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Over the last few years the demand for satellite phones has increased
exponentially. Although they are now cheaper, user friendly and more
available than ever, the average consumer is still confused. The
average consumer needs to understand the basic terms, the specific
uses, the product he needs and the company to buy it from. With so
many products on offer, how do you know which is the right one for
you?

The increase in the demand for satellite phones is a result of business,
travel and technology development, which have led to the increased
human exploration of 'remote and wild corners' on Earth. Today more
and more satellite companies are supplying this high demand,
creating a competitive market. And yet, as you will see in the following
examples, not all satellite phone companies were created equal. In
other words, these companies provide a wide range of services, but
there is no one all encompassing system that can outperform its rivals
in all areas. Each one of them has certain strengths and certain
weaknesses.

Once you decide that you need to use a satellite phone, you need to
decide which satellite network is best for you. You must assess what
functions are most valuable to you. Do you need total global coverage?
Do you need the ability to send and receive data? Do you want
something that is easy to carry? Once you are clear about these
questions and about what to expect from satellite communication, then
you are able to make your decision from a more informed and
confident position.

The four satellite phone companies that have gained wide spread
popularity are Inmarsat, Iridium and Globalstar. Although they are all
attempting to meet the same demand, they each offer different
options. Here's a basic overview of some of their strengths and
weaknesses.

Inmarsat
The first mobile satellite system to be conceived, is a great example of
how the technology has emerged from a niche market and been made
available to all. Originally designed for the maritime industry, they now
have over 100,000 registered satellite phone terminals. Inmarsat
covers most of the earth with the exception of the poles. They offer
laptop size phones, not as portable as Iridium or Globalstar. Their
phones are capable of high speed data of up to 64kbps, including fax
built in capability.

The Inmarsat network consists of four geo-stationary satellites
35,600km above the Earth. The satellites are positioned at equatorial
points over the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Eastern and
Western sides of the Atlantic. The 'footprint' created by this
configuration is able to provide almost total global communication
coverage with the exception of the Poles. The first advantage that
this gives Inmarsat - once a signal is sent to a satellite, its individual
'footprint' is often large enough to deliver that signal to its destination
without having to transfer via another satellite first. This minimizes
the risk of the signal being lost.

Inmarsat terminals are much larger when compared to modern
laptop computers. Inmarsat rivals - Iridium and Globalstar, use
handsets that are far more akin to cellular phones, which it is claimed,
weigh less and are easier to use. Nevertheless, Inmarsat phones can
outperform its rivals in their ability to transfer data and faxes. This
lends Inmarsat much more effectively to the setting up of semi-
permanent offices where along side voice facilities, more capable fax
and data services are required. When used in this capacity
Inmarsat's size ceases to become such an issue.

Another satellite phone company is Iridium. This is probably the most
famous, or rather notorious, of the satellite systems on the market. In
1999 they very publicly went bankrupt, but Motorola Inc. stepped in
and settled their debts. Iridium Satellite System is the only provider
of truly global, truly mobile satellite voice and data solutions with
complete coverage of the Earth including oceans, airways and Polar
regions. Through a constellation of 66 low-earth orbiting (LEO)
satellites operated by Boeing, Iridium delivers essential
communications services to and from remote areas where terrestrial
communications are not available. The service is ideally suited for
industrial applications such as heavy construction, defense/military,
emergency services, maritime, mining, forestry, oil and gas and
aviation.

Iridium meets the needs of cellular users who roam outside of
coverage areas, people who work in remote areas where terrestrial
systems do not exist, Residents of under-served markets who can
use Iridium's fixed-site phones to satisfy their needs for basic
telephony, and international travelers who need to keep in constant
touch. The Iridium constellation consists of 48 LEO (Low Earth Orbiting)
satellites, with an additional four satellites in orbit as spares, and
operates at an altitude of 876 miles (1414 km) in space.

Globalstar has envisioned their customers as people who were
working on the fringes of cellular networks, crossing in and out of
coverage areas. Therefore they designed a handset that would work
on both the cellular AMPS and CDMA networks and, the Globalstar
network. Globalstar covers most major global regions and provides
better call quality than Iridium. They offer portable handset and fixed
units.

Globalstar is the world's most widely-used handheld satellite phone
service, providing high-quality, low-cost voice and data services to
businesses, communities and individuals around the world. The
Globalstar network was developed specifically with the business
traveler in mind. They envisioned their customers as people who were
working on the fringes of cellular networks, crossing in and out of
coverage areas. Therefore they designed a compact tri-band handset
that would work on both the cellular AMPS and CDMA networks and,
the Globalstar network of 48 Low Earth Orbiting satellites. These
satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude of 875 miles.

The downside of the Globalstar system is its coverage area. By
operating on the AMPS and CDMA standards they have limited
themselves to the localities where those standards are supported. At
the moment this includes the Americas, Russia, and parts of Asia.
Likewise their satellite network coverage area is limited compared to
those of its rivals. They can only offer service in about 100 countries,
their territorial waters and some mid ocean waters.

Globalstar, like Inmarsat have developed their data and fax transfer
capabilities, using a laptop or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) email
and Internet access are possible, but like their voice service, they can
only offer limited coverage. The phones are designed to switch
seamlessly between the cellular networks and the satellite network,
even during a call. The phone will always use the cellular networks if
available. Only when these are not available will they link to the
satellite network. By using this method the idea was to offer the best
cost effective service, you would only use the more expensive
satellite service when there was no alternative.

Thuraya offers portable phone with coverage in most of Europe,
Northern Africa, Middle East and western Asia (No North American
Coverage). Smaller than Iridium or Globalstar and GSM cell
capabilities built in for dual usage. Not as secure as Globalstar or
Iridium, with averaqe voice quality. Thuraya was the first mobile
satellite service to truly integrate satellite and terrestrial mobile
services through one handset, allowing users to move freely in and
out of terrestrial coverage or within structures which impede satellite
coverage.

Thuraya provides a range of cellular-like voice and data services over
a large geographic region. The Thuraya ground segment includes
terrestrial gateways plus a collocated network operations center and
satellite control facility in the UAE. The Thuraya coverage area
encompasses the Middle East, North and Central Africa, Europe,
Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Thuraya offers GSM-
compatible mobile telephone services, transmitting and receiving
calls through each satellite's 12.25-meter-aperture reflector.

So as you can see, the decision is not easy, though the information
above should provide the basic grounds for reaching a decision.


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