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Which Satellite Network and Plan?

For Australian Coverage there are only 4 networks. No Australian operator owns a global satellite network.

The networks are:
  • Iridium
  • Globalstar
  • Thuraya
  • Inmarsat

Here's some discussion on what the different networks offer.

Iridium

A truly global network. In fact it is the ONLY global satellite telephone service provider. It operates by using a constellation of 66 satellites revolving around the earth. Calls are picked up from the handset and passed form satellite to satellite to an Earth Station in Arizona USA where the call is delivered to the global telephone network. Like Globalstar calls in areas closer to the equator can suffer form interruptions as the satellites are spaced further apart.

Coverage: Truly Global, polar regions included.

Pros
  • Global coverage.
  • Small and robust handsets.
  • Good value plans for the heavy user.
  • GPS built in on newer handsets
Cons
  • Calls may be interrupted in areas close to the equator (Cape York, Gulf Country etc.)
  • Casual plans are more expensive than other networks.
  • Low data speeds 2.4 Kbps (some compression gives an apparent speed of 10 Kbps to some applications)
  • Lower voice quality


Globalstar

Similar to Iridium in that it uses a constellation of satellites revolving around the earth. Calls are passed from the satellite to local Gateways (in Australia, Mt Isa, Dubbo and Meekatharra). Calls are not passed between satellites. Using fewer satellites than Iridium, and having to be in range of an earth station means service interruptions can also occur in areas closer to the equator (as mentioned with Iridium) In the Cape York vicinity one would anticipate a service availability of 80%. This does not mean that one can't make calls, just that there may be interruptions. The satellites take 10 to 12 minutes to pass overhead. The "New" constellation of satellites is a vast improvement over the older satellites which have been replaced.

Coverage: Australia Wide but will have reduced availability north of Broome / Townsville.

Pros
  • Inexpensive handsets.
  • Excellent value casual plans.
  • Inexpensive car kits.
  • 38.4 Kbps data with optional kit.
  • Excellent voice quality
Cons
  • Service interruption in far north (southern hemisphere)
  • No SMS facility.
  • Handsets more bulky.
  • No GPS


Thuraya

The Thuraya network relies on two geostationary satellites covering over 140 countries. Being a Geostationary satellite - if you can see the region of the sky where the satellite is located you can make and receive calls. In Australia that means having a view from WNW to North and about 25 to 50 degrees above the virtual horizon depending on location. A paging type function on the handsets (and SatSleeve) provide limited alerts to incoming calls whilst indoor with the antenna stowed.

Coverage: Australia wide + 2/3s of the globe, excludes the Americas, some of Africa and NZ.

Pros
  • Small and robust handsets.
  • Excellent Australian Coverage.
  • Extremely good value casual plans.
  • SMS and fast data (up to 60 Kbps)
  • GPS built in.
Cons
  • Not a global network
  • Variable voice quality


Inmarsat

Like Thuraya this system relies on geostationary satellites. Whilst not truly Global the Inmarsat coverage is more extensive than Thuraya. The satellite view in Australia is more East of North rather than Thuraya's West of North position. Similar to Thuraya the phone can be used indoors if at a window with a view to the satellite.

Coverage: Global, except polar regions.

Pros
  • Mid price handset
  • Reasonable data at up to 20 Kbps compressed (2.4kbps raw)
  • Good coverage
  • Pre-Paid or Post-Paid Plans
Cons
  • No Coverage in Polar Regions
  • Very expensive inbound calls on Pre-Paid



In summary, all the networks will operate in all areas of Australia, some of the time. Terrain (hills, gullies), extreme cloud cover (Thunderstorms), dense foliage and buildings can all limit satellite reception.

If using either of the "constellation" type networks (Iridium and Globalstar) and the terrain is blocking access one simply waits until there is a satellite where the sky is in view. With the Geostationary systems (Thuraya and Inmarsat) it may be necessary to move to a location that brings the satellite into view. ie. With Iridium and Globalstar a restricted (not 360) view of the sky will lead to call drop outs and reduced service availability. With Thuraya and Inmarsat you only need to see a small area of sky - but it has to be the right bit of sky otherwise there is no coverage.

Longevity: No one can really say. At present the Iridium network is due for upgrade - expect this starting in 2017 with no firm completion date. The new network will be backward compatible with legacy handsets. Inmarsat are committed to maintaining functionality and there's often talk of 15 year life for their satellites. Globalstar has just finished launching a bunch of new satellites so one would expect the network to be running in the present state for quite some time. Thuraya have indicated a commitment to the Australasia and European markets, but at this stage don't have spare satellites, but there is indication that an upgrade and redundancy can be expected soon.

One thing to remember when selecting a network is that a satellite failure WILL have an effect on service provision. In the LEO systems (Globalstar and Iridium) such a failure will cause a service degradation. In the GEO sat (Inmarsat and Thuraya) systems a satellite failure could mean extended service unavailability across an entire region.

That said, there are so many users and a commercial argument for all platforms not to leave customers stranded for access permanently due to a satellite failure. To date satellite services have been extremely reliable with short term lack of access more likely due to backend terrestrial system failure than the actual satellite itself.

Restrictions Other limitations are the restrictions posed by some countries on the use and possession of satellite telephones. Presently these countries are known to have restrictions; India, North Korea, Russia, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Chad and Sudan. See this document for further information, but please remember this is historical information and you should check with countries where you intend to travel.

In terms of running cost, the order would go in a list like this (low to high)
  • Thuraya
  • Globalstar
  • Inmarsat
  • Iridium


We can provide a connection that has a standard Australian Mobile Telephone number on all networks. This means that it is very inexpensive to call the satellite telephone and dialing from the phone is just like using an ordinary mobile.

The Inmarsat phone when using Pre-Paid will have a number commencing with 870 so one needs to dial 0011 870... or +870.. to call the unit. Similarly dialling from the Inmarsat phone can be more complex when using Pre-Paid.


Advantages of Australian call routing:
  • Allocation of a standard Australian Mobile Number (inexpensive to call and easy to remember)
  • Easy outbound dialling (just like a mobile phone)
  • Access to 1300 and 1800 numbers
  • Easy to understand nature of call costs


We offer Iridium, Globalstar, Inmarsat and Thuraya on extremely competitive month to month plans. We can supply Inmarsat services on flexible pre-paid plans offering long term validity and the roll over of unused credits, along with post paid plans

If unsure about the right network and plan, please call us on 1300 13 54 57 Being able to supply services on ALL networks available in Australia one of our consultants will be able to work with you to make sure you are on the right network with the right plan best suited to your needs.