery life 

Cons 

  • Heavy to hold 

2. Iridium 9575 Extreme Satellite Phone 

Iridium 9575 Extreme
Iridium 9575 Extreme
Editors Rating:

Iridium 9575 Extreme Satellite Phone is the best option to purchase if you aren’t confined to a dedicated budget. The phone costs almost double than that of the first item in our lineup, but the features that it ships with, justify its cost. The primary striking feature of the Iridium 9575 Extreme is that it has internet access globally. It also ships with a proprietary Axcess Point that converts the phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot that can be used to connect your phone and laptop to the internet for updates.  

The network coverage offered by the phone is completely global and is even functional at the extreme ends of the planet (including the poles). It is due to the access to the 66 lower earth orbit satellites that the brand claims truly global network coverage. Size-wise the phone is smaller than the Inmarsat phone, measuring 5.5 inches in length. The phone is embedded inside a rubberized cover that provides a firm grip on both sides. Depending upon the seller, you can find variants that ship with a screen protector and a tough case along with the phone. 

The phone has been rigorously tested under harsh climatic conditions and comes with Mil-STD 810F military-grade certification and will outlast most jarring events. It also comes with the IP65 certification that makes it perfectly capable of withstanding splashes and drops. The phone weighs around 247 grams and is one of the lighter offerings in the market. Due to the compact size, battery life takes a hit and can only last up to 4 hours on a single charge. Its standby time is around 30 hours depending upon the frequent connections and disconnections from the satellite.  

The phone ships with location-based services, and an emergency SOS feature that might come in handy in case you’re stranded and clueless about your position. The box includes Iridium 9575 Extreme handset, battery, AC travel charger with international adapters, DC car charger, hands-free earpiece with microphone, a leather case, USB data cable, quick start guide, CD-ROM with software, 2 accessory  

adapters, and a magnetic vehicle mount antenna.  

Pros 

  • Lightweight design 
  • Internet access  
  • Can create a Wi-Fi hotspot 

Cons 

  • Low battery life  
  • Expensive 

3. Globalstar GSP-1600 Satellite Phone 

Globalstar GSP-1600
Globalstar GSP-1600
Editors Rating:

Are you searching for the most affordable satellite phone in the retail market?  The Globalstar GSP-1600 Satellite Phone has got you covered with a price tag that is not super-expensive for most consumers. The phone is the bulkiest in our lineup and weighs around 384 grams, making it suitable for hand cramps if you have a weak wrist. The phone measures 6.97 inches in length accompanied by a width that makes it appear beefy. The Globalstar GSP-1600 Satellite Phone is a decade old iteration that is manufactured by Qualcomm. 

The phone is a tri-mode variant, which means it supports three specific combinations of frequency bands and technology modes. The phone supports the AMPS (analog mode), CDMA (digital mode), and the satellite mode. The cellular mode is much like a cell phone but lacks a regular 911 service. To use it in satellite mode just pull the antenna out, preferably in an open space where you have an unobstructed view of the sky. The phone works in both CDMA and satellite so it can be used both indoors and outdoors. It supports location-based services but lacks the SOS feature. 

The phone needs to be registered with Globalstar to activate it. It does not have open-sim card housing to insert a prepaid sim card so you are stuck with your service provider for packages that can be monthly or annual. There are no roaming charges or any hidden fee whatsoever. Compared to the weight the battery life is not impressive at all and dwindles between 2.5 hours to 4.7 hours depending upon the mode of operation, i.e., AMPS, CDMA, and Satellite mode. The standby time is 19 hours on the satellite mode. The phone can connect to the internet with a maximum speed of 9.6 KBps. The phone comes with a security keypad lock along with an onscreen battery indicator, signal strength, and voice mail log. The box includes a GSP-1600 Handset, Lithium-Ion Battery, North American Wall Charger, User Manual. 

Pros 

  • Cheaper than most competitors 
  • Tri-mode operation 

Cons 

  • Subpar battery life 
  • No IP65 rating 

4. BlueCosmo Iridium 9555 Satellite 

BlueCosmo Iridium
BlueCosmo Iridium
Editors Rating:

Another Iridium handset manufacture by BlueCosmo makes our list because Iridium has a truly global presence. The phone is a truly compact device and measures just 5.63 inches in length and will not consume major space in your backpack. The device has also shed some weight due to the smaller footprint as compared to the previous iterations such as the Iridium 9505A and Iridium 9500 and weighs 247 grams. The outer shell is composed of tough-grade polycarbonate that can withstand a few tumbles. But without an IP65 rating and no military-grade certification, it is not suitable for people with shaky hands.  

The keypad is spill-proof due to the rubber element but we advise it to keep away from the moisture. The operating temperature of the drive is between -10 degrees Celsius to +55 degrees Celsius so it is suitable for both deserts and mountains. The antenna can be internally stowed and extended whenever the device is in use. The device is powered by the Iridium network that boasts of a constellation of 66 satellites and is the only provider to provide global coverage. It is also is accepted in most countries so no governmental restrictions (although prior permission may be required in some cases). 

The phone comes with an operating time of 4 hours and a standby time of 30 hours and will last you an entire day before a refill is required. The phone can be used for call, text, and email functionalities and comes with a prepaid sim card. The phone does not have location-based services and lacks the quintessential SOS feature. The box contains an Iridium 9555 Phone, Rechargeable Lithium-Ion 9555 Battery, AC charger, international plug kit, DC travel charger, hands-free headset, leather holster case, auxiliary antenna adapter, 5′ external auxiliary antenna, USB data cable, quick-start guide, user guide, and CD-ROM. The extended warranty of 188 months is provided by the manufacturer along with 24/7 chat and call service support. 

Pros 

  • Compact form factor 
  • Retractable antenna 

Cons 

  • No SOS feature 
  • Lacks IP65 and durability rating 

5. Thuraya XT-LITE Satellite Phone 

Thuraya XT-LITE
Thuraya XT-LITE
Editors Rating:

Thuraya XT-LITE Satellite Phone is the last phone in our list but that does not make it a lackluster option among the rest. The phone is the lightest in our lineup weighing a measly 150 grams. That weight is even lighter than the present gen smartphones, so if you’re looking for the lightest satellite phone Thuraya XT-LITE Satellite Phone won’t disappoint you. Its length is also similar to a smaller phone measuring 5.12 inches in length.  

The phone works with geostationary satellites and offers a pretty good reception if you are in an open area. Since the satellite is stationary, once you connect to the satellite you can make calls without facing any connection issues. The outbound calls are expensive but are fairly cheaper than the prepaid vouchers if you intend to use it for a long time. The phone does not project any added durability features and should be kept away from water and excessive temperatures. It can with last a few abrupt falls, but its best to avoid considering it’s your only way of communication. 

The phone sports a retractable antenna that further decreases the size of the body and avoids any damage to the antenna when not in use. One handy feature is that the device allows you to send your geolocation up to four different users. The battery lasts up to six hours on talk-time and 80 hours on standby time.  

Pros 

  • Compact design 
  • Decent battery life 

Cons 

  • No IP65 rating 

Conclusion 

These were the five best satellite phones for backpacking that will surely be of help when you urgently require to make a call or receive an update. 

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