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Why Satellite Communicators Are Not Satellite Phones

Color daytime photo of a young brunette man holding and talking on a satellite phone on his left ear. Partly cloudy blue sky with high altitude mountain background.

Unfortunately, the names satellite communicators and satellite phones are frequently used on the internet interchangeably when you are searching for one or the other. These are confusing mistakes by entities such as Amazon.com recommendations for you and Google’s sponsored search; mostly because these two products have some major important differences between them.  

Why satellite communicators are not satellite phones is because you cannot talk on a satellite communicator like you can on a satellite phone. Satellite phones have the ability for real-time conversations with someone, and satellite communicators only provide texting and SOS emergency messaging.

Together, we discuss the unique qualities of satellite phones and the differences they have from satellite communicators. Understanding these distinctions gives you invaluable insights to make informed decisions regarding your communication needs for emergency preparedness and in remote areas.

Satellite Phones: Definition, Features, Pros, and Cons

Color daytime photo of young white man in a orange jacket talking on a satellite phone on a mountain ridge with clouds and mountains in the background.
Man talking on a satellite phone on top of a mountain ridge.

A satellite phone, also known as a sat phone, is a great portable device that harnesses satellite networks to establish communication in areas where traditional cellular networks prove unreliable or unavailable. Setting them apart from regular cell phones, these devices rely on satellites orbiting the Earth to transmit and receive signals, ensuring uninterrupted connectivity even in the farthest reaches of our planet.

The primary notable disparity between satellite communicators and satellite phones lies in voice communication capabilities. Satellite phones, such as the Iridium Extreme satellite phone, provide the ability to engage in voice calls, while satellite communicators, like the Garmin inReach Explorer+, do not.

Features

  • Voice calls: Satellite phones allow users to have real-time voice conversations, bridging the communication gap in areas where cellular coverage is unavailable. 
  • Text messaging: Alongside voice calls, satellite phones often incorporate SMS text messaging capabilities, enabling users to exchange messages when voice communication is impractical or unnecessary. This versatile feature allows efficient and discreet communication, transmitting messages effectively in diverse scenarios.
  • GPS functionality: Many satellite phones integrate advanced GPS technology, facilitating precise location tracking and navigation help, which is valuable in remote areas. This feature enhances safety and enables accurate positioning during outdoor adventures or emergencies.
  • Tracking: Tracking can be set up on satellite phones to go out on regular intervals or to simply send out a position report every time the phone registers.
  • Emergency features: These devices frequently boast emergency buttons or dedicated emergency services, such as SOS, ensuring immediate access to help during critical situations. This essential feature acts as a lifeline, empowering individuals to summon help and receive the support swiftly.

Pros

  • Voice communication: Satellite phones offer the ability to make crystal-clear voice calls, enabling real-time conversations, irrespective of location. This feature ensures seamless and immediate connection, especially in remote areas where other means of communication may falter.
  • Reliability: These devices provide robust and unwavering connectivity, even in the most isolated and remote regions. This unwavering reliability ensures that users can depend on satellite phones for crucial communication needs, undeterred by limited or unreliable cellular coverage.
  • Durability: Built to endure harsh environments, satellite phones boast rugged designs engineered to withstand extreme conditions. This sturdy durability makes them indispensable companions in challenging outdoor pursuits, ensuring reliable communication in rugged terrain or adverse weather conditions.

Cons

  • Cost: Satellite phones and their associated services can be expensive because of their advanced technology and global coverage capabilities. This cost consideration should be considered when evaluating these devices’ affordability.
  • Size and Weight: Sat phones can possess a bulky and heavy form factor compared to a smartphone. This physical characteristic may affect portability and convenience, particularly for those seeking compact, lightweight, off-grid communication options.

Please see some of our other interesting articles like “Best Emergency Preparedness Communication Systems (7 Must Own Devices),” and “Off-Grid Satellite Communicator Messenger Or Cell Phone?” 

Satellite Communicators: Definition, Features, Pros, and Cons

Color daytime photo of a young white man in a hat wearing a water vest with a satellite communicator attached.
Man wearing a water vest with a satellite communicator attached.

A satellite communicator can look like a mini satellite phone, but they are not. They are however a remarkable device that revolutionizes communication in remote areas, offering a range of features specifically tailored to meet the needs of outdoor enthusiasts, adventurers, and professionals operating in challenging environments. 

While they lack voice calling capabilities, they compensate with an array of data-driven functionalities prioritizing messaging, tracking, and emergency services. Let’s dive deeper into the captivating world of satellite communicators and explore their defining characteristics.

Features

Messaging capabilities: Satellite communicators excel in text messaging, allowing users to exchange messages even in regions without cellular coverage. This feature ensures efficient communication and keeps individuals connected when voice calls are unnecessary or workable.

GPS and navigation: Many satellite communicators incorporate advanced GPS functionality, providing users with precise location information, navigation assistance, and the ability to track waypoints. This feature proves invaluable for outdoor enthusiasts venturing into unfamiliar terrain.

Emergency SOS: Satellite communicators often come equipped with dedicated SOS buttons or features, enabling users to send distress signals and request immediate help in critical situations. This life saving functionality ensures that help is just a button press away when it matters most.

Pros

Messaging and location services: The messaging capabilities of satellite communicators allow for efficient communication, facilitating coordination, and sharing critical information in remote areas. With GPS and navigation features, users can communicate their precise location, enhancing safety and enabling seamless exploration.

Compact design: Satellite communicators are known for their compact and lightweight design, making them easy to carry during outdoor activities. Their portability allows individuals to stay connected and maintain a communication aid without being burdened by bulky devices.

Cons

Lack of voice communication: A major limitation of satellite communicators is the absence of voice-calling capabilities. This can be an inconvenient drawback in certain situations where real-time voice communication is crucial. However, satellite communicators provide alternative means of communication through messaging and emergency SOS features.

No Screen or keyboard: Many satellite communicators have no screen or keyboard and are ‌just a tracker box with an SOS button and it can be frustrating and odd to use. In the age of smartphones and cell phones, it seems counterintuitive not to have a screen or keyboard. 

Communicate through a second party device: Many of the satellite communicators use second party devices to communicate with. You have to go through the internet to see any information on your satellite communicator or tether to a cell or smartphone.

On some units, no access to information in remote areas with no internet: Imagine you are on the top of a 12,000 foot mountain in Colorado and you have no internet access. If so, you are not going to be able to see any information on the lower budget base unit satellite communicators. No internet, so no access to information at that time, which can be unbelievably frustrating.

Satellite Phone vs. Satellite Communicator: The Differences Summarized

As you’ve already realized, several key distinctions highlight their unique functionalities and features when comparing satellite phones and satellite communicators. Let’s look into these disparities, shedding light on why satellite communicators are not simply satellite phones.

Voice Calling Capability:

Satellite phones are the only devices with voice-calling capabilities, enabling users to engage in real-time conversations even in remote locations. On the other hand, satellite communicators do not have a voice-calling feature, setting them apart from satellite phones.

Battery Life:

The battery life of a satellite phone varies based on the specific device and usage patterns. For instance, the Iridium Extreme boasts an impressive standby time of up to 30 hours or 4 hours of talk time.

In contrast, satellite communicators like the Garmin inReach Explorer+ provide extended battery life, lasting up to 100 hours when sending tracking waypoints every 10 minutes. This prolonged battery performance ensures reliable communication during extended outdoor adventures.

Durability and Portability:

Satellite phones are designed with ruggedness in mind, featuring robust hardware capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, water exposure, and rough handling. This durability ensures their resilience in challenging environments.

While satellite communicators may not match the same level of durability as satellite phones, their smaller size and portability compensate for this limitation. This makes them convenient and easy to carry during outdoor activities.

Price Considerations:

Satellite communicators generally have a more affordable price range compared to satellite phones, primarily because of their basic feature set. These devices offer cost-effective options for individuals seeking essential communication functionalities.

In contrast, with their advanced capabilities and extensive coverage, satellite phones often come with a higher price tag. For instance, the Iridium Extreme satellite phone costs approximately $1,670, while the Garmin inReach Explorer+ satellite communicator is priced at around $565 on Amazon at the time of writing this article.

Please see our article “Compare Cell Phones To Satellite Phones.”

What Do We Recommend: Satellite Phone or Satellite Communicator?

Color photo of a white man's left hand holding an Iridium Extreme 9575 Satellite Phone on a white background.
Iridium Extreme 9575 Satellite Phone

When exploring the great outdoors, conquering distant lands, or sailing on large bodies of water, more than relying on standard cell phone service may be required. Tragically, people have lost their lives in the wilderness or encountered life-threatening situations at sea simply because they couldn’t access emergency help when they needed it most. This is where satellite communicators and satellite phones step in. 

But when faced with the choice, which one should you opt for? Here are some crucial factors to consider:

  • Legal considerations- Check the legality of satellite phones and satellite communicators in your area: In the United States, for example, satellite phones are permitted for individuals to possess and use. However, it’s important to note that some countries, such as India, prohibit the possession of satellite phones. In other countries, like Russia and China, you may need to register and get a license for your satellite phone with local authorities before using it. Ensure you know the regulations in your destination for satellite phones and satellite communicators to avoid any legal complications. For a comprehensive guide on overseas satellite phone usage, refer to this valuable resource provided by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC).
  • Voice communication priority– If voice communication is your top priority, a satellite phone is an obvious choice. Its ability to make and receive voice calls provides a crucial lifeline in emergencies or when you need real-time conversations with others.
  • Data-centric communication– If your primary communication needs revolve around messaging, tracking, and accessing emergency services, a satellite communicator offers a wealth of data-driven features. These devices excel in text messaging capabilities, GPS navigation, and SOS functionalities, catering to individuals who rely more on data transmission than voice calls.
  • Intended use- A satellite phone is a wise investment if your adventures take you into remote wilderness areas where cellular coverage is virtually nonexistent. Its global range ensures you can establish communication links wherever you are, enabling you to stay connected and seek help in emergencies. If you engage in outdoor activities in areas with limited cellular coverage but still have occasional access to cellular networks, a satellite communicator can be a practical choice, as you can still use your cell phone for voice calls.
  • Cost– Satellite phones typically cost more upfront than satellite communicators. Both satellite phones and satellite communicator’s services may involve subscription plans or pay-per-minute usage fees. Consider your budgetary constraints and evaluate the other communication needs relevant to you when making a choice here.

We would always rather use a satellite phone, for ease of use and convenience, but ultimately, the decision between a satellite phone and a satellite communicator comes down to your requirements, budget, and legal constraints. By evaluating these factors, you can make an informed choice that satisfies your communication needs and guarantees your safety in off-grid or remote areas. 

Can a Cell Phone Be a Satellite Communicator?

Color daytime photo of a woman's hands holding a cell phone in the forest.
IOS and Android smartphones are in the race for satellite emergency and SOS as well as SMS communications.

With technological advancements, cell phones can now connect to satellite networks and provide communication services in areas where traditional cellular networks are unavailable.

Some cellular phone communication providers offer services that enable cell phones to connect directly to their satellite networks. In late 2022, Apple released the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro, capable of emergency SOS texting on traditional satellite communication networks. By directly incorporating satellite communication capabilities into their smartphones, these companies have opened up new possibilities for reaching conventional 5G cell phones outside terrestrial coverage.

Some innovations, like Iridium GO, can convert your existing smartphone into a satellite phone. Iridium GO is a remarkable innovation that enables you to expand your cell phone’s capabilities by connecting to the Iridium satellite network. To get started, users simply download the Iridium GO App to their cell phone or tablet while still within cellular coverage. Once outside cellular reach, the app connects the mobile device via Wi-Fi to the Iridium GO network, which acts as a satellite communicator. This enables users to make calls, send texts, access weather updates, and share photos directly from their mobile devices, all thanks to satellite connectivity.

Additionally, startups like AST SpaceMobile, Lynk Mobile, and Inmarsat are building low Earth orbit satellite networks (LEO) designed to provide direct satellite access to billions of devices worldwide. These advancements are revolutionizing how we think about satellite communication and its integration with cell phones.

Key Takeaways

Color daytime photo of a  young white man sitting on a rocky mountain ledge holding a satellite phone in his right hand while using a laptop sitting on his knees. Blue sky and snow covered mountain background.

Discussing how to stay in touch while exploring remote areas or traveling in the great outdoors. Our exploration of satellite communicators and satellite phones has shed light on their unique characteristics and functionality. Evidently, these two devices, often used interchangeably in common discourse, possess notable disparities that set them apart.

The primary distinction lies in the voice communication capabilities offered by satellite phones, enabling real-time conversations even in remote locations. Conversely, satellite communicators prioritize data-centric communication, emphasizing features such as messaging, GPS navigation, and emergency SOS functionality.

Integrating cell phones with satellite networks adds an intriguing dimension to the discussion. The capability to connect cell phones indirectly or directly to satellite networks expands the realm of possibilities, offering enhanced connectivity options in remote areas.

As we navigate this complex decision-making process, it becomes apparent that the choice between satellite communicators and satellite phones depends on individual requirements, legal obligations, and communication preferences.

References:

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POST CATEGORIES

We are a website that writes helpful articles about the latest technology for emergency preparedness and power grid energy. We try new devices and analyze their quality, durability, effects, for emergency preparedness.

This site is owned and operated by Fremontii, LLC. Fremontii, LLC. is a participant in Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.