Everything you ever wanted to know about satellite phones

Member Services
March 15, 2016
Categories: Safety, Travel Tips

We spoke with Aaron Laurich, Supervisor, Security Operations, at Global Rescue, for answers to frequently asked questions about cell phones, satellite phones and satellite messengers.

Q. What is two-way communication?

Methods have included cellular phone, satellite phone or messenger, email, and even SMS or ‘text messaging.

Q. My cellular phone is equipped with international dialing. Do I still need a satellite phone?

It depends. Travelers who spend their time in and around locations with reliable cellular networks might be just fine with their cellular phone.  That said, in the event of an emergency (natural disaster, unrest) cellular networks are one of the first infrastructure platforms to crash as they are generally unable to handle the increase in voice and message traffic.  A satellite phone or messenger would give you an alternative to your cellular phone in this situation.  Regardless of your itinerary or travel destination, the ability to communicate is vital and we recommend having at least two such means to do so.

Q. How do I contact Global Rescue from my satellite phone?

You may contact our Operations Center at any time by dialing 001.617.459.4200 from your satellite phone; alternatively emails and SMS can be addressed to ops@globalrescue.com.

Q. Satellite phones seem expensiveHow do I keep the cost down?

Satellite phones loaded with all the latest bells and whistles can cost as much as $1000 and that doesn’t even include activation or airtime.    That may seem daunting to someone who might not travel very often.  Satellite phone rentals offer an attractive solution for the short-term or infrequent traveler.  We recommend using a reputable satellite communications provider, such as Explorer Satellite, who will be able to help you choose a device and plan suitable not only to your communication needs but also to your geographic location.

Q. What does geography have to do with choosing a satellite phone?

Most available satellite devices generally work on one of two networks; a high-earth orbit or a low-earth orbit network.  High-earth orbit networks typically have three satellites that move in time with the earth’s rotation so that they are always in the same place relative to the earth’s surface.  Low-earth orbit networks consist of multiple constellations each with several satellites that constantly move in quick orbits around the earth. 

You will need line of sight to connect with each network, the difference being that if you do not have line of sight to a low-earth orbit satellite because of, say, a terrain feature, it’s likely that within a few hours another constellation will pass over and provide you with a signal window.  With a high-earth orbit, you will need to move into a position where you have line of sight – and this is not always a possibility in an emergency or with an injury.

Q. What is a satellite messenger and how does it work?

Satellite messengers are devices that are able to send text messages via a satellite network.  There are several types on the market including purpose built messengers with mapping software and other cool features, like an SOS function, breadcrumb tracking, and social media connectivity.  Some satellite phones have an SMS capability as well. 

Q. I don’t want to use the device’s emergency response provider.  Is it possible to have my SOS function go to someone of my choosing?

In most cases, yes.  When consumers purchase an off-the-shelf product and have it activated, they usually opt to pay an additional monthly fee in order to have someone on the other end of the SOS feature.  If you want a spouse, relative, or provider of your choosing to be able to be the recipient of your SOS, contact your device’s manufacturer for assistance.  Be prepared to provide the details of your device, including its IMEI number and have the contact information for your preferred SOS recipient available.


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