iridium satellite phone, also known as ‘satphones’, are a type of phone that connect to satellites rather than terrestrial sites in order to communicate data. However despite the different nature of satellite mobile phones, they otherwise provide similar functions with text messaging, internet access and of course voice calls. Other satellite mobile phones provide just a partial service and will inform the owner that they are receiving a call – but will need them to move to another location to use the phone.
Satellite mobile phones have some advantages over other phones and in particular are often used by mountaineers and trekkers due to the fact that they can receive signal in more places than regular phones. In some cases satellite mobile phones boast near global coverage, and the mountain ranges that would get in the way of terrestrial signals will only bring you closer to the satellites providing signal in this case. They have also been used in disaster response and have helped to aid people in many recent natural disasters. Satellite mobile phones are also used for a range of other purposes, and can even be a tool for democracy and freedom of speech. Because satellite mobile phones don’t go through the local telecom systems this means that they can prevent wiretapping and censorship. In some regimes (most of which score low on the democracy index except for India), satellite mobile phones are in fact banned.
The mobile equipment in satellite mobile phones is known as ‘terminal equipment’ and tends to be similar in size and shape as regular smartphones. These work using different types of satellites which are as follows:
These satellites are in ‘geostationary’ orbit which means that they stay in a fixed geographical position rather than orbiting the Earth or moving round it.
They rotate at the same speed as the rotation of the Earth ensuring that they are always at the same point. These systems have many advantages for satellite mobile phones and provide almost continual global coverage with only a few satellites which reduces launch costs also. However these satellites are heavy and expensive to build and launch individually. While geostationary satellites offer global coverage however, it is also more common to find things breaking the signal as it must travel to the satellite.
LEO stands for ‘Low Earth Orbit’ and this is an alternative for satellite mobile phones. These satellites as the name suggests orbit low around the Earth. These move in high speed around the Earth and provide a network of more, smaller satellites. They have fewer gaps in their signal, but this requires quite a lot of coordination compared with geostationary satellites. LEO systems also have the ability to track the location of specific mobiles which can also be useful for mountain trekking and other expeditions – but they are sometimes inaccurate by tens of kilometers.
Satellite mobile phones have calling costs comparable to regular charges which can range quite greatly, though they may cost significantly more for data roaming in some cases. Most however have pre-paid plans which include vouchers worth significant amounts. They can also be rented from other services in which case an individual can use them just for expeditions when necessary.
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