Best Satellite Phones

Editor’s note: The following article is not intended to be a ranking, but is only to serve as a list of possible options. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

If there’s one thing that pilots inherently know, it’s the importance of communication and the value of redundancy. While everyone and their kid seems to have a cell phone in their pockets these days, not every location is near a cell tower. Would you be able to connect in an emergency in the backcountry? Satellite phones and communication devices are a solid add to a pilot’s flight bag that ensures communication with the outside world, no matter how remote the location.

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Quicklook: Best Satellite Phones

Best Satellite Phones Options

Satellite phones are an investment, but one that could help you navigate unforeseen situations when you’re traveling in remote areas. Check out these great options.

Iridium 9555

Best for: Backcountry Connectivity

For travelers who find themselves frequently out of range, the Iridium 9555 is a light, compact, solid option. This phone links to a global satellite network, ensuring calls and texts go through. The convenience, however, doesn’t come cheap.

Coverage: Global 

Website: Iridium 9555 information

Size: 5.5 inches by 2.1 inches by 1.2 inches

Battery Life: Up to four hours talk time, 30 hours standby

Resistant to: Weather-resistant keypad

Special Features

  • Can be used on land, water, and in the air 
  • Two-way SMS and email messaging
  • Rugged, industrial-grade design
  • Selectable ring and alert tones

Pros: 

  • Compact design
  • Easy to use and connect to satellites 
  • Internal AIM-based address book
  • Illuminated 200 character display
  • Extensive satellite network

Cons: 

  • Expensive 

Spot X 2-Way Messenger

Best for: Relaying Location 

For travelers who want the peace of mind of staying connected while remote but don’t need voice connectivity, the Spot X 2-way Messenger is a solid option. The device’s GPS chip allows the user to send preselected messages to let others know their status, as well as send and receive text messages. Spot’s mapping interface also allows the user to track progress, send waypoints, or send GPS coordinates to emergency rescue personnel.  

Coverage: Global

Website: Spot

Size: 6.5 inches by 2.9 inches by 0.94 inches

Battery Life: 240 hours (10 days) of battery life in 10 minute tracking mode

Resistant to: Impact, water and dust

Special Features:  

  • Can be submersible up to 1 meter for 30 minutes 
  • Connects via Globalstar satellite network

Pros: 

  •  Has a built-in compass
  •  Budget friendly

Cons: 

  • Keys are small 
  • Some users complain of slow speed

Garmin inReach Mini 2: Best for Compact Design

The Garmin inReach Mini gives pilots a satellite backup for sending text messages, as well as sending preset messages back home with a touch of a button. The compact device also provides access to maps and aerial images through the Garmin Earthmate app. You can also summon help with the one-touch SOS button that sends a message to a search and rescue monitoring center.

Coverage: Global

Website: Garmin

Size: 2 inches by 3.9 inches by 1.03 inches

Battery Life: Up to 14 days at 10-minute tracking send interval; up to 1 year when powered off

Resistant to: May be submerged up to 1 meter for 30 minutes

Special Features

  • Allows user to send an SOS message 
  • Flexible satellite airtime plans
  • Connects via the Iridium satellite network

Pros:

  •  Sends two-way text messages, SOS alerts and location tracking
  •  Compact, rugged design
  •  Includes weather forecasting service and digital compass

Cons: 

  •  Requires a monthly subscription, starting at $14.95 for the most basic service
  •  Some users have complained about slow connectivity speeds

Inmarsat IsatPhone 2: Best for Lightweight Power

The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 is a great satellite phone choice for those who are rough on their gear. The IsatPhone 2 is ruggedized, and operates in extreme temperatures. The phone also supports Bluetooth—a feature that sets it apart.

Coverage: Global

Website: Inmarsat

Size: 6.7 inches by 2.1 inches by 1.5 inches

Battery Life: Up to eight hours of talk time

Resistant to: Extreme cold and heat, resistant to dust, shock and splash

Special Features

  • Supports Bluetooth 
  • Fast satellite network registration 

Pros: 

  • Services include satellite calls, voicemail, text and email messaging, as well as GPS location data
  •  Easy to use

Cons:  

  •  Expensive

Pricing: $845 for device

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator:  Best Budget Bet

When your text messages could use a boost from above, the Zoleo Satellite Communicator is the gadget to have on hand. By tapping into the Iridium satellite network, Zoleo transmits two-way messaging via satellite, cellular, or wi-fi. The benefit is the service follows you, in and out of cellular coverage.

Coverage: Global

Website: Zoleo

Size: 3.58 inches by 2.6 inches by 1.06 inches

Battery Life: 200-plus hours

Resistant to: Water, dust, shock

Special Features

  • Features a simple “check-in” button
  • Sends SMS messages via your smartphone

Pros: 

  • Inexpensive buy-in
  • Compact design
  • Long battery life

Cons:  

  • Monthly subscription required, starting at $20
  • Requires smartphone to send SMS messages

What Is a Satellite Phone? 

In areas with limited or no landline or cellular network connectivity, a satellite phone taps into satellites overhead to establish a connection to landlines, mobile phones, or other satellite phones.

Satellite Phone vs Cell Phone

While cell phones and satellite phones both offer connectivity on the go, it’s going to be the mobile phone in your pocket that turns into a brick when not in range of a cell signal. In remote, austere locations far removed from landlines and cell phone towers, a satellite phone can be a real lifesaver. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between the two devices.

Satellite Phones

  • Not reliant on cell towers, uses satellites for connectivity
  • An expensive option; operational costs are dependent upon how and where they’re used
  • Ideal as backup communication in an emergency situation

Cell Phones

  •  Transmit signals to land-based cell phone towers
  •  Connectivity is established through a network of towers
  •  Cheaper option, however, it could fail in remote areas

What to Consider With Satellite Phones

When choosing how to stay in touch while remote, satellite connectivity can get expensive, fast. The best way to choose what goes in your flight bag is to weigh your needs for communicating with how much you’re willing to spend.

Coverage

Global satellite coverage is an important feature for pilots and anyone using satellite phones and communicating devices to consider because this detail will determine call clarity and network accessibility.

Battery Life

When considering a satellite communication device for your flight bag, determine how often you expect to use it and how that compares to the battery’s expected lifespan between charges. A power backup, such as a spare battery or auxiliary power bank, might be needed.

Size

When choosing your satellite phone or communication device, consider how you intend to keep up with it. The best way to make sure you have it on you when you need it is to carve out a spot for it in your kit bag. 

Stay Connected on the Go

As much as a satellite phone or communication device helps pilots stay in the loop, FLYING keeps you connected with all the latest news in aviation. Lock down your subscription here.

FAQ 

Can I turn my cell phone into a satellite phone?

It is possible to use your mobile phone for texting over a satellite network by using a device, such as the Zoleo satellite communicator.

What is the downside to a satellite phone?

Satellite phones are great for staying in touch, but will get expensive quickly due to pricey per-minute or per-text charges.

Where do you buy satellite phones?

Satellite phones can be purchased online through retailers who specialize in global satellite communications, as well as Amazon.

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