What is a Mobile Satellite Phone?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A mobile satellite phone is a portable telephone which operates on a satellite network. A number of competing companies offer mobile satellite services (MSS), including Iridium, Thuraya, Globalstar, and Inmarsat. There are a number of settings in which people may use a satellite phone, with these phones typically being employed when people cannot get phone service in any other way.

Mobile satellite phones vary in size, but all rely on a satellite network.
Mobile satellite phones vary in size, but all rely on a satellite network.

The size of a mobile satellite phone can vary. Early models were quite cumbersome to accommodate the bulky antenna needed to reach the satellite. More modern phones are smaller and lightweight, and can in fact look very similar to mobile phones which rely on a land-based network. Depending on the MSS network, a mobile satellite phone may communicate with satellites in low Earth orbit or geosynchronous orbit.

Mobile satellite phones use satellites for telecommunication.
Mobile satellite phones use satellites for telecommunication.

People such as journalists may utilize satellite phones to ensure that they will have access to a phone connection for making calls and transmitting data. This can be important for journalists in remote areas and people working in nations where telecommunications systems are inconsistent or monitored. People who live in areas with poor phone coverage utilize satellite phones for their regular phone coverage. In fact, in Australia, the issue of limited coverage is recognized by the government and in some regions citizens get subsidies from the government when they buy mobile satellite phones.

Many mobile satellite phones also allow for Internet connectivity, and can be networked with a device such as a laptop or tablet computer so that people can send and receive data. This can be especially useful when phones are being used in rescue operations, as responders on the scene of sites such as natural disasters can send data which may be important for people in the outside world to have, ranging from lists of needed supplies to in-depth reports on issues which may be encountered on the ground. Internet connectivity is also useful for journalists filing stories.

Placing calls from a mobile satellite phone tends to be more expensive than using a conventional phone. Calling across the same network is the least expensive, while calling satellite phones on other networks or placing calls to mobile phones and landlines can be quite costly. It is advisable to look up the rates before using a mobile satellite phone to be aware of how much a call may cost. People who are issued satellite phones for work are often advised to keep calls to a minimum to avoid racking up a substantial bill.

A mobile satellite phone can provide internet connectivity for a tablet computer.
A mobile satellite phone can provide internet connectivity for a tablet computer.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Mobile satellite phones are still quite bulky so you need to make sure that you really need one before investing in it. For myself, my family has a remote cabin so purchasing our own mobile satellite phone was worth the expense.

The one thing I really like about mobile satellite phones is the heavy duty cases they come in. These are excellent for long treks and you don't have to worry much about damaging the phones. I remember my wife joking that if we are ever in a apocalypse scenario that at least our phone would make it out in one piece.


For those that enjoy hiking in remote areas investing in the rental of a mobile satellite phone can be well worth the money. Usually you can pick up a rental mobile satellite phone by the week and they can run into the hundreds of dollars. This may seem like a lot but in the case of an emergency you'll be glad you have the phone.

With mobile satellite phones these days they usually come with a GPS feature, so you don't have to worry about figuring out where you are if you are in need of help. I think having the G{S coordinates and instant contact with emergency services is well worth the money.


@JessicaLynn - It's true, the entire world doesn't have cell phone coverage! In fact, like the article said, many parts of Australia don't get service.

I actually have a friend who lives in Australia, and there's no service where she lives. She gets the government subsidy so she can have a mobile satellite phone. I think it's really cool the Australian government does that. Although I guess it isn't essential to have a cell phone, it's good to have in case of emergencies.


I think it's interesting in this day and age there are still phone calls that it's expensive to make! I remember when cell phones first came out they were pretty expensive. In fact, I remember the first cell phones my parents got were strictly for emergencies.

These days, everyone seems to have a cell phone. I've never really thought there might be areas that weren't covered by regular cell phone service, but I suppose it makes sense.

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