By Chris Andrews

May 29, 2024

Should You Get a Satellite Phone?

Many people rely on cell phones for communication, but these devices aren’t always reliable. In urban areas, you might experience weak signals, and in remote locations, you might not get any signal at all. Satellite phones offer a solution by using satellites to provide coverage anywhere on the planet. As such, “should you get a satellite phone?” is less of a yes/no question and more of a situational one. In this article, we’ll explore why satellite phones are useful, how they work, their costs, and more.

Imagine being able to communicate during natural disasters or while traveling in areas without cell service. Satellite phones are designed for such situations, making them indispensable for adventurers, emergency responders, and anyone needing reliable communication in remote areas.

Key Takeaways

Satellite phones provide global coverage through satellites.

They are useful in emergencies and remote locations.

Satellite phones and their services can be expensive.

Why Satellite Phones Are Important

During Natural Disasters

Cell networks can go down in severe weather or natural disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural events can break communication lines. Satellite phones stay connected because they use satellites, not cell towers, to send signals.

Connecting in Remote Areas

Some places just don’t have any cell service. Maybe you like hiking in the mountains or camping in remote spots. A satellite phone can be a lifesaver when you need to call for help or get in touch with someone.

For Emergency Situations

Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere. If you’re in a situation where you can’t reach anyone with a normal phone, a satellite phone or maybe a personal locator beacon (PLB) can be crucial. Whether you’re in the wilderness or a place with no cell coverage, it ensures you can call for help or let someone know you’re safe.

Overview of Satellite Phone Services

Satellite phones are a great option when regular cell phones don’t work, especially for remote areas or during emergencies. Several companies provide these services, each with unique features and coverage. Here’s a closer look at three major providers: Iridium, Globalstar, and Inmarsat.


Iridium offers complete global coverage, including the North and South Poles. This is possible due to its network of 66 satellites. These satellites move quickly across the sky, so even if you lose the signal, you’ll get it back as another satellite comes into range. The downside is that the signal might drop if the satellite moves away, but you will eventually reconnect.

Feature Detail
Coverage Global, including poles
Satellite Count 66
Model Iridium Extreme ($1100)
Connection Moving satellites; signal can drop and reconnect over time


Globalstar’s network includes 24 satellites, providing near-global coverage but excluding the poles. Similar to Iridium, you might need to wait for a satellite to move into a better position to get a good signal.

Feature Detail
Coverage Almost global, poles excluded
Satellite Count 24
Model Spot X ($230+)
Connection Moving satellites; signal might be intermittent


Inmarsat takes a different approach with only 3 satellites for its standard phone service. These satellites are in a fixed position, meaning they stay in the same spot in the sky. This setup provides steady connections once you link up, but you must have a clear line of sight. These satellites are situated above the equator, so getting a signal can be challenging as you move further north or south.

Feature Detail
Coverage Global with some northern/southern limitations
Satellite Count 3 (for normal service)
Model ISatPhone 2 ($700)
Connection Fixed satellites; clear line of sight needed

Satellite Networks and Coverage

Satellite Constellations

When it comes to satellite phones, there are different networks to consider. These networks use groups of satellites, often called constellations, to provide coverage. Iridium, for instance, has 66 satellites that orbit the earth, making it the only network with complete global coverage, even at the poles. Globalstar operates with 24 satellites, offering near-global coverage though it doesn’t reach the poles. Inmarsat uses three satellites for its phone service, positioned much further from Earth, which allows them to cover large areas.

Worldwide Coverage vs. Specific Regions

Each satellite network has its own coverage area. Iridium provides full global coverage, including the poles. This is due to its large number of satellites in low Earth orbit. Globalstar also offers wide coverage but falls short of complete global reach, missing out near the poles. On the other hand, Inmarsat’s satellites cover specific regions and are stationary, hovering over the equator. This can make it challenging to get a signal in far northern or southern regions.

Fixed Position vs. Moving Satellites

There are two main types of satellite orbits to consider: geo-synchronous and low Earth orbit. Inmarsat’s satellites are geo-synchronous, meaning they stay in one spot relative to the earth’s surface. This can be helpful because the signal remains constant if you have a direct line of sight. Iridium and Globalstar use moving satellites that travel across the sky. While you might need to wait for a moving satellite to get into position, these networks can provide coverage over larger areas and are less affected by obstructions.

Cost of Satellite Phones

Buying Satellite Phones

When purchasing a satellite phone, be prepared for a significant upfront investment. Iridium phones, known for their 100% global coverage, cost around $1,000, with the latest model, Iridium Extreme, priced at about $1,100. Inmarsat, offering the ISatPhone 2 model, retails at approximately $700. The Globalstar hosted Spot X phone is more affordable, starting around $230.

Satellite Service Plans

Owning a satellite phone also means subscribing to a service plan. These plans can be costly. At the very least, expect to pay around $50 per month for minimal usage, which might only include 10 minutes of talk time. If you need more talk time, prices can escalate to hundreds of dollars each month. Alternatively, some companies offer annual emergency plans. For instance, Iridium’s plan costs about $300 per year but doesn’t include any talk time. Each minute of use on this plan costs $6.

Rental Choices

If you only need a satellite phone temporarily, renting is an option. You can rent a satellite phone for around $5 to $10 per day. This is a viable option for short-term needs such as trips to remote areas or in case of emergencies.

Making Calls Using Satellite Phones

Cost of Making Calls to Satellite Phones

Making calls to a satellite phone can be pricey. Phone companies often treat these calls like international ones. For instance:

    • AT&T: About $4 per minute for Iridium calls

    • Inmarsat and Globalstar: Around $12 per minute

These rates can vary, so it’s best to check with your provider.

Receiving Calls from Regular Phones

When someone wants to call your satellite phone from a regular phone, they might face high charges, similar to international call rates. Some service providers, like AT&T, might block these calls unless you ask them to allow it. It’s important to inform anyone who might need to reach you about this.

Local Number Services

You can sometimes get a local number that connects to your satellite phone to make it easier for others to call you. For example, Globalstar offers the option to get a USA number. Check with your satellite phone service provider to see if this feature is available for you. This can help in reducing the complexity and cost of calling satellite phones.

Using and Features of Satellite Phones

Signal Coverage

Satellite phones do not rely on cell towers, so they provide coverage where regular cell phones fail. There are three main networks: Iridium, Globalstar, and Inmarsat. Iridium offers 100% global coverage with 66 satellites constantly moving across the sky. This ensures a signal almost anywhere. Globalstar has 24 satellites and nearly complete global coverage but lacks coverage at the poles. Inmarsat uses three satellites in geo-synchronous orbit, which remain stationary relative to Earth, providing consistent coverage within their wide area.

Messaging and Internet Services

Satellite phones can offer more than just voice calls. Some models allow you to send text messages and access limited data services. The data speed may be slower compared to regular cell phones, but it provides a way to communicate when you are out of cell tower range. Using these features may require specific plans and can be costly, but they add significant functionality to these devices.

Final Thoughts

Given the choice of satellite networks, phones with varying features and plans at widely different prices it may still seem a very broad question to ask should you get a satellite phone.

Given the recent trend too of manufacturers building satellite connectivity into well-known mobile phone brands for emergency situations then we may not be too far off from having full satellite connectivity for regular use available in our smart phones. If this comes about then the need for separate satellite phones may potentially be negated, however, we are not there jus yet.

The single biggest piece of advice we can give is to look thoroughly into why you want a satellite phone, what you need it to do and what you can afford 

Chris Andrews

About the author

Hi, I'm Chris and these days I love nothing more than spending quality time with my son outdoors. As an army cadet in the 80s I was given a real insight into how to look after myself and those around me in unfamiliar environments. No huts, no tents, just survival rations for food and ponchos for makeshift shelter. This started a drive within me to be able to take care of myself and, nowadays, my family in any eventuality.

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