Satellite phone details, secrets and rates

Satellite phone details, secrets and rates

Those who venture out on long distance overland journeys by car or truck in remote unpopulated areas often bring a satellite phone – just in case. It’s a good idea for various reasons, however once there is an emergency, a sat phone might not quite work as expected. An insight into less known details, secrets and rates for calling a satellite phone.


Satellite phone Emergency calls

Just as with regular cell phones, the obvious pitfalls makes a satellite phone pretty useless – such as empty battery, expired prepaid balance or having lost / forgotten the simcard PIN code. 

Cheap Satellite phone stand holder bush style with a thuraya hughes hns 7100
Low cost Satellite phone stand - best satellite signal reception in upright position.
Yes the coffee mug is empty!

Because a satellite phone usually remains unused for quite some time - making emergency calls on a nearly drained battery is a common risk. To make matters worse, a satellite phone first retrieves a GPS position at startup, requiring quite a bit of battery power during several minutes.

Given it gets through the GPS position fix, actual talk time can be largely reduced. Not what anyone is waiting for during an emergency.

Satellite-phone-acquiring-GPS-position-Thuraya-hughes-HNS-7100 Satellite phone GPS position fix Thuraya hughes HNS-7100
From acquiring a GPS position to a GPS position fix - it takes several minutes in open field

Simple battery power issues cause a false sense of security and annihilates the return of  investment once the satellite phone is really needed. The same applies to both expired prepaid balance loosing / forgetting a PIN code.

These situations are easily overcome by regularly using / testing both battery and phone -  but there are quite few things more to anticipate for a good return of investment.

Standby for satellite phone calls

During emergencies,  expecting calls and text messages is obvious. The satellite phone is kept on standby within reach of a satellite signal. This means, the satellite phone antenna must be in line of sight of the communication satellite to be able to actually receive that call or text message.

Satellite phone charged by solar panel - thuraya hughes hns 7100
Satellite phone charged by solar panel - thuraya hughes hns 7100

Again the satellite phone battery is important – a healthy battery needs to be charged every few days when used on standby continuously.

Next keeping a satellite phone within reach of the satellite signal means having it outside all the time, or indoors somehow positioned behind a window with Line of Sight. (LOS) More about common Satellite Line of Sight issue's further-on in this article.

Electrical power nearby and a satellite phone stand (the Coffee Mug) helps a great deal to maintain a stable satellite connection.

Accepting a satellite phone call

Once a satellite phone call comes in – it’s best to be outside for a strong signal. In open landscape during good weather this is not such a problem. But when it rains, or there’s a lot of wind, it becomes hard to hear the other person.

Not to mention what it’s like to be understood by trying to overshout rain and wind? And not so obvious, what about people outside overhearing that one important (English) conversation while you’re outside?

Thuraya Satellite phone call and taking notes - angled at 44 degrees East
Taking Satellite phone calls and taking notes - try doing this in rain and wind
44 degrees East angulation is for the Thuraya Satellite network

On top of that – during an emergency taking notes of phone numbers, names, locations is a very common thing. With one hand on the phone (Mind the antenna angulation - don't loose that signal!), being outside there’s usually not much to write on. Not to mention when the weather is bad – it’s near impossible. Very frustrating when an emergency situation is at hand.

Satellite phone docking station

A satellite docking station with an external antenna makes all of the above a thing of the past. The extra investment is not small, but once that emergency is there it’s a great thing to have.

Satellite phone docking station phone stand Thuraya hughes HNS-7100
Satellite phone docking station phone stand Thuraya hughes HNS-7100
(on the left the Option Globesurfer III - see Amazon further below)

The satellite and GPS antenna outside

Satellite antenna and GPS-antenna for a thuraya docking station
Satellite antenna and GPS-antenna for a thuraya docking station

Calls can be made indoors, hands-free in privacy and the phone battery is charged by the vehicle battery. In speaker mode others can join the same call. With an external speaker, incoming phone calls are heard over a greater distance iso of the modest ring tone of the phone.

Background and satellite phone experience

Being on the road since 2006 the Thuraya HNS-7100 satellite phone is used several times in family emergency situations. Next to having a satellite phone yourself, it’s also a big peace of mind for those at the home front – given the system actually works. 

Calling a satellite phone from a landline or cellphone is really EXPENSIVE and even more frustrating when calls are interrupted due to drained batteries and line of sight issues.

A few 2012 fixed-line rates TO CALL a satellite phone:

2012 rates for calling a satellite phone from a fixed line
2012 example of fixed line rates for calling a satellite phone

Most do NOT know what satellite network they are actually calling using a +88 satellite phone number. Check the +88 rates in your home country for people who might want to call your satellite number.

Alternatively, being in reach of a cell phone network or landline even in urban area’s isn’t always so obvious in 2nd and 3rd world countries. Specially when the local network is largely overbooked, poorly maintained or down.

A satellite phone is a great asset to have in emergency situations – given it works. It’s quite easy to say in a comfy home / holiday situation; I don’t need all that.

But once disaster strikes and experienced in harrowing depths, the extra investment in Satellite phone and/or satellite docking station becomes a very very relative issue. Both for those who travel as well for family and friends at home.

Satellite phone equipment alternatives

When a vehicle docking station is too costly, alternatives solutions are:

  • Handsfree ear set (wired / bluetooth)
  • Extra satellite phone battery
  • External satellite phone battery charger (DC 12 / AC 110 or 220 Volt)
  • Solar panel with charger

Satellite phone equipment from Inmarsat:

Satellite phone equipment from Iridium

Other global communication solutions & accessories:

Common satellite phone Line of Sight problems

A satellite phone requires a line of sight with the satellite in orbit for a crisp and clear communication line. Buildings, trees, mountains are the usual obstructions to get a satellite phone connected to the satellite network.

Knowing how to recognize a line of sight problem and how to deal with it have a look at common line of sight problems with a Thuraya satellite phone.

More about Satellite phone SMS text messaging with cellphones

Tweet your GPS position from Thuraya Satellite phone to Twitter