Inmarsat operates GEO (Geosynchronous) constellations (satellites do not orbit around the earth, instead they are in a fixed position relative in the sky to an Earth-based observer).
The Inmarsat network has 2 active satellites covering Australia
, one of them services
the West and Centre, whilst the East is covered by the other one. Inmarsat is not a truly global service as it does not service the poles, however this is not a consideration for the user group of this article. In any case, to use the phone you will need to position your antenna at the satellite, so some knowledge of how to use the phone is required to establish a network connection and make a call. You will also need a clear line of sight to that position in the sky i.e. clear of buildings, mountains, tree foliage etc Whilst these functions may seem problematic to some users, you are unlikely to have connection troubles in the wide open deserts of Australia
Prior to July 2013, Inmarsat users could not dial 000 or 112 to contact the regular Australian emergency call centre, however this feature has now been enabled and with the release of the new IsatPhone Pro handset there has been a sudden switch of popularity amongst the Australian outback travellers to look at some of the very competitive pricing plans and options available from Inmarsat.
The release of the new IsatPhone Pro handset has set the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak. IsatPhone Pro is much more akin to the smartphones we have become accustomed to using. The spec sheets promote its exceptional voice clarity, the longest battery life of any handset on the market, SMS text messaging and email, Bluetooth support and an intuitive GSM-style interface with high-viz colour screen, large keypad for easy dialling (even with gloves), this handset also enables you to view your GPS location data, and sent it as a text/email. There are other inbuilt features that you take for granted in your smartphone like calendar, alarm, calculator, and would you believe it – Twitter!. These are features that are missing from all other satellite handsets. The phone also has contact synchronisation with Microsoft Outlook 2007 (PC) and is compatible with Windows XP Pro, SP3 and Windows Vista SP1, plus comes complete with all the necessary accessories (battery chargers, handsfree headset etc).
, Inmarsat is not provided by any of the 4 registered Australian telecommunications providers (Telstra, Optus, Pivotel, Vodafone), which means you cannot obtain an Australian calling number and to call out (even to Australian numbers) you need to include the international country code. Airtime on Inmarsat is provided by independent providers including TC Communications (recently acquired by Inmarsat), and ClientSat.
The providers do offer mechanisms for getting around the international dialling issues, such as a two-stage dialling service which routes calls through a local number, and the use of web-based message service to your handset (free).
The Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro has the lowest handset price (at the time of writing), pre-paid plans are usually competitive and the phone is easy to use. The handset can also send its latitude/longitude as an SMS message, so in an emergency this SMS can be sent to a family member who is pre-briefed to alert emergency authorities if such a message is received.
Just as with Iridium, your friends/family can send a free SMS from web to your satphone (IsatPhone Pro) too. However beware of much higher call charges for people calling you on the Inmarsat plan (due to your international phone number). If you choose to go with Inmarsat then you should encourage your callers to only contact you via the free SMS option.
Inmarsat users calling within Australia
need to ensure their handsets are running the latest version of the firmware (v5.3) to be able to dial the Australian emergency call centre on 000/112. However, at this stage, dialling 1800/13/1300 numbers through the Inmarsat network is not possible.
Inmarsat recently changed their expiry periods on prepaid cards and some providers who still hold stock of the older cards can offer good deals such as 100 minute pre-paid cards that are valid through to December 2014. Apparently, new Inmarsat Prepaid cards have maximum 6 month periods so it pays to shop
around if these features are important to you.