Satphone choice

Submitted: Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 12:28
ThreadID: 136281 Views:1464 Replies:13 FollowUps:19
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Hi all,

Considering a Satphone purchase, and have done a search of threads on this forum, but most I found are a few years old and probably no longer relevant.

Has anyone recently done similar research and come up with a clear winner?

I have read some magazine and online reviews which appear to suggest that Iridium is the better network, Globalstar is history and Thuraya is (was?) the most economical and simple basic option.

Any thoughs/experience would be appreciated.

Cheers
Wildmax
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Reply By: Member - McLaren3030 - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 13:45

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 13:45
Hi Wildmax, Like you I did a whole lot of research before buying a Sat. Phone, and came to the conclusion that Iridium was the way to go, as it had better Satellite coverage. I purchased a second hand unit last year for use in an emergency, and whilst we did not actually need to use it, I did power it up regularly whilst travelling to Surveyor Generals Corner and the Great Central Road. It picked up satellites within a couple of minutes whenever we powered it up. We are heading into the Simpson Desert in a couple of months, so will see how it goes then.

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Reply By: Siringo - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 14:08

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 14:08
Hi,
Last year I was looking at purchasing a sat phone as I plan on doing more & more, but in the end I hired one. It was a great experience from very pleasant people who knew exactly what they were doing.

I hired a Thuraya something. From everything I read they were the bees knees at that time. It worked well but the text on the keys & the screen was very small, too small really, it was just too hard to text with.

The whole hiring experience was so easy I don't think I'll be purchasing a sat phone in the near future.

Have you used a sat phone before? Maybe hire the model you're thinking of buying first & see if you like it. I was keen on buying a Thuraya at the time, but after the hire I won't be, I'll try something else.

Not sure if I'm allowed to mention who I hired from, but they were great, epirbhire.com.au

Good luck.
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Reply By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 14:15

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 14:15
.
Well Wildmax, it depends somewhat on what you might call a "clear winner".
One brand may perform better than the others, but then others may be cheaper to purchase and/or cheaper to operate.

My life may depend on the performance of my Satphone. For that reason I have an Iridium 9555 with a Telstra 'satellite plan'. It remains on and active at all times, connected to 12v and to an external antenna. It sits in a pouch on the roll bar within inches of the 'navigators' ear.
It is reserved for emergencies.... we do not have daily 'family reports'.
And yes, it has served for one series of incoming emergency calls in the middle of the Great Victoria Desert.

Sure, it costs a bit more than some alternatives, but I am frequently bemused at how people will turn somersaults to try and shave a few dollars from this communication cost yet at the same time spend up to $100 thousand on a vehicle, a whack on insurance premiums, and another thou on fuel for a single trip.
Some seem to spend more on beer and a fridge, but clearly they have their priorities well defined. lol
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 22:12

Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 22:12
.
Oh, and perhaps I should have mentioned......... the first number in my Satphone's Phonebook List is the RFDS.

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Reply By: Member - peter_mcc - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 15:05

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 15:05
We went with a Thuraya XT Lite on a Pivotel $15/month plan. It's worked everywhere we've wanted it to (including a 10 week trip through NW Australia where it was on all day/night so I could be contacted for work). We have a magnetic external antenna for it so it can sit on the dash and remain connected to the satellite.

The Pivotel plan has an Aussie mobile number and free incoming calls/SMS - so people can ring you like a normal mobile and it doesn't cost you anything. Outgoing calls aren't too bad - $1/minute - and outgoing SMS are $0.50.

For us it was a clear winner. Downside is it doesn't work as well in the south of the country because the satellite gets closer to the horizon. It still works you just need less trees/hills in the way.
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Follow Up By: wholehog - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 17:22

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 17:22
That's what I am looking at as I am doing more adventure bike travelling and less 4wd which had a HF.

Did you still find it ok with reasonable horizon in southern Australia to connect for calls..?
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Follow Up By: Member - peter_mcc - Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 20:30

Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 20:30
It's worked everywhere I've wanted it to except deep in a valley under heavy tree cover. I haven't tried to use it in Tassie but it works fine in Sydney.
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Reply By: Member - Wildmax - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 15:30

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 15:30
Thanks everyone for taking the trouble to provide a considered response.
It seems from this forum and another that I have reviewed, the leading option is Iridium and the Thuriya on the Pivotel plan is also highly rated - those two leaving others well behind.
I certainly take the point about going for security and not saving a few dollars - a satphone might appear expensive, but in the context of the investment we all make in vehicles and campers (not to mention humans and the dog!!) it doesn't make sense to risk second best.
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Follow Up By: Member - McLaren3030 - Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 10:57

Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 10:57
We purchased a prepaid sim from "The Satphone Shop", no plan (https://www.satphoneshop.com/). Once activated you can choose the length of time that you want to have the card active for. We chose 50 mins talk time for 30 days for $150 (including the cost of the sim card). You can extend another 30 days (no extension to time as in minutes) for $60. So long as you activate the card once every year, the card remains valid. If you go over 12 months without activating it you need to purchase a new card. They also hire phones out. Plans are expensive, and unless you absolutely have to be contactable 24/7, I think you are wasting money purchasing a plan. Hiring the phone, or purchasing your own phone and buying a prepaid sim card seems to be more cost effective. There are plenty of secondhand phones on Ebay.
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Follow Up By: Member - peter_mcc - Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 20:32

Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 20:32
McLaren3030 - the Thuraya/Pivotel $15/month plan isn't expensive - a year costs less than 60 days of prepaid...
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Follow Up By: Member - McLaren3030 - Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 13:52

Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 13:52
Peter,

If you only need 30 days of coverage it only costs $150, you only need to pay the extra if you want to extend the number of days. In the many years of outback travel that we have done, we have only ever been "remote" for about 10 consecutive days. $15/month for 12 months = $180. Why pay for 12 months when you only need a few days.

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Reply By: Motherhen - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 17:10

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 17:10
Did you read any reports of gaps in Thuraya reception in the far south of the country Max?

We chose Iridium.

There is also the option of using your regular mobile phone with either the Thuraya SatSleeve or Iridium GO.

Or if only for emergency and occasional use, the SIM out of your mobile phone in an Iridium phone not on any plan.

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Follow Up By: Member - Wildmax - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 20:36

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 20:36
Yes I did read of that Motherhen - important point to include in our selection, even though we mostly need this for remote travel in the northern half of the country.
Thanks
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Reply By: the_fitzroys - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 18:09

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 18:09
Wildmax, you just asked the question that was next on my list. Thanks for the recommendations everyone.

Lou
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Reply By: Member - Graham N (SA) - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 20:33

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 20:33
Hi Adrian,
We have a Thuraya XT on a Pivotel plan, it has worked everywhere we have tried it including a rescue on the Canning a few years back.
$15 a month to keep the same number or you can cancel the monthly fee until you need it again then rejoin with a new number. We keep up the monthly payments and have used it a couple of times out side our normal travel periods.

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Follow Up By: Member - Wildmax - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 20:38

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 20:38
Thanks Graham. Looks like the Pivotel plan is the one to go for based on the feedback so far, whichever phone we go for. Hope to catch up somewhere out there this year :-)
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Reply By: Member - peterdre - Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 21:24

Friday, Feb 16, 2018 at 21:24
We bought an older Iridium 9505A sat phone.
When travelling in the outback we put the Telstra post paid SIM card from my iPhone in it.
Works fine, $4 per minute to use it. Cheap in an emergency.
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Reply By: gwur - Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 16:54

Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 16:54
Hi Wildmax,

I've gone through Sat phone selection before and the selection can be tricky as there are a number of factors to consider. When I was making my decisions I also cared about overseas travel, and network availability near the edges of coverage.

I own both Thuraya Satsleeve and Iridium Extreme. Why both? Because I bought I bought the Satsleeve first and it served its purpose. I then had a need for coverage in areas where Thuraya was 'possible', not 'available' ( http://www.thuraya.com/network-coverage ) so I had to bite the bullet and I went for Iridium.

If I was buying something today then I would ask myself three simple questions.
1) Is it Australian use only?
2) How much would I want to spend?
3) Do you want a separate phone or is an accessory sufficient?
There are a lot of other arguments to consider, including future network developments, but I honestly think it comes down to those three right now.

To make it fairly simple:
Aus & low cost: Thuraya
Worldwide & cost irrelevant: Iridium
After that ask if you want accessory or separate phone and choose a product based on that:
Thuraya: Satsleeve or XT
Iridium: Handset or Go!

The main argument that I've seen against Thuraya are:
1) Line of sight to satellite
2) Coverage at edges of 'available' area
If you are using the phone for 4WD and not hiking then most roads are NOT in the shadow of land mass. If you are for some reason in a shadow of land mass and think you are fit enough to walk to higher ground, or walk out of the shadow, then Thuraya should present no problems in Aus. If you are driving through a canyon with high walls and its a long way to get to higher ground, or to clear land, then no network is going to be presenting you with good service. In all of those 'hiking' like cases you really need a PLB.

What other things are considerations for you right now?
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Follow Up By: Member - Wildmax - Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 17:54

Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 at 17:54
Thanks for that informative reply - I'm frequently given cause to appreciate the way in which people on this forum take the trouble to give the benefit of their experience.
We've got two of your three basic questions covered I think - yes, it's Australian use only, and yes we are looking for a separate phone. Cost is part of the continuing research, and there seems to be a fair range of options regarding both phones and plans - but Thuraya seems to fit the bill for our sort of travel and Iridium is clearly top of the heap.
We are on the road an average of five months each year, mainly outback, and we're not looking for daily chats to family or anyone else - we like the solitude, but want to be properly equipped just in case.
And we always have our GME PLB for dire emergencies.
Our travel is mainly four wheel driving and some bushwalking (fairly gentle as befits older folk!)
Thanks again for your helpful information.
Cheers
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Reply By: Baz - The Landy - Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 21:08

Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 21:08
This is what we have and do.

Works for us, and as mentioned by Alan above, keep it in context from an overall cost perspective...!

But hey, this is our preference, and it may not suit others.

Good luck with your deliberations...

Cheers, Baz - The Landy
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 22:41

Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 at 22:41
.
Hey Baz, I had not seen your blog before, but loved your "financial rationale" presented with your requisition for a Satphone.

Your structure for minimisation of call costs is interesting and maybe necessary if you have work-related or family needs, but a 'Satcall' whilst at peace in the Never Never is the last thing I would want. Ours stays connected to the 12v to maintain the battery at peak and constantly connected to the network via an external antenna to minimise delay in the event of an emergency. Our family know that they can call if need be, but otherwise leave us alone. We can chat when we return home.

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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 06:49

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 06:49
Hi Allan,

"Whilst at peace in the Never Never is the last thing I would want"

And for the most part, we are of the same view, in which case we just turn it off (it is an option)...

But by setting it up the way we have gives us the option of having a low cost and continuous communication anywhere in Australia...all for the cost of 1-litre of fuel a day (or a VB for those inclined).

And to put the 1-litre of fuel into context, I came across the Hay Plain a week or so back into a roaring headwind with the TVAN in tow, fuel consumption through the roof - I wouldn't have noticed that 1-litre of fuel that paid for the Sat phone.

Our view has been the Sat phone is expensive to purchase, so put it to good use to make it pay its way...

Cheers, Baz
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 09:05

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 09:05
.
Sure Baz, I understand where you are coming from.

But the first line of your response quoting me may be a Freudian error.
Your omission of ".... but a Satcall..." totally reversed my postulation.

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Follow Up By: Shaker - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 11:07

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 11:07
I have an Iridium satphone, probably only turned it on 2 or 3 times, at only $120 per annum I put it into the same category as other emergency equipment such as, EPIRBs, fire extinguishers, life jackets, insurance policys etc, all things you have that you hope you never have to use.
I wonder if anybody has ever really thought about how much we do spend on things that we hope to never use?

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 11:14

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 11:14
.
It's all called "Insurance" Shaker.

And the amount that each of us has is proportional to our insecurity. lol

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Follow Up By: Member - Wildmax - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 11:28

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 11:28
Thanks Baz, you've certainly covered all options - very useful info. Cheers
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 13:02

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 13:02
Hi Shaker

If you’ve only turned it on 2-3 times it has probably cost you anywhere between $300 to $500 each time you fired it up.

Of course depends on what you paid for it.

In the case of my Iridium Extreme, if I had only turned it on 3 times, that would equate to $600 a pop, making it an expensive bit of kit not earning its keep.

But more importantly, by using mine regularly I ensure it is charged and I’ve got a reasonable level of confidence that it is in good working order, just in case it is called upon to do more than just allow me to talk to Mrs Landy...

Good luck out there...

Cheers, Baz - The Landy
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 13:48

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 13:48
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Baz,

I, for one maybe, cannot follow your logic or mathematics.

Are you saying that if the phone is never turned on then it has cost you nothing?

Surely its cost is the purchase price plus the operating plan charges and you pay this even if you never use it?

Value, as opposed to cost, is what you gain from having the phone available.
This can vary from peace of mind, through social convenience, to life-saving.
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 16:18

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 16:18
Hi Allan

Quite logical.

If you buy it and never switch it on it has cost you say $1,800 (at least in my case).

Now it will always have cost $1,800, but you could look at it and say, if I switch it on twice, it will have cost me $900 to switch it on each time. If it's 100 times than it has cost me $18 each time I switched it on.

Let me help you out further. It is just one simple measure of cost and value...

But let's use tyres, as an example (maybe it's just a phone thingy that confuses it).

If you buy a tyre today for $350 and drive home with it on, say 10 kilometres shop to home there on the Sunshine Coast, than that tyre has cost you $35 per kilometre driven, so far.

But when you do your big outback trip and return with 10,000 kms under the tyre's belt the cost has reduced to $0.035 per kilometre driven...Perhaps it might be a useless measure, for some, but if you were running a trucking fleet it might have some relevance...

No need to explain you aren't running a trucking fleet (are you?).

But hey, let's not get all worked up on that particular point I made.

My blog outlines what we do with our Sat phone and our rationale as too why.

And my point to Shaker is that unless you use it regularly you may not know something has gone amiss when you need to use it - that's Murphy's Law for you...

But each to their own.

My way of looking at it works for me and helps rationalise the purchase on a cost only basis (yes,yes, there are other considerations - that's why we have one).

But hey, Mrs Landy points out that I'm usually wrong at least once per day.

Perhaps today's "wrong" is the way I presented my view...or maybe it is spending (way) too much time debating on an internet forum what is essentially "my viewpoint"

Good luck out there; got to go, Mrs Landy has just asked have I rearranged the sock draw that she's be nagging me about...

Baz - The Landy
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 16:47

Monday, Feb 19, 2018 at 16:47
.
Ha ha Bazz, convenient mathematics. But by your formula, if I buy it and leave it on permanently, it has cost me nothing? (xx.xx dollars divided by infinity = zero)

Enough, lets leave it. lol
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Reply By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Tuesday, Feb 20, 2018 at 09:30

Tuesday, Feb 20, 2018 at 09:30
I have an Iridium 9505 I picked up very cheaply second hand and have a Telstra post paid casual Sim with global roaming that works just fine. Saved our bacon when we broke down in the Scottish Highlands far from mobile coverage.
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Reply By: Zippo - Tuesday, Feb 20, 2018 at 12:01

Tuesday, Feb 20, 2018 at 12:01
Most of the other replies have covered the relative merits of the networks/systems.

Several years back we hired an Iridium (Motorola) 9555 for a 20-day section of an outback journey. Reflecting later on the experience (and economics) we decide to purchase a used Iridium 9505A for our subsequent travels. We sourced a Telstra $10/month casual plan SIM for this (the availability of which has been debated back and forth here for some time).We carried the 9505A on our next couple of journeys. Tiring of the cumbersome antenna configuration, we then upgraded to a 9555 with its more compact (when stowed) antenna arrangement, and used that on our most recent trips in Alaska and Yukon Territory as well as the outback.

Towards the end of the last trip, while staying in a place with no communications other than a phone box, I pulled it out to check operation only to find the antenna "stalk" had fractured about mid-way (*) - this had occurred with the antenna stowed i.e. fully retracted into the handset, presumably due to some lateral force on the antenna "head". Replacement of the antenna on a 9505A is as simple as buy another on ebay or wherever, but the 9555 is a "return to authorised repair centre" with a price tag of $US275 plus shipping.

This isn't to suggest people shouldn't go the 9555 route if that's where their analysis points them, but a cautionary tale on taking care with that model.

(*) the handset is still operative as the cable up the centre of the antenna body is intact, but the top half flapping about suggests it may not remain that way for long in use.
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