Satellite phones are a great way to communicate when you are out of range of cellular coverage or in emergency situations when cellular networks get overloaded. Wifi satellites and modems are now available, which can transfer data over the internet – you can connect your existing cell phone or laptop to upload and download emails, connect to social media and slowly browse the internet. These systems aren’t something the average weekend adventurer needs, but are essential for those who want to live off-grid, in remote areas, or plan to stay out of cellular range for extended periods of time.
There are a huge variety of satellite phones available that range from as little as two hundred dollars to full systems for thirty thousand dollars. For keen RV drivers, there are systems for around seven thousand dollars that constantly track satellites as you drive along. If you aren’t quite ready to buy a satellite phone, they are available to rent at very reasonable rates, which could be a great safety and communication addition to your next big adventure.
The first step to communicating off-grid is to select a satellite service provider. Similar to choosing a cell network, services vary in price depending on range and internet capabilities. Prepaid and postpaid monthly or annual options are available. Many providers also offer cheaper prepaid gift cards which come with a SIM card compatible with various satellite phones.
Satellite networks have their own constellations of satellites orbiting around the globe. Transmissions are sent between satellites across the mesh-like system and then back down to the ground receiver. Satellite phones are a lot less traceable compared to cell phones and local landlines. Hence, many clever campers take their home satellite system out camping with them – as home connections are often cheaper than portable systems.
Technically it’s very difficult for your service provider to tell if you are connecting from home, or out in the mountains – just be sure not to call them for technical support or tips! However, if you need to send emails and upload data, with an internet connection you are more likely to reveal your location via triangulation. Hence, using a home-based system remotely could become a little more problematic for your provider.
For internet connection, typically you need to sign up for an internet package, or VOIP connection (voice over internet provider). There are different types of connections out there – for example, with a satellite internet connection, offered by plans like these Viasat internet plans, you will be able to get internet almost anywhere, providing that there is a satellite pointing in that direction. If there isn’t a satellite near you, you will want to look to a wired option to make sure you get the best connection possible. When shopping for the internet, you should make sure to check data transfer prices, and whether or not data is included in your plan, to avoid huge extra charges. The cheapest method tends to be connecting a VOIP satellite phone and using its signal to download emails onto your laptop, for reasonable prices you can use the internet to slowly browse and check social media. Don’t expect to be streaming movies or uploading heavy video files to cloud servers. Although these systems may seem slow, in emergency situations it’s always going to be better to have some kind of setup as opposed to nothing.
The second step to setting up satellite communications is to purchase a device type. Decide if you are a portable handset type, or would like to install a tailgate system with a dish and receiver. Kits are available online to construct your own systems. The parts you’ll need include a dish, tripod to aim the dish, satellite signal meter, receiver, and cables. It’s critical to check your dish and receivables are compatible, they usually need to be the same brand and model. You can buy a kit of parts online for between two hundred and three hundred dollars.
If you are looking for a simple handheld phone rather than the whole dish system, Iridium and Immarsat are classic handset manufacturers, however other providers Thuraya and Globalstar also make handsets. Other companies that don’t provide their own satellite services have started manufacturing phones compatible with a range of providers such as Garmin, known for their maps, and SPOT, which have very cheap and popular satellite phones on the market at the moment.
Thuraya also offers an awesome range of sleeves for iPhones, Galaxy, and other smartphones, which wrap around your existing phone enabling satellite communication via apps. Make sure you download all the necessary apps and coordinate finding programs before you set off on your adventure without a regular internet connection.
Most people tend to buy a durable hard case, a dry waterproof pack for the phone, and a solar panel charger to store with their satellite system.
The final step to setting up for off-grid satellite communications is to aim your dish or aerial and locate a satellite. Hence, satellite phones work much better outside and with a clear view of the southern skies. New augmented reality apps and the Dishpointer app (www.dishpointer.com) are great to play with at home as they are easy to use and reveal the satellites orbiting in the sky immediately around you.