What is the difference between a satellite phone and a cell phone? Cell phones rely on terrestrial networks to complete a call whereas satellite phones rely on orbiting satellites – the satellite is the equivalent of a cell phone mast. This means that sat phones are ideal for individuals travelling in remote locations where there is no cell phone coverage. It also means that satellite phones are essential in case of emergency such as a hurricane or earthquake – often the local cell phone infrastructure is destroyed which makes calls by cell phone impossible.
Although call costs are more expensive using a satellite phone when you are in an area with no traditional communication methods, sat phones are vital. As this map from GSM World shows, there are still vast regions of the world that aren’t covered by GSM networks. Compare this with the Iridium satellite phone network which provides global coverage and you can see how useful satellite phones are.
Another difference between satellite phones and cell phones are the handsets used. Satellite phones have a built in extendable antenna which allows the phone to pick up a satellite signal. Apart from the extendable antenna the handsets are now very similar in size and weight to cell phones making them very easy to carry when travelling.
It is possible to combine the advantages of GSM and satellite networks in one handset. Thuraya SIM cards allow you to roam on compatible GSM networks when in their coverage area. Even better, the Thuraya SG-2520 functions with both a Thuraya SIM card and GSM SIM card with no phone unlocking required. This means that when you are in a GSM coverage area you can use a local SIM card reducing call costs and meaning you only need to carry one handset.
Satellite phones and cell phones both have their advantages but for communication in remote locations a sat phone is the best option.