Best Satellite Phone For Outback Australia

It is reassuring that 90 percent of Australia’s population does not have access to a mobile phone network.

Satellite phones are not only useful for emergencies in remote areas but also for staying in touch with family and friends at home.

Telstra Iridium and Inmarsat are the two best satellite phones for Australian conditions.

Telstra has to be one of the worst businesses we have ever dealt with. Their customer service is unacceptable for a communication company. Inmarsat/Pivotel could not possibly be that bad.

Telstra has the best coverage for mobile phones in rural and arid Australia. This means that a Telstra phone will work where Optus won’t.

Over the last 15 years, we’ve tested every phone system available – Thuraya Globalstar Inmarsat Iridium. These are the only two that provide reliable mobile coverage in Australia, inside or outside of a moving vehicle.

We believe that total Australian coverage is the most important criterion for purchase. A satphone that cannot find a satellite at the time of need has no value.

Iridium has 66 satellites in low orbit, which means that there is global coverage and redundancy (we have used ours successfully in Japan). It has never failed to connect to a satellite.

This connectivity literally saved our lives when we had to call a Flying doctor helicopter to an injured person who was in a remote part of Central Australia.

Globalstar relies also on low-orbiting satellites. However, the company’s history with satellite reliability is a mixed one.

Apple has loaned 252 million dollars to Apple in late 2022 for coverage expansion. This will hopefully help improve the situation.

Inmarsat, as its name implies, is primarily a maritime communications system. It relies only on three geostationary satellites in high orbit, which meant that there were some areas with poor coverage up until Inmarsat partnered with Pivotel.

In 2020, Pivotel launched a plan of “$47/month” over 24 months. This plan could be paused up to 6 months at a time in any 12 months – paying $10/month during the pause – effectively making it a 42 or 48-month plan. Free SMS and incoming calls.

Inmarsat’s coverage is global, and it doesn’t suffer the “bottom of the canyon” effect of low-orbit satellites. However, the system can’t be used reliably in a vehicle without a special aerial, which costs around $1000.

Thuraya also relies on geostationary satellites but only has two. This is the same problem with Inmarsat’s moving vehicle connectivity, but even worse. It is necessary to keep the unit pointed at the satellite, or else the signal will disappear. The team covers SEA, Australia, and NZ but not the USA or NZ.

Voice calls on all four networks are very expensive. No casual user would consider sending or receiving anything more than the most basic of data via satellite. It’s just too expensive.

They have mixed results for receiving SMS when the phone is turned off. Inmarsat is better than all three.

Rent or purchase a satellite hotspot

Iridium GO is the latest option. The world’s very first satellite wifi hotspot.

Iridium Go! The Iridium GO!

Up to five devices can be connected at the same time to this compact Iridium device.

As of late 2022, we hadn’t yet evaluated one, but it looked great.

Another option is to subscribe to a¬†Starlink¬†service in your home, as we do. Starlink’s mobile dish is portable and can be used on bush trips. For a fee of $35 per month, on top of the household rental of A$140, you can get mobile internet and wifi.

The availability of satellites for Starlink mobiles by mid-2023 was not as good as for fixed installations. The mobile coverage was poor for our bush testers.

Apple – The next step

Apple announced in late 2022 a new satphone feature for the iPhone 14 – emergency satellite connection if there is an emergency. The service was initially only available in North America. However, on May 16, 2023, it was extended to Australia.

Globalstar was Apple’s satellite partner, and we hoped coverage would improve quickly.

Emergency SOS requires a space with an open view of the sky, horizon, and other surrounding objects.

On-screen instructions are said to be provided by the iPhone 14’s sat feature to establish a link with a satellite. After connecting, you will be asked a series of questions that describe your current emergency.

The iPhone is then supposed to initiate a chat session with emergency responders, sharing your medical ID and contact information, location, elevation, battery remaining, and answers to the emergency questionnaire.

Apple says that in ideal conditions, with a clear sky view, a message can be sent within 15 seconds. Apple claims that it takes 15 seconds to send a message in ideal conditions with a clear view of the sky.

Sat phone etiquette

Instead of worrying about SMS all the time that we are out of mobile range, we have set a “call time” – from 5-7 pm EST. During this time, the satphone will be monitored. Then, we take any incoming calls and turn off the phone.

This is the time when we are monitoring “skeds” on our ‘old-fashioned’ HF VKS737 Flying Doctor Radio and sitting around a fire.

Our Motorola satphone can be used with our Telstra mobile SIM, which means we won’t need to pay a monthly fee. However, we have heard that newer smartphones may not allow this.

The sat call charges are added to our mobile phone bill.

We’ve found that the Motorola phone has a poor battery life. So we plug it in and monitor it.

We also have an extendable captive antenna and a roof-mounted magnetic aerial so that we can use them on the go if necessary.

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