Sat phones are divided into 3 types: Installed, Laptop and Hand Held. Each have different features and some have different options like fax, data or Internet. Predominately, travellers use hand-held sat phones and so in this article we'll only focus on that option.
Why use a Sat Phone?
It stands to reason, that travellers need a communication system that they can rely on. Since satellite technology has evolved and is now a realistically priced solution
for communications, there has been a insurgence of the use of satellite phones (satphone) in business, education and recreation
. The uptake of satellite technology is most obvious in the tourism sector, with hand-held satellites easy to use, easy to obtain, and providing a reliable, private, communication service to users.
Smaller and more portable than HF radios
Easier to use (similar to using a mobile phone)
Can be hired (even couried to your door)
No installation required
A private communication system
Easy for other people to call you
Charges apply for each call, as well as an access fee
No access to a specific network of travellers (eg. 4WD Radio Network)
Some satellite carriers do not enable use of 1800 numbers, 000 or access to Directory Assistance
Some satellite phones will be given an international phone number (may hinder use by your friends/family to reach you)
Sat phones are best suited to people who wish to enable other people (family/work) to make direct dial voice calls with you whilst you are travelling, Call charges are still a little higher than regular mobile phone charges, however the use of the satellite phone would be limited to essential communication only. Most satphone will have a voice mail box and some have SMS.
One of the most appealing features of the newer satphones is the dual-mode functionalities in some handsets - there are now GSM/Satphones. This means that you can own one handset that can be both your mobile phone and your satphone. This is particularly useful now that the improvement in mobile coverage Australia
wide means that the emergency phone you rely on when heading into the remote bush is the same as the phone you use for day-to-day social and business use back home.
To Hire or Buy?
You can now pick up a sat phone for as little as $900 connected to a plan. Most service providers will charge a connection fee (flag fall), a monthly access fee (which may include a certain amount of free calls) and then your call costs. Call costs can vary and are usually lower per minute if you are on a higher month plan (similar to mobile phone plans).
Before buying a satellite phone, check out if you qualify for the Government Subsidy. This can save purchasers up to 85% off the retail price of a satellite phone (to a maximum of $1000). For more information on this subsidy please click: Dept Broadband Communications and Digital Economy (DBCDE).
Hiring may be a more cost effective option for some travellers, particularly if you wouldn't use it in your normal course of life and work (although note the comments above, dual-mode handsets that are GSM/Sat). By hiring, you will only pay the access fee for the time of the hire period and so this is a very flexible option. Hiring your satphone will also mean you benefit from using the latest hand-sets and accessories, which hopefully means they are the most reliable and compact. Additionally, if you have hired a satphone and experienced hardware failure (even accidental damage), then a replacement can be organised quickly.
There has been a massive increase in the number of companies now offering sat phones for hire, with many offering short term rental terms, easy pick up/drop off options (many will even courier the phone to your door from any state of Australia
), standard accessories for charging by 12v/240v, external antennas for improved mobile reception etc. These companies will normally have a service arrangement with their preferred satellite provider, which takes away the hassle of working out plans and fees. However, depending on how you use your sat phone (ie. mostly to receiving incoming, or mostly to make outgoing, calls), you may find one service provider is more suited to your needs than another.