Satellite phones – explanation

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Away from developed areas, for example in forests, on expeditions or on the high seas, it is rarely possible to make calls via the known network because mobile phone reception is weak or non-existent.

Making calls with a satellite phone

Satellite phones are used where normal networks cannot ensure sufficient accessibility . This can be particularly helpful in dangerous situations.

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This is how a satellite phone works

A distinction is made between two connections, one-way and two-way communication. Satellite telephones provide the necessary connection in both directions. The connection is set up by radio from the outgoing telephone to the satellite , which forwards the telephone call and the data to a remote station on earth, from this ground station the conversation is routed into the telephone network and finally lands the recipient ‘s side .

Costs of telephony via these systems

As with the mobile phone network in Germany, the costs for this system are always a question of the provider. First you need an appropriate device, for example the Isatphone pro, Thuraya xt or a similar model. In comparison, the purchase price for the phones in this category is very different for all models. Some models can be purchased from 500 euros, some cost well over 1000 euros, which always depends on the manufacturer and the satellites used .

The menu and the structure of these phones are quite simple and easy to understand for most people. Outgoing calls are charged per minute and the price is between 0.70 euros and 2.00 euros.

Differences between providers

Providers of this telephony rely on the connection through satellites ; these differ in their movement and positioning , which influences the communication between them.


Satellites from the provider Inmarsat are in geostationary orbit and always cover the same area of ​​the earth. Due to the high positioning of 36,000 km, only three satellites are necessary to fully cover this area and ensure good connectivity without additional networks around the world. The signal is forwarded from one of these satellites to the 29 ground stations, ensuring safety, especially on the high seas, through better network coverage .


Globalstar ‘s satellite communication network uses 48 satellites at an altitude of 1,400 km. What is important here is that a clear conversation can only be established if there is a corresponding ground station in the satellite’s coverage area; the situation is similar with the provider Inmarsat.


The satellites from the provider Iridium are also in low Earth orbit, with around 66 satellites moving at an altitude of around 780 kilometers. Communication with the appropriate Iridium 9555 telephone via this network is basically possible from anywhere, provided there is a clear view of the sky; the pole regions in particular are particularly well covered by the Iridium network .


The utility Thuraya started its service in 2000 with satellites in geosynchronous transfer orbits at an altitude of around 36,000 km. This means that the orbital period of Thuraya’s satellites around the Earth corresponds exactly to their rotation period. Telephony works with the corresponding Thuraya xt cell phone, purely via a satellite and without the known mobile networks.


The different satellites for satellite telephony have been positioned in different orbits by the providers, which means that they have different altitudes, which has advantages and disadvantages. The communication between the satellites and the forwarding of voice via ground stations and the telephone network play a role.

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Geostationary orbits are located at an altitude of almost 36,000 km above the earth’s surface, while LEO satellites are positioned at an altitude of 780 to 1400 km, which offers a much faster transmission of data; radio contact with the ground station is around 15 minutes per earth orbit . Due to the network-like structure, depending on the provider, several such ground stations are required to establish a connection ; due to the positioning, the Thuraya only requires one station to be reachable with the satellite cell phones .

Requirements and security

In order to use these systems for telephone calls, a satellite phone and a corresponding tariff from the provider are required. Furthermore, there must be visual contact with the satellite; a good connection is rarely possible inside buildings, ravines or cars. With the help of extensions such as an external antenna, satellite phones get a better connection, this allows the phone to have a good connection even inside buildings, near windows, or inside cars.

The use of satellite telephones was considered particularly safe and secure for a long time, but it is now also possible to listen in on conversations, depending on the provider. Globalstar, on the other hand, divides incoming calls into different data streams, which is done encrypted, making it almost impossible to intercept incoming calls from such devices.

Satellite telephony via smartphone

Most people don’t use this option; they use a normal smartphone for telephony, which is usually absolutely sufficient. Almost every country has sufficient network coverage to enable a clear conversation. In remote areas , at sea or in forests, good contact with your cell phone is rarely possible due to the lack of a network . Here you can use the advantages of a satellite phone with your smartphone if you equip it accordingly. With an additional device and the appropriate app, you can use your smartphone like a satellite phone, which ensures ongoing operations and a good connection to civilization, even away from busy areas. In contrast to the classic satellite phone , no additional devices or cell phones are required; the existing smartphone is simply upgraded.

This small satellite communicator measures only a few centimeters and fits easily into your luggage. The smartphone is equipped with the appropriate app and can now be connected to the small communicator via Bluetooth . The device now establishes a connection to the system and the satellites and complements the smartphone. It is now possible to send an email, SMS, status reports or even emergency calls. The communicator establishes a connection to the satellite and sends the data from the end device.

Satellite phones are basically a good way to maintain contact in areas without a mobile phone network . This is particularly helpful in dangerous situations; such an investment often does not make sense for everyday use. If you’re an adventurer who wants to explore remote areas on your own or are often away from civilization and the mobile phone network , such a purchase is definitely worthwhile.


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