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Satellite phone price changes

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Satellite phone price changes

Postby tim » Sun Feb 26, 2012 12:24 pm

If you're thinking of buying a satellite phone for use this summer, then it might be worth acting in the next couple of weeks. Inmarsat has just told its distributors it is raising prices for the ISatPhone Pro handset by about 20%, which will likely increase the current retail price ($500-$650) by about $100 to $150. That is likely to filter through to retail pricing over the next month or so. Not clear yet how airtime prices will be adjusted, but they are not likely to be going down and the price of some low end packages may be increased (that will definitely be the case for prepaid service, but prepaid is only available outside the US).

UPDATE: It appears that the current ISatPhone Pro postpaid price for occasional users (typically $150-$200 per year) may roughly double to somewhere in the $300-$400 per year range.

On the other hand, Globalstar is making some progress with getting its satellite constellation back in working order. Performance will likely be reasonable this summer (they have launched 18 out of the 24 new satellites), though it won't be 100% reliable. California is not that close to a gateway - the nearest one is in Texas, then there is one in Florida, 2 in Canada and 1 in Alaska (performance is best closest to the gateways) so this summer in the Sierra you might count on ~90% chance of being able to make a call at any particular moment (this is on top of a mountain - obviously it will be less in a valley, as for any of these services). At the moment pricing is pretty good, you can buy a phone for $499 (which is nicer than the Inmarsat one) and get unlimited usage for the next year for $39.99 (see http://www.globalstar.com/en/index.php?cid=1250) - this offer is valid until March 31. It is unclear if the airtime plan will be extended further at that time. I wouldn't be surprised to see an extension, but Inmarsat's price rises might also give Globalstar a bit of flexibility to "adjust" their $499 handset price.

Iridium is obviously the premium service in terms of handset price. Their focus is mostly on high end users and premium handsets (with a very nice high end handset launched last fall) which are much more expensive than Inmarsat and Globalstar's price points, so its not clear if they will bother responding to their competitors' moves at this point.

Oh and if you were waiting for regular cellular phones to include satellite capability, like the TerreStar Genus phone that AT&T started offering 18 months ago, then TerreStar went bankrupt in 2010 and is now trying to repurpose its spectrum for terrestrial services (it has been bought by DISH, the satellite TV company). LightSquared, which had similar plans, looks like it will also go out of business in the very near future (the FCC has just blocked its planned 4G terrestrial network because it could potentially have interfered with GPS receivers - think crashing planes, etc.). In other words, Inmarsat, Globalstar and Iridium are likely going to be your only satellite phone choices in North America for the foreseeable future.

BTW I don't work for any of these companies, but my day job is as an analyst covering the satellite industry.
Last edited by tim on Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby maverick » Sun Feb 26, 2012 1:48 pm

Hi Tim

First, thanks for posting this.
In the fine print it read as follows:
" Evolution II Plan is not designed for always-on data communications and does not
qualify for Burst Data Sessions. In order to manage its network fairly, Globalstar
can identify heavy users, analyze the cause of the high usage and consider how
best to advise individual users to modify their patterns and habits. In extreme
cases, Globalstar reserves the right to limit the usage of such heavy users."

Do you know what always-on data communication and Burst Data Sessions refers to?
Love how they promote unlimited airtime, but then in the fine print they reserve the
right to limit the usage of those who they identify as heavy users. Why not just say
limited usage if they do not what you to use the network past a certain time frame.
Comes off as a little deceptive.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby tim » Sun Feb 26, 2012 8:52 pm

Maverick,

With a standalone satellite phone without an external power source, you are unlikely to be able to make more than 1-2 hours of calls in total during a backpacking trip (depending on how often you turn it on and off) due to the limitations of battery life. That certainly wouldn't run into any restrictions.

However, with power you could call a lot more often and in particular you can hook the phone up to a computer or similar and use it as a ~9.6kbps dial-up modem. There are applications (think monitoring an oil pipeline or the flow of a stream) where you might want to report information every hour using either their burst data service or dial-up data. That's what they are trying to prevent, as these customers would be typically offered a considerably more expensive metered data package.

As a result I wouldn't worry too much about the effect of these limitations on even a long term backpacker like Rogue or a PCT hiker who charges the phone up when they get to a resupply point (conceivably a ranger who spends the entire summer in the backcountry and has a power source might run into problems, but even then I doubt they would spend every evening phoning people via satellite phone for the sake of it).

I'd be slightly more concerned about the fact that the Globalstar service is not 100% reliable, but even then its a trade-off between functionality and cost - if you are running an oil rig then being able to make a call at a moment's notice might be worth paying for. However if you're a backpacker then the question is whether you will pay the premium to ensure you are not going to be waiting with a broken leg for 10-20 mins before the next satellite comes along (though of course there will be far fewer coverage gaps like that than in recent years). Maybe if you are going to faint through loss of blood(?), but I would assume there are relatively few cases where the difference between say a 3 hour delay for a helicopter and a 3 hr 15 min delay is critical to survival.
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby maverick » Sun Feb 26, 2012 9:32 pm

Thanks Tim.
Did have a Globalstar Sat phone (still do), but dropped the service because of the bad
experiences with customer service/billing dept, no real major issues with coverage in
the backcountry other than the usual difficulties getting reception in areas where there
was not enough sky, like in canyons or in densely forested areas. Did not really rely on it
as an emergency device, but only to let my wife know that I'm okay in the evenings.
By the way, do you carry one Tim?
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby tim » Sun Feb 26, 2012 9:43 pm

I have a SPOT which I view as good enough for getting help in an emergency (in fact my wife won't let me go without it). I've used all three phones for varying lengths of time - I took an Iridium phone backpacking once but ended up with too many work calls (lots of strange looks when i was doing a 30 min discussion with a client from the middle of the JMT) so I don't usually bother now.
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby fishmonger » Wed Jun 27, 2012 8:31 am

tim wrote:If you're thinking of buying a satellite phone for use this summer, then it might be worth acting in the next couple of weeks. Inmarsat has just told its distributors it is raising prices for the ISatPhone Pro handset by about 20%, which will likely increase the current retail price ($500-$650) by about $100 to $150. That is likely to filter through to retail pricing over the next month or so. Not clear yet how airtime prices will be adjusted, but they are not likely to be going down and the price of some low end packages may be increased (that will definitely be the case for prepaid service, but prepaid is only available outside the US).

UPDATE: It appears that the current ISatPhone Pro postpaid price for occasional users (typically $150-$200 per year) may roughly double to somewhere in the $300-$400 per year range.


it is almost July, and I can still buy the phone for $599 anywhere, and monthly minimum plans are cheaper than last year $29.95 includes 10 mins, each add. for $1.something - and no minimum contract time, i.e. I can sign up, use it for 2 months and then park it for the next 10 months. Still wished they could sort out their prepaid cards in the US, but apparently that's not happening, 2 years now and no progress.

Haven't decided yet on what to buy but I'll make a choice in the coming weeks. Iridium prepaid is still ridiculously overpriced with their short term expiration, but their phones do work better in the mountains - you really don't want to break your leg when there's a rock face south west of you that obscures the horizon to about 50 degrees when you have an Inmarsat Phone.

Gotta look into Globalstar, too, now that they are getting their network sorted. Maybe they are trying to be more comptetitive, now that their phones may actually work?
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby fishmonger » Wed Jun 27, 2012 8:45 am

tim wrote:I have a SPOT which I view as good enough for getting help in an emergency (in fact my wife won't let me go without it). I've used all three phones for varying lengths of time - I took an Iridium phone backpacking once but ended up with too many work calls (lots of strange looks when i was doing a 30 min discussion with a client from the middle of the JMT) so I don't usually bother now.



why would you give that number to clients or office? ](*,)

I sure hope they had to pay the $9.99 per minute land line uses pay when calling Iridium :unibrow:

By the way, if you actually want work to call you, tell them to check with VOIP providers, because if you use tools like Skype or similar software, you can find rates under $2/minute to call Sat phones in the field. On the other hand, I just wouldn't turn my phone on unless I was going to call out anyway.
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby fishmonger » Wed Jun 27, 2012 9:09 am

tim wrote:At the moment pricing is pretty good, you can buy a phone for $499 (which is nicer than the Inmarsat one) and get unlimited usage for the next year for $39.99 (see http://www.globalstar.com/en/index.php?cid=1250) - this offer is valid until March 31. It is unclear if the airtime plan will be extended further at that time. I wouldn't be surprised to see an extension, but Inmarsat's price rises might also give Globalstar a bit of flexibility to "adjust" their $499 handset price.

Globalstar did extend the offer - probably didn't stir up a lot of new business

http://www.globalstar.com/en/index.php?cid=1250 good through Sept 1.

Since I don't plan to use the phone for anything but emergencies doesn't outweigh the still existing holes in their network for me. Plus, with 12 months minimum term, that's $480 for the minimum plan to use a Globalstar phone, except I only need one for 4 - 6 weeks per year at the most - I don't live near the mountains, so weekend adventures are not on my schedule.

Since now you are able to sign up for monthly service without cancelation penatly on Iridum or Inmarsat phones makes the Globalstar deal a much less appealing offer, even if I have to pay $1.50 per minute or more when I do use the phone.

I'll have to make up my mind soon if I want to bring a phone next month for a JMT with a lot of off-trail hiking. Still have a Spot and just renewed for a year, so I may put this off until my solo trip in late fall.

Here's the place that offers plans without long term commitment for Iridium and Inmarsat

http://www.roadpost.com/Iridium-Phone-S ... 5C280.aspx
http://www.roadpost.com/IsatPhone-Pro-S ... 2C404.aspx
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby tim » Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:58 am

fishmonger wrote:Globalstar did extend the offer - probably didn't stir up a lot of new business

http://www.globalstar.com/en/index.php?cid=1250 good through Sept 1.

Since I don't plan to use the phone for anything but emergencies doesn't outweigh the still existing holes in their network for me. Plus, with 12 months minimum term, that's $480 for the minimum plan to use a Globalstar phone, except I only need one for 4 - 6 weeks per year at the most - I don't live near the mountains, so weekend adventures are not on my schedule.

Since now you are able to sign up for monthly service without cancelation penatly on Iridum or Inmarsat phones makes the Globalstar deal a much less appealing offer, even if I have to pay $1.50 per minute or more when I do use the phone.

I'll have to make up my mind soon if I want to bring a phone next month for a JMT with a lot of off-trail hiking. Still have a Spot and just renewed for a year, so I may put this off until my solo trip in late fall.

Here's the place that offers plans without long term commitment for Iridium and Inmarsat

http://www.roadpost.com/Iridium-Phone-S ... 5C280.aspx
http://www.roadpost.com/IsatPhone-Pro-S ... 2C404.aspx


The price for Inmarsat used to be $180 per year including 60 mins of calls, so its gone up significantly for those actually wanting a continuous subscription. Handset price rises have been offset a little by incentives, though you used to be able to find the Inmarsat handset for $499 with a bit of work (though it depended on the package you took).

The signup without cancellation penalty definitely helps for a summer-only user. As you say, prepay for Inmarsat would be better (though that's now looking a lot more similar to Iridium - used to be able to get 20 mins for $20 with 2 years validity outside the US), but that's not happening anytime soon here in the US.

I'm tempted by the DeLorme InReach, now its iPhone compatible. Would be nice to have two-way messaging but no chance of being bothered by phone calls. However, you do have the problem of needing a 12 month subscription (and it costs money to downgrade to the lower plan level in the winter).
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby fishmonger » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:50 am

Price check September 2012 - I may buy one in the coming days, and here is what I have seen over the last week:

Inmarsat SatPhone Pro handsets seen on ebay any day $499, also down to $449 as store demo with full warranty

Inmarsat now offers pre-paid cards for US users as well - for example, I saw a 100 minute card with 2 year expiration for $142, which means I can have a sat phone for less than a Spot basic contract with enough free minutes for the 2-year period.

Iridium phones - 9575 sell on ebay for sub $1000 factory new if you look around (one sold for $885 last week), a used 9555 can be found for $700 with a hefty minutes package included.

Monthly contracts for Iridium with no early cancelation penalty can be found as low as $40 and for Inmarsat at $30, plus $1.nn for minutes. Both support SMS messaging at lower rates than air time and receive free text messages.

In spite of the much more competitive airtime and handset pricing for Inmarsat phones, I am decided to go with Iridium: the main reason for me is to have it work anywhere in emergencies, not just where I have no mountain between me and the one and only stationary satellite the Inmarsat device needs to connect to. Meanwhile, Globalstar is still 6 satellites short of switching to their new network. They may become a valid third choice once they get that all working, but right now I wouldn't consider them a choice for my needs.
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby fishmonger » Fri Sep 21, 2012 11:35 am

changed my mind and got an Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro after all, since the airtime is dramatically cheaper for my random emergency-only use. Paid $485 (factory refurb with warranty) for the phone, plus $142 for a 2 year 100 minute sim card. That's less per year than the basic Spot plan, but I can voic call anyone, can send and receive text messages to save air time.

I'll be taking it way north in October testing it from Isle Royale in Lake Superior, next year will be able to test it in the Sierra my findings. If the reception is an issue in locations such as Whitney's Mountaineer's route, I may change to Iridium in the future, but for now it's a huge upgrade from the Spot (unsubscribing today) and I am looking forward to getting regular weather updates via SMS while I am alone in the middle of nowhere. The only time the Isatphone could be at a disadvantge to Iridium phones is in emergencies while in deep canyons or north of a mountain face with the satellite blocked from view and no chance to move to a place with reception. I'll chance it the first time out and see what happens.

Basically, before I decided to go with Inmarsat, I looked back at any incdient in the past when I would have liked to have a phone handy in the Sierra to call a doctor/nurse or get weather info. It turns out I was always in a place where this phone would have worked just fine without having to move to a different location. In fact, other than Mountaineer's route and maybe deep in Le Conte Canyon and somewhere down in the Fish Creek Valley south of Reds Meadow, I can't think if of any place where I'd have problems with the satellite lock at 45 degrees southwest.
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Re: Satellite phone price changes

Postby tim » Thu Oct 04, 2012 7:07 pm

fishmonger wrote:changed my mind and got an Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro after all, since the airtime is dramatically cheaper for my random emergency-only use. Paid $485 (factory refurb with warranty) for the phone, plus $142 for a 2 year 100 minute sim card. That's less per year than the basic Spot plan, but I can voic call anyone, can send and receive text messages to save air time.


You need to be careful. Inmarsat have just changed the prepaid vouchers so they expire far more quickly (see http://www.satphonecity.com/categories/ ... ne-prepaid for an example of how it now scales with amount added - the 100 mins card will now only last 180 days). Any new vouchers will expire in a lot less than 2 years. Its unclear what happens to existing vouchers - I've heard rumors that they may be changed retrospectively at the end of this year, but don't know what was eventually decided, so check with your provider.

I've been using an inReach this summer. I'll write up a review soon, but suffice it to say I don't feel the need for a satphone now: it has all the advantages of SPOT tracking, plus 2 way text messaging (for a lot less than 50 cents a text) and included maps on your iPhone. The equipment is a lot cheaper and smaller than the satphone, though running costs will come out about the same (~$200 a year, depending on how you manage the upgrades/downgrades/seasonal packages). And I don't get calls from the office, though I could tweet from the top of Mt Whitney!
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