Thinking about getting a satellite phone? We recommend doing your research. Satellite phones can be anywhere from a few dollars a month to hundreds, with equipment costs varying greatly, too. Different satellite networks have different strong and weak points, and most devices have features that make them unique to the other options. Globalstar, Inmarsat, and Iridium are the three major manufacturers that also manage their own networks, but there are many other smaller manufacturers as well. Simply put, the world of satellite phones is complicated. Let’s break down the three major players and see which is best for your needs.
Globalstar Spot Devices
The most affordable satellite network is the Globalstar network. With it’s lowered price comes less reliability; there are quite a few holes around the globe where there is no coverage or very spotty coverage. Still, it covers the vast majority of the world at a much lower price point to other satellite phone service providers. The main products that Globalstar offers are their spot devices, the SPOT Trace, SPOT Gen 4, and SPOT X. The SPOT Trace is best for location tracking and movement alerts. The SPOT Gen 4 offers location tracking, messaging, and SOS. The SPOT X is the most robust option and offers location tracking, custom or preset messaging, and SOS.
Globalstar has built out a nice niche in affordable spot devices for asset tracking and location updating. This makes Globalstar a great option for businesses and outdoorsmen alike. Though the network does leave a bit to be desired, it performs very well across most of the world.
Inmarsat Satellite Phones
The Inmarsat network is comprised of three geostationary satellites located along the equator. The network covers the entire world except for the poles. Service is extremely reliable, with the lowest rate of dropped calls among the three networks. For travelers venturing to Antarctica, Greenland, Alaska, or northern Canada, the Iridium network is a better solution, but for all other locations, Inmarsat is a fantastic option.
The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 is regarded as one of the best satellite phones available and is trusted by contractors, adventurers, and scientists all over the world. The device is capable of calling, texting, sending SOS, and even sending email. Easy to use and built to last, the IsatPhone 2 sets the standard for handheld satellite communications.
Iridium Satellite Phones and Satellite Hotspots
The Iridium satellite network is truly global. Made up of a constellation of 66 satellites, the Iridium network covers the entire world with unbeatable connectivity. The two main equipment options are the Iridium 9555, a resilient satellite phone made for harsh conditions, and the Iridium GO!, a satellite hotspot that extends the usable range of your cell phone to anywhere in the world.
While the 9555 is a traditional satellite phone and can be used by itself, the Iridium GO! requires a cell phone to use most of it’s features. Without a phone connected via Bluetooth, only the SOS function will operate correctly. The battery life of the 9555 is an impressive 30 hours standby or 4 hours talk time, and the battery life of the Iridium GO! is up to 5.5 hours of use or 15.5 hours of standby time.
Which Device is the Best?
None of the products can really be called “the best”. Based on what you’re trying to do, though, there is likely a best product for you. Here we’ll cover some of the main uses, and you can always reach out to our sales team if your needs don’t fit with these examples.
Location Tracking for Work Teams and Science Expeditions
If the primary focus is on location tracking, the best options will be the SPOT Gen 4, SPOT X, or Iridium GO!. For price-sensitive consumers, the Gen 4 or SPOT X will work great. SPOT X will be a bit more expensive, but will allow the ability to send custom messages and will be a bit more intuitive since it’s operation is similar to a cell phone. The Iridium GO! will offer the most robust options, but you’ll have to weigh whether the additional features are worth the added cost if you are primarily using the device for emergency notification and location tracking. For location tracking for business assets, we recommend the SPOT Trace.
Backup Communications for Boats and Yachts
Sea-Sat, an Expedition Communications subsidiary that provides internet for consumer boats, offers three units that work particularly well in a marine environment. The Iridium GO!, Globalstar SPOT X, and Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 have proven to be the best for simple marine communications. For a traditional satellite phone to use for emergencies, the battery life and crystal clear sound quality of the IsatPhone 2 make it an obvious choice. When all that is needed is simple messaging and location tracking, the SPOT X takes the cake at an affordable price- so long as you’re not traveling outside of the Globalstar service network. For the most comprehensive option that works through your cell phone, the Iridium GO! works very well- but is a bit trickier to use than the SPOT X and requires a cell phone for most features to be usable.
Best Satellite Phones to Bring Backpacking
The two most durable satellite phones are the Iridium 9555 and the aptly-named Iridium Extreme PTT. Both phones are built to survive practically any environment and are trusted by hikers, climbers, and outdoorsmen across the globe. The IsatPhone 2 is also a popular choice, but does not come with quite as rugged of an enclosure. The IsatPhone 2 is also only based on 3 satellites, which means a hiker may have spotty coverage when inside of canyons or valleys.
Final Verdict on Satellite Phones
To reiterate, there is no such thing as “the best” satellite phone. New innovations are changing the game constantly, some from manufacturers outside of the three we’ve talked about today (looking at you, Bivy Stick). Finding the best satellite phone for your needs requires a deep understanding of how the device will be used, where it will be used, and how large of a budget there is to invest in a solution.