Satellite Telephone Communication
Storms can take down telephone lines and disrupt cellular communication, long car trips can take you through areas not yet covered by cellular service, and general traveling can lead you to areas with no communication infrastructure or infrastructure incompatible with your equipment. This can make the normally easy task of calling for assistance, getting word to emergency services, or just checking in with the office, family, or friends, time intensive, frustrating, and sometimes impossible. The answer is the often overlooked option of satellite communication.
Those who have used satellite communication (sat-com) in the past, may already be discouraged. But keep reading: the modern sat-com services of 2009 bear almost no resemblance to the offerings in past years.
Sat-com describes the technology of using satellites to facilitate communication. Logistically it's the same as using a cell phone. Satellite services vary by coverage areas and satellite altitude. Most providers are regional, offering the flexibility of 100% coverage for a specific area. Typically these services are combined with cell services. A subscriber carries a dual-mode (satellite / cellular) phone that, when out of cellular coverage, automatically switches to satellite. Other sat-com options are global and use their own dedicated handset. These options are best for travelers and emergency communication.
Sat-com is not a direct replacement for cellular, but instead, an additional form of communication, since they have different characteristics. Cellular communication, for example, can work well indoors and provide consistent coverage as long as there are not too many obstructions between you and the cellular tower. Driving through valleys, for example, can leave a subscriber traveling in and out of cellular coverage. Satellite service, however, is not affected by those ground obstructions; as long as you can see the sky (does not have to be a clear sky) you have service. This does mean that solid obstructions between you and the sky, such as the roof of a building, generally make communication impossible.
Global sat-com is the newest type of sat-com service and is offered by Iridium. Most satellite companies use satellites that orbit at an altitude of about 20,000 miles. Iridum, however, uses a constellation of 66 satellites that are in constant orbit at an altitude of about 450 miles. The advantage to low orbiting satellites is that weather conditions generally have little to no effect on the signal. In addition, the use of such a large constellation allows for coverage over the entire planet. Generally the handset detects service faster than a cell phone, battery power is comparable to a good cell phone, and the handsets are small and water resistant.
Most satellite services do not require a contract and you can activate and deactivate the service at any time making them easy to use for both occasional and frequent users. The technology allows for an easy method of communication for traveling and emergency readiness.