Satphones – Don’t get hung-up on costs

Sunday, Jan 10, 2016 at 21:32

Baz - The Landy

Story and photos: Baz - The Landy


Communication, the hardware, the purchase price and ongoing costs are topics regularly discussed by Outback Travellers during “happy hour” and frequently raised within the ExplorOz community.

We live in an age where one can easily remain in communication with the outside world from the most isolated parts of Australia at an affordable cost…

And whilst not necessarily making remote travel any safer, today’s modern devices provide a stable and efficient means of communicating in times of need – in real-life emergencies. The technology is readily available and many of us need, or want that option, whether for work, safety, or social reasons.

And for sure, not everyone will want to be contactable all of the time, including us, after all that is one of the appealing reasons we “go bush”. But the solution to that dilemma is simple, if not just a little bit novel – turn the devices off...

Whether we are in the mountains hiking and climbing, or in the Outback touring in "The Landy" we place a high importance on having communication options available to us. Our choice has evolved over time and taken into account our changing requirements.

None are mutually exclusive and we have always considered redundancy options are important, especially if you intend to be remote! Our current communication kit includes HF and UHF Radio, Sat phone, Spot Tracking device and a registered 406 Emergency Beacon – a PLB.

However, it is not intended to have a broader discussion on communication here and the focus in this article is on Sat phones and the approach we have taken to managing ongoing costs.

We use an Iridium Extreme Handset purchased new at a cost of approximately $1,800. And with that sort of price tag we want to put it to good use to ensure we get our monies worth out of it.

There are numerous alternatives available depending on the service provider you go with, but unlike normal mobile devices, Sat phone handsets are unique to a particular service provider.

Our choice of the Iridium Extreme was driven by the activities we undertake where reliable and robust equipment is a prerequisite.
We entered into a $40 monthly plan with Pivotel meaning we pay an annualised cost of $480.

And by using some inventive cost saving measures it is rare we pay much more than this!

That works out to a daily cost of $1.31 and is about the same price we currently pay for a litre of diesel and less than the price of a stubby of VB at a discount liquor store...

Do you ever consider that your heavy foot may have burnt an extra litre or two of fuel today?

Or when you get around to pulling back the ring-top on your favourite brew do you think hard about having a second one, heaven forbid, two VB's?

It pays to inject context to the discussion to keep cost in perspective...

Mind you, when putting forward a financial rationale to Mrs Landy I presented two numbers, side-by-side, highlighting the per glass cost of her favourite Chardonnay and the daily cost of the Sat phone plan.

The requisition was signed-off without fuss or further discussion!

Only you will know how to manage the “Minister for Finances” in your household, whoever that might be!

We want to get the most out of all our mobile devices and generally remain contactable when we are "Out and About".

We manage the Sat phone use in a couple of ways to ensure our cost is kept to the absolute minimum, usually little more than the monthly contract cost, while optimising and maximising its use.

Firstly, if we want to make voice contact with family or friends we send an SMS, at a cost of $0.50 cents, and ask them to call us back.

Depending on the mobile plan they have with their provider the return call they make will most likely be free of charge as it is a mobile-to-mobile call. Most providers and certainly the majors like Telstra and Optus allow unlimited time mobile-to-mobile calls in Australia.

We are with Optus and our plan allows this, but there may be exceptions.

So for the cost of a fifty-cent SMS you can talk the leg off the camp chair all night, if you like, and all from your Sat phone handset in the "middle-of-nowhere".

There'll be no need to have the stopwatch out to make sure you aren’t racking up a bill faster than a Sydney Cab meter on New Year’s Eve…

Secondly, we divert all our mobile phones to our Sat phone number when we travel outside the GSM network range. This is done free of any cost to us as we are not charged for either the call diversion or the call cost to our Sat phone, it is simply a call to another mobile number and covered under our contract.

This means we will receive the incoming call if the Sat phone is switched on…

Or it will divert to our voicemail if it is switched off.

We have a recorded message on our voicemail asking callers to either SMS us on the Sat phone number or to simply call again later…

Under our Pivotel Plan we are charged at the rate of $1.98 per minute, plus flag fall of $0.40 cents, meaning a one-minute call to check our voicemail will cost $2.38. Consequently, we don't monitor our voicemail as this is an unnecessary expense and we have already given alternatives in our voicemail message.

We want to extract the most value from our Sat phone and not have it sitting idly in the glove box to be used in an emergency only.

How often do people store something away and not utilise it regularly for its intended purpose, only to find it does not work as expected when they "call it to action"...?

You don’t want to be scratching your head and berating yourself for letting the battery charge run down at the time it is most needed just because it was “out of sight and out of mind”.
The ongoing cost for the convenience and option of having constant communications at our fingertips is little more than the cost of a litre of diesel per day.

Remember, less than the cost of that stubby of VB and glass of chardonnay Mrs Landy and I will enjoy as the sun sets on another day in the outback…

And you can bet with great certainty just as Mrs Landy settles into her favourite camp chair, glass of wine in hand, and I've flipped the top off that VB…
The ambience of the moment will be punctuated by the sound of a "bloody" Sat phone ringing...

Just in case you were wondering “Baz – The Landy” came about as a consequence of owning three Land Rover Defenders, but as you can see this has now changed...

And yes, thank you, I've recovered fully from the experience!

But “Baz – The Landy” reference has stuck...!

Cheers, Baz – The Landy, Outback Australia…
“Those who don’t think
it can be done shouldn’t
bother the person doing it…”
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