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Satellite Phone Services

In the last issue, we looked at a new technology that is hoped to deliver conventional cellular service in remote areas where there are no cell towers. Currently, service in remote areas is limited to satellite service of various types. Here’s a run-down of current satellite services, including what some people confusingly call Apple’s satellite service.

By Peter Aggus

Peter, as a radio engineer & technology management consultant, has developed innovative & cost-effective solutions for clients in many industries.

Current Services

There is only one service that currently provides dial-up phone service anywhere on the planet. Competitors don’t cover the poles or don’t offer dial up voice service. This global voice service is run by Iridium using their network of polar orbit satellites.

The competing services are offered by Globalstar and Inmarsat but neither work at the poles and service is problematic at high latitudes in both Arctic and Antarctic areas. This means patchy service in the north of the Canadian Territories. Services like Starlink can cover the polar regions but they only offer IP data connectivity so a VoIP add-on service would be needed, and it would need to cope with the transmission issues faced by satellite IP networks.

Thuraya operates a regional service comparable to Inmarsat – but only covering Europe, the Middle East, North, Central and East Africa, Asia and Australia.

Emergency Offerings

Inmarsat has provided support for GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) and EPIRBs (emergency position indicating radio beacons) for several decades. Iridium and Globalstar support a similar service. The original Inmarsat services are more designed to be installed in aircraft or boats. The EPIRB is the standard crash alert system that has been in use for decades on planes and ships. It is not aimed at the individual user market.

The latest iPhones contain an L-band satellite radio that can be used by their ‘Crash Detection’ service when the user is outside terrestrial cell coverage. It will send a text message over the Globalstar satellite network to an Emergency Services Responder, who will relay the details to an appropriate agent. The service can also relay the message to the user’s pre-set emergency contacts.

The satellite component of Apple’s emergency service does not support voice calls, nor does it allow non-emergency texting – but it is live now in several jurisdictions around the world (currently including North America, Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand).


On Iridium, a Garmin basic terminal device will set you back around $400 and a monthly plan will typically be around $20 for SOS use plus 10 messages per month. The Apple service is currently free for 2 years. Expectations are that the cost will be similar to the Garmin plan.

Cell over Satellite

The new service being trialed by Starlink (see our article last month) is a game changer in many ways. It will add cellular-like service to the Starlink network by basically flying a virtual cell site across the earth and allowing existing cellphones to connect via it. At present, only SMS text messages have been shown to work and it is possible that voice calls may not.

If you’d like to discuss how to include these emerging technologies into your IT Strategic Plan, or to comment on this article, please email me at .

This article was published in the February 2024 edition of The TMC Advisor
- ISSN 2369-663X Volume:11 Issue:2

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