Satellite Phone Solutions, Reliability Is the Top Concern When Buying Service
Satellite phones are commonly used by outfitters to provide emergency and remote area communication where cell phone coverage is unavailable or unreliable. Iridium is still regarded as the premium system with 66 active satellites in low earth orbit (about 450 miles up), providing global coverage. The U.S. military uses the Iridium system so it’s unlikely to be phased out any time soon. Globalstar launched several second-generation satellites during 2011 and is upgrading its system. Globalstar's fourth satellite launch is planned to take place in the second half of 2012. In March Globalstar reported its first quarterly profit in four years, so it may be back on the road to respectability. Inmarsat, which has been in business for 32 years, owns and operates a fleet of 11 satellites providing mobile voice and data communications coverage worldwide except for the Antarctica and the Arctic. Inmarsat is popular within the maritime and aviation industries. Inmarsat is making some inroads into outfitter use because of its reliability and long track record.
Here are the conclusions from our recent survey on satellite phones and services:
Iridium is the favorite of outfitters responding to the survey
42% of outfitters responding use Iridium phones. 42% use Globalstar. 16% use Inmarsat. These are rough numbers since they only reflect the preferences of respondents. Among all users, Iridium is preferred even among some Globalstar users. Globalstar’s performance has been spotty, according to respondents, although they are launching new satellites so there could be some improvement in the coming months. Inmarsat is considered to be reliable and is also recommended.
Reliability in the backcountry
Iridium was recommended universally over Globalstar both in terms of reliability, service and support for backcountry use. Inmarsat was also recommended for reliability and backcountry use. Even Iridium phones will drop calls in canyons as the satellites pass over the rim. But since Iridium has 66 operational satellites, another moves in range within minutes. One outfitter made this comment, “We also use Globalstar (and Inmarsat). Inmarsat gets service within 5 minutes always, and lasts for at least 30 minutes. Globalstar doesn’t get service until a satellite flies over - up to a 90-minute wait.”
Choosing a phone system
60% of outfitters choose phones and service based on reliability, support and service over price since reliability is critical for emergency service. 20% gave equal weight to both reliability and price. No outfitter bought sat phone service primarily on price.
Controlling Employee Phone Use
Most respondents did not see problems with sat phone use by employees, although a couple of years ago one outfitter called about this issue because employees on 15-day trips were racking up big bills calling their girlfriends. Absence makes the heart grow nervous, no? Suggested strategies to control use include:
• 25% of respondents specify the types of calls allowed (emergency and important). Some put a time limit on any exceptions.
• One company requires guides to log all calls and submit them to a bookkeeper.
• Where employees are out for extended periods and the company feels they deserve the opportunity to connect with family or loved ones, one company first specifies that phones are primarily for emergency use. If used by employees for personal business, employees are given the number of minutes they can use without charge and then billed for the minutes they use over that allowance.
Buying Used Phones over the Internet?
Some outfitters have success buying and activating used phones. But one buyer of a used phone remarked that it had an unpaid balance so it took a while to get that straightened out before he could get the phone activated. A reliable, trusted seller on EBay or Amazon will be less likely to sell a phone with bugs or an outstanding bill but check the return policy. One outfitter said they were able to get a used Iridium 9505 for $800 over the internet.
Outfitters’ recommended sellers of phones and service (Not in rank order)
• All Road Sat, 2222 4th Ave Suite A, San Diego, CA 92101, (619) 596.4574
• Jensen Communications, 155 S.E. 1st St., Warrenton, OREGON 97146 (503) 861-2415
• Personal Satellite Network, 10317 Amberleigh CT, Manassas, VA 20110-6616 (800) 590-2089
• Outfitter Satellite, 2911 Elm Hill Pike, Nashville, TN 37214 USA Tel. (615) 889-8833
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