What is a satellite phone and when do I need one?

Satellite phones have been in use for over two decades, yet there is still an air of confusion surrounding what they are and who they are used by.

The use of satellite phones is diverse, and they prove indispensable to a wide range of operations, businesses, and individuals. In a world of smartphones and 5G, it is easy to dismiss such rugged equipment, but satellite phones are crucial to many areas of modern life.

What are satellite phones?


A satellite phone is a mobile device that connects to the telephone network through satellites, rather than relying on terrestrial cell sites as cell phones do. This means that with a satellite phone you can stay connected in areas where cellular cover is not possible – for example, in the mountains, the desert, or the Poles.

Satellite networks are either Geostationary (GEO) or Low Earth Orbit (LEO). GEO satellites orbit above the equator, while LEO satellites orbit closer to the earth, and much more quickly.

Due to the curvature of the earth, GEO satellites cannot provide continuous service beyond a certain latitude, whereas a constellation of LEO satellites provides continuous, global coverage as the satellite moves. The low latency nature of LEO satellites allows for faster communications, while GEO networks often experience lag.

Satellite phones that utilise LEO networks are therefore indispensable to workers or individuals in remote areas of the planet, as they offer truly global coverage that is robust and reliable, while phones that utilise GEO networks act as a more affordable alternative to those whose needs are not as far reaching.

You may be surprised by the multitude of ways satellite phones can aid everyday life, ranging from operations and businesses, to the individual.

Who uses satellite phones?

Remote workers

Satellite phones enable those who work in remote locations to stay connected, even when well out of reach of cellular coverage.

This includes scientists based in areas such as the Polar Regions, soldiers conducting training or military operations, crews upon fishing vessels, and many more.

Satellite phones make these areas of work more efficient and easier than ever before. For example, a merchant seaman is able to speak to coastguards and other ships clearly rather than relying on radio, while scientists in remote corners of the world can communicate with each other and their headquarters effortlessly.

Workers also have a method of keeping in touch with friends and family; satellite phones can both make and receive calls.

Disaster response

Perhaps the most important use of satellite phones is for disaster aid.

Local infrastructure is often damaged when disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, or hurricanes strike, making cellular coverage impossible. Satellite phones enable coverage beyond terrestrial communications, which is vital to first responders who must be able to act quickly, and offers a fail-safe contingency plan.

In such scenarios, a satellite phone could mean the difference between life and death, as response teams are able to coordinate more effectively and act much more quickly.

An increasing number of people are buying personal satellite phones to protect themselves against losing contact in the event of disaster. A satellite phone is the only way to have a phone that will always work, no matter what.

The individual

People all across the world enjoy activities such as hiking, sailing, exploring, or remote hunting to get away from civilisation and enjoy nature.

However, this doesn’t always work out as planned. There are several risk factors involved when venturing into the wilderness, and being able to reach help if you need to is essential.

It is extremely likely that you won’t have phone service in these remote areas – a satellite phone offers a reliable solution, acting as a lifeline to emergency calls.

More simply, even those who decide to go off the grid often want a way to contact home. This is particularly useful for business persons who wish to contact their colleagues or tune into conference calls while holidaying in remote areas, such as the mountains or the seas.

With a satellite phone, staying connected is guaranteed.


The data speeds offered by satellite phones may seem outdatedly slow (ranging from 128bps to 1.4Mbps), but this is more than enough for the functions they perform.  In the most remote corners of the planet you can’t expect 5G connection, but with a satellite phone you can browse the web or send emails wherever you are. Many devices also have a built in USB port, meaning you can connect your laptop or smartphone to the network too.

Phones that connect to GEO satellite networks experience issues such as interrupted coverage, non-global reach, and sensitivity to obstacles such as buildings or mountains that block connection.  However, satellite phones that connect to LEO networks do not experience such issues, and offer truly global coverage.


Cellhire offers satellite phones that fall under each of these categories, as the former acts as a cheaper alternative for explorers and sailors who stay within the 70th north and south parallels, while the latter acts as a fail-safe option to those in need of truly global coverage.


These come in the form of the Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 and two models of Iridium phone respectively. If you’re cost conscious and apprehensive to buy, you can rent these satellite phones from Cellhire so you can stay safe and connected anywhere on the planet for an affordable price.

Although guaranteeing global coverage, it is important you research local laws before you travel as some countries don’t permit the use of satellite devices.

Visit the Cellhire website out find out more.