Total newb needing some Sat phone basics help.

Rezarf <><

Explorer
Friends I am looking at adding another layer of coms to our overland travels. Since moving to Montana and enjoying more and more solo and remote trips I'd like to add a Sat phone to the mix. I already carry a cell phone, CB and I am a licensed HAM operator but the distances we travel and the remoteness of our trips is leaving me with wanting to add a Sat phone. We often travel with friends, just me and a kiddo, or solo. The HAM traffic isn't as common as area's around Colorado where I used to live, and hitting a repeater isn't always easy to do in the mountains and back country up here. My wife likes the idea of a brief conversation over the basic text functions of the PLB's.

From what I have read I would likely go with an Iridium 9505a phone since we occasionally travel out of the country (with a big trip planned for Australia this fall. The Global feature is nice being that we sometimes enter Canada with our trips.

I have been doing some reading and still have some super basic questions...
  1. Once we have the equipment, is there a subscription needed to activate service? If so, what would you recommend? We only need the phone May-October or so each year.
  2. Would you recommend a different phone other than the Iridium 9505a? We will likely add fresh batteries but the phone seems proven.
  3. Any issue with purchasing a used unit? It looks like $300 is the ballpark price for a complete setup... does that seem about right?
  4. Can you recommend a resource to help me gain the knowledge to do this right the first time?
Thanks in advance-
 

kpredator

Adventurer
Google blue cosmo.
Satcoms store.
Ocens sat plans.

We are looking at purchasing a9505
When we retire , unless something like the
Blue Cosmo actually works.
We had a phone in Africa on a couple trips.
One of the things you need are the
Phone numbers of your emergency,recovery
Help. Such as game park rangers ,air evacuation.recovery help.
On extended trips we will probably have
A membership with flying doctors and
The country’s air ambulance.
I know Botswana has a membership plan
For the heli services.
Good luck
 

shade

Well-known member
Friends I am looking at adding another layer of coms to our overland travels. Since moving to Montana and enjoying more and more solo and remote trips I'd like to add a Sat phone to the mix. I already carry a cell phone, CB and I am a licensed HAM operator but the distances we travel and the remoteness of our trips is leaving me with wanting to add a Sat phone. We often travel with friends, just me and a kiddo, or solo. The HAM traffic isn't as common as area's around Colorado where I used to live, and hitting a repeater isn't always easy to do in the mountains and back country up here. My wife likes the idea of a brief conversation over the basic text functions of the PLB's.

From what I have read I would likely go with an Iridium 9505a phone since we occasionally travel out of the country (with a big trip planned for Australia this fall. The Global feature is nice being that we sometimes enter Canada with our trips.

I have been doing some reading and still have some super basic questions...
  1. Once we have the equipment, is there a subscription needed to activate service? If so, what would you recommend? We only need the phone May-October or so each year.
  2. Would you recommend a different phone other than the Iridium 9505a? We will likely add fresh batteries but the phone seems proven.
  3. Any issue with purchasing a used unit? It looks like $300 is the ballpark price for a complete setup... does that seem about right?
  4. Can you recommend a resource to help me gain the knowledge to do this right the first time?
Thanks in advance-
I didn't see a PLB on your list. If you want global two-way communication and a SAR capability at a lower-than-sat-phone price, take a look at the Garmin inReach products. Depending on your needs, you may find having an inReach and a sat phone on hand makes sense.



The SpaceX Starlink system is worht considering if you can wait for it to go live.

 

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pluton

Adventurer
Having owned only an Inmarsat satphone for a few years, I cannot comment on Iridium other than to say that on paper, it's the best system...but, also the most expensive system. The Inmarsat system requires that you aim the phone to a specific spot in the sky. Iridium doesn't and is more "omnidirectional"...an added convenience when operating the phone in the field.
The prices on the various monthly or prepaid service plans are actually set by the retailers, not the "phone company". So, check many different retailers for different plan options.
If buying used, allow time to test unit AND be able to return it for a refund if there are problems. I never checked the used market; sounds like a way to save money, but watch out for units that have been exposed to salt water, impact, etc.
 

shade

Well-known member
If buying used, allow time to test unit AND be able to return it for a refund if there are problems. I never checked the used market; sounds like a way to save money, but watch out for units that have been exposed to salt water, impact, etc.
Judging from the cost of servicing my ACR PLB, I'd imagine sat phone battery replacement can be expensive, too. If there's a way to confirm the battery's date of manufacture, number of charge cycles, etc., I'd factor that into a used purchase.
 

pluton

Adventurer
Judging from the cost of servicing my ACR PLB, I'd imagine sat phone battery replacement can be expensive, too. If there's a way to confirm the battery's date of manufacture, number of charge cycles, etc., I'd factor that into a used purchase.
Excellent idea. The extra batteries for my Inmarsat iSatphone Pro (Mk.1) weren't very expensive at the time...something like $22 or so, as I recall. They're easily interchangeable, like the cell phones of bygone times. Iridium must be similar?
 

shade

Well-known member
Excellent idea. The extra batteries for my Inmarsat iSatphone Pro (Mk.1) weren't very expensive at the time...something like $22 or so, as I recall. They're easily interchangeable, like the cell phones of bygone times. Iridium must be similar?
No idea, but worth checking by device, IMO.
 

deserteagle56

Adventurer
I have had an Iridium Model 9555 sat phone for several years now because I'm always traveling in remote areas.

Yes, in addition to the phone you will need to get a subscription, and none of them are cheap! There are a bewildering number of plans; if you google them you can see what best suits you. You can "buy" air time - so many minutes a year or a month - so you can use the minutes whenever you need them. Here's one source:

Make sure you get a 12v charger for your sat phone so you can charge the batteries from any vehicle power point. You might also consider a magnetic mobile antenna to put on the roof of your vehicle...its not like a cell phone. If the sat phone antenna doesn't have a clear view of the sky it WILL NOT connect to any satellites so it will not work from inside a vehicle without an external antenna.

And a tidbit of information I learned the hard way - make sure those people you might be calling in an emergency know you have that sat phone - AND that the call, when it comes in to their phone, may show it is originating from some foreign country. I had several people I was trying to call refuse to pick up their phone because their phone was telling them the calls were coming from Australia so they assumed they were scammers.
 

EMrider

Explorer
I carried Sat phone for probably 10 years. Tried both the Globalstar (Immarsat) and the Iridium network and went through at least 4 handsets.

By FAR, the Irdium network is the best. The Globalstar network was so unreliable that I can’t believe they have not been put out of business by lawsuits. No joke, it only worked about 25% of the time. The Iridium network was pretty reliable, but even under good conditions, the quality of the verbal communication with a Sat phone is poor in absolute terms.

A couple years ago I ditched the Sat phone and switched to a Garmin InReach Explorer unit. I am MUCH more satisfied with the InReach. It is a much more reliable system for emergency communication and 100% reliable. It is very easy to send text messages with updates on your whereabouts and the SOS feature for emergencies has been tested by many users.

Good luck with whatever you choose.
R
 

Arclight

SAR guy
Judging from the cost of servicing my ACR PLB, I'd imagine sat phone battery replacement can be expensive, too. If there's a way to confirm the battery's date of manufacture, number of charge cycles, etc., I'd factor that into a used purchase.
If you don't mind taking your life into your own hands, it's possible to service an ACR PLB for about $40. There are Youtube videos on doing this, and a few people who sell aftermarket packs on eBay. The cells are CR-123T (solder tabbed) cells) that are available online.

The PLB has the advantage of being simple, subscription-free and not needing to be charged. It is an SOS-only device, but a very reliable one. I literally trained my 5 year-old son on how to use it if I get hurt.
 

shade

Well-known member
If you don't mind taking your life into your own hands, it's possible to service an ACR PLB for about $40. There are Youtube videos on doing this, and a few people who sell aftermarket packs on eBay. The cells are CR-123T (solder tabbed) cells) that are available online.

The PLB has the advantage of being simple, subscription-free and not needing to be charged. It is an SOS-only device, but a very reliable one. I literally trained my 5 year-old son on how to use it if I get hurt.
Thanks for the tip.

The battery in mine is only a few years out of date, so it's probably still functional, but I should do that. I keep it in my truck as a backup, but I don't backpack with it and an inReach.
 

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Trillium

New member
Shade you might send the ACR PLB for battery replacement. When the battery is replaced they also replace all rubber seals, inspect and test the electrical circuits. They will also send a certification that the unit has been tested. Issue can be cost. Several years ago cost was $125.00. Their are youtube videos that show how to replace the battery yourself. I did not feel comfortable doing it myself but it is your call. I am up for another replacement in 5/2021. I will buy another new unit then as ACR has some smaller units now.

Friends I know also love the inReach also.

I still use the Iridium 9555 and use the emergency plan about $50.00 a month and will on occasion buy extra minutes when out on long trips.

Best of luck.
 
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