In most cases, cellular networks are quite robust around the world, even in remote areas of developing nations. Wi-Fi connections are also readily available. So why a satellite phone?
Global Rescue generally recommends a satellite phone (or satellite messenger) as a back-up communication device for travelers. If your travels will keep you within urban confines and in areas with a robust communications infrastructure, then relying on the cellular network and available Wi-Fi would probably be acceptable. However, it should be noted that in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest, terrorism, or some other major incident, cellular networks will be among the first failure points of local infrastructure. As everyone, both inside the incident zone and those outside, attempt to contact friends and family the overwhelming input of data will force the network to a halt. Voice calls take use a large amount of bandwidth and will be the first to drop, followed eventually by SMS, or text messages. In the event of a disaster-like scenario, keep messages brief to ensure they are small enough to clear the system.
If the local cellular network crashes then having a satellite capability as a back-up is crucial. It is also possible for satellite networks to crash due to an unexpected influx of data, however, this usually takes much longer to happen. Satellite devices are available as phones as well as two-way messengers. Phones can be expensive while the messengers, like Delorme's InReach device, are quite reasonably priced. Each of the devices will require an activation fee as well as a monthly subscription plan. Many companies rent satellite phones which help defray the costs for short-term travel.
We recommend travelers to remote areas with questionable connectivity carry a satellite device with them. Also, our adventurers that will be trekking or playing in the mountains would benefit greatly from having a device with them. Many of the satellite messengers are equipped with a tracking function that allows the device to silently send up track points at predetermined intervals, allowing friends and family to monitor progress back home.
Global Rescue recommends two-way communication with our members in order for us to provide assistance to them during their times of need. Certainly, many of our members travel day in and day out without carrying a satellite phone. And usually they never have a need for one. Usually.
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