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Best satellite phones and communicators in 2022

Included in this guide:

Best satellite phones
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best satellite phones were once only used by government agencies, spies and well-heeled yachtsman - but they are now easy to buy and relatively inexpensive while offering you a lifeline to the world, wherever you roam.. 

Anyone traveling – by truck, boat, foot, or air – to a remote location now has a way to communicate where a normal cellphone can't get signal. You might throw a sat phone in the pack for emergencies when hiking, or use it to keep in touch with loved ones while traveling. You may operate remote staff and need to monitor their location or progress from the office.

Getting started is just like picking up a standard phone; you can get them from online retailers and add monthly plans or use pre-paid cards. The latter, with limited number of minutes and texts, might well suit those who travel intermittently; just search Amazon for a prepaid card with a SIM for your satellite network and destination, or buy one in a bundle. Oh, and when you’re calling don’t forget you need the international dialing code.

What sets the ‘sat phone’ apart is, of course, the satellites; cellular masts – for clear economic reasons – have grown up in towns, cities and near major highways. Because it’s at a different angle to the earth’s surface, each can cover much more land. Inmarsat, the first network originally designed for mariners, covers most of the planet with a handful of geosynchronous satellites. These orbit the equator, never moving relative to the ground, but as you go north and south they get nearer the horizon (in hilly terrain you might not ‘see’ the satellite at all). The best satellite phones were once only used by government agencies, spies and well-heeled yachtsman - but they are now easy to buy and relatively inexpensive while offering you a lifeline to the world, wherever you roam.. 

Anyone traveling – by truck, boat, foot, or air – to a remote location now has a way to communicate where a normal cellphone can't get signal. You might throw a sat phone in the pack for emergencies when hiking, or use it to keep in touch with loved ones while traveling. You may operate remote staff and need to monitor their location or progress from the office.

Getting started is just like picking up a standard phone; you can get them from online retailers and add monthly plans or use pre-paid cards. The latter, with limited number of minutes and texts, might well suit those who travel intermittently; just search Amazon for a prepaid card with a SIM for your satellite network and destination, or buy one in a bundle. Oh, and when you’re calling don’t forget you need the international dialing code.

What sets the ‘sat phone’ apart is, of course, the satellites; cellular masts – for clear economic reasons – have grown up in towns, cities and near major highways. Because it’s at a different angle to the earth’s surface, each can cover much more land. Inmarsat, the first network originally designed for mariners, covers most of the planet with a handful of geosynchronous satellites. These orbit the equator, never moving relative to the ground, but as you go north and south they get nearer the horizon (in hilly terrain you might not ‘see’ the satellite at all). 

The alternative is Low Earth Orbit, in which the satellites move relative to the Earth’s surface, spending only a few minutes useable in any one place. The biggest of these is Iridium, with 66 satellites that the whole planet.

As well as full-blown satellite phones, you should also consider the satellite communicators. These are smaller devices that offer text or data services - so you can check in loved ones and get help in an emergency. And these often also link to your standard mobile phone if you need to actually speak to someone.

Satellite technology is ideal for calling and texting from remote locations (including oceans), but you’ll always need to be outside and get your antenna the best view of the sky you can to ensure you get a signal. Be aware that satellite technology suffers some latency (delay) since your signals have a long way to travel, but you’ll never be out of touch.

Best satellite phones in 2022

(Image credit: Iridium)

1. Iridium 9555

Best satellite phone for backpackers

Specifications
Network: Iridium
Weight: 247g
Dimensions: 140 x 270 x 60mm
Talktime: 3-4h
Standby: 30h
Display: Mono LCD
Waterproofing: Waterproof keypad
Data connection: 2.4kbps
Other features: Speaker, Mini USB data connection (20Kbps)
Reasons to buy
+
Cheap access to Iridium
+
Mange bills with call timer feature
+
Clear backlit screen
+
Mini-USB data port
Reasons to avoid
-
Not dust tight

The Iridium 9555 starts out looking a bit like a bulky version of a typical 90’s cell phone with a stubby antenna, but it actually extends over 12cm and can be angled to pick up a satellite signal without craning your neck. The case design and button layout seem to owe something to the Nokia 2110 and other phones of that era too, with a central menu up/down key flanked by two action buttons and call keys beneath that. This is a design which works for many, making this handset very easy to cope with, even with gloved hands in cold conditions. 

The phone includes short email capability and the ability to receive as well as send SMS and, usefully for those inclined to travel in one country, the option to program in a preferred international dialing code. This handset makes a lot of sense if you’re driving or working in remote locations, whatever the latitude, and able to keep the phone charged; campers will need to charge daily.

(Image credit: Iridium)

2. Iridium Extreme 9575

Best satellite phone for emergencies

Specifications
Network: Iridium
Weight: 247g
Dimensions: 140 x 60 x 27mm
Talktime: 4h
Standby: 30h
Display: 200 characters
Waterproofing: IP65
Data connection: 2.4kbps
Other features: Integrated SOS, GPS, Tracking, Google Maps compatible Location Link sending
Reasons to buy
+
Location aware
+
Rugged design
+
SOS button
+
Location tracking
Reasons to avoid
-
Limited battery

The Iridium 9575 Extreme, has a lot in common with its older relative, the Iridium 9555, but brings fully certified durability standard compliance for water jet and dust protection meeting military standards (810F). That, combined with the 99% global coverage, makes this an ideal device for travelers heading into rough environments, or off the beaten track. The integrated tracking can also help with business operation or automatically reassuring relatives.

This is still a relatively bare-bones device with a distinctly average battery life; 160 character texts feel a little retro in the 2020s, but get the job done and perhaps more significant is the inclusion of a programmable emergency button which is backed by the GEOS international emergency response centre, or SEND (Satellite Emergency Notification). If you lift the cap and press the button, critical rapid response will be activated and take advantage of the phone’s location data.

(Image credit: Inmarsat)

3. Inmarsat IsatPhone 2

Best sat phone for sailing

Specifications
Network: Inmarsat-4
Weight: 318g
Dimensions: 169 x 75 x 36mm
Talktime: 8h
Standby: 160h
Display: Color screen (with Gorilla Glass)
Waterproofing: IP65, IK04
Data connection:
Other features: Magnetometer, Speaker, Bluetooth handsfree
Reasons to buy
+
Incredibly compact
+
Cheap route to satellite protection
+
Button backup to phone use
+
SOS Key
Reasons to avoid
-
Doesn’t replace a phone

The IsatPhone 2 is the only handset easily found on the Inmarsat network and with its sturdy build and fold-out antenna is ideal for remote travelers. It is especially well suited to sailing while hikers and mountaineers nearer the north and south might have reasonable concerns that, in valleys, finding a signal might be an issue. Outdoorsmen thinking of sticking near the Equator (Florida, for example) will have nothing to worry about. Wherever you are, you will appreciate the configurable emergency button, impossible to press by accident thanks to a flap. 

The phone’s menus aren’t technically amazing to the smartphone generation, but there is a straightforward contacts database (remember the country code). You can also send 160-character text messages; after composing your message and hitting send you do need to remember to keep holding the antenna toward the sky, though thankfully it can be easily repositioned. You can also send a text/email/tweet with your GPS location, and if a signal isn’t immediately found, a built-in compass is activated.

(Image credit: Thuraya )

4. Thuraya X5-Touch

Best sat phone and smartphone combo

Specifications
Network: Thuraya
Weight: 262g
Dimensions: 145 x 78 x 24mm
Talktime: 11h
Standby: 100h
Display: 5.2-inch 1080P color screen
Waterproofing: IP67 Dust & Water protection
Data connection: 60kBps up / 15kBps down
Other features: USB-C data connection, camera, Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi, SOS button
Reasons to buy
+
Includes Android OS
+
Rugged IP67 waterproofing
+
Dual Sim
+
Front and rear cameras
Reasons to avoid
-
No satellite coverage in Americas

With obvious applications for filmmakers, travelling aid workers, and those on energy projects who are always on the move, the X5-Touch brings the ability to pack trusted apps and a phone you can use when you’re in coverage areas in one handy unit. Like other Android devices, there are front (8MP) and selfie (2MP) cameras, and even a panorama picture mode. It’s not the most up-to-date version of Android, at version 7, and there is no 5G support, however this isn’t a device for people planning on remaining in 5G places, and all the key apps are available.

More disappointingly for many, the Thuraya satellite network doesn’t cover the Americas, though of course in GSM/LTE/UTMS mode the handset can be used pretty much anywhere there is a traditional signal. At 60kbit/s down the satellite network provides faster data than some, but it still isn’t really suited to the bandwidth phone apps need. 

Best satellite phones: Thuraya XT-LITE

(Image credit: Thuraya)

5. Thuraya XT-LITE

Cheapest satellite phone

Specifications
Network: Thuraya
Weight: 186g
Dimensions: 128 x 53 x 27mm
Talktime: 6h
Standby: 80h
Display: 176 x 220 mono
Waterproofing: covered flap
Data connection: -
Other features: SOS button
Reasons to buy
+
Lowest price cost of entry
+
Cheapest network as of late 2021
Reasons to avoid
-
No coverage of Americas
-
Especially dated handset

As with the X5-Touch above, this phone is based on the limited Thuraya network which operates from just two geosynchronous satellites combining to cover roughly from the west of Africa to the east of Australia, including Asia. That’s 161 countries, but very disappointing to Americans (the next launch, in 2023, will replace the west-most of these rather than expand the network). The XT-Lite is a simple device with standard phone features (address book, alarms, calculator, call logs) and an omni-directional antenna which can even detect an incoming call before being extended, and it is capable of traditional SMS messaging. The handset is relatively compact compared to others on this list, and Thuraya also offer the option of a number based in your preferred country, making it cheaper for people to call you.v

Best satellite communicators

(Image credit: Garmin)

6. Garmin inReach Mini

Best satellite communicator for hikers and bikers

Specifications
Network: Iridium
Weight: 100g
Dimensions: 51 x 33 x 99mm inc. antenna
Talktime:
Standby: up to 24 days
Display: 1.27-inch mono
Waterproofing: IPX7
Data connection:
Other features: inReach weather service, Pairs to select Garmin devices without need for Earthmate App, Pairs with Garmin Pilot app
Reasons to buy
+
Incredibly compact
+
Cheap route to satellite protection
+
Button backup to phone use
+
SOS Key
Reasons to avoid
-
Doesn’t replace a phone

Created with the explorer in mind, the inReach Mini isn’t a traditional sat-phone, but allows your cell-phone access satellite coverage to send messages from anywhere. The 4 buttons make texting tiresome, though there are preset messages and – more usefully – Bluetooth connection to Garmin’s ‘Earthmate’ app. 

Since few hikers leave their phone behind, adding the smallest possible device to your straps is handy. You don’t need to text constantly either; your chosen friends and family can log in and follow you on a map to check things are OK without interrupting your adventure; typical standby time, with tracking every 10 minutes, is 90 hours, which can rise to days with less frequent tracking options set.

In an emergency, there is an SOS button which will communicate with the 24/7 GEOS centre (phone or not), which all adds up to a phenomenally useful (and reassuring) device for mountain bikers, hikers, or anyone else wanting to feel a little more confident they’re connected to the world without the expense of bulk of a phone handset.

• See also Best handheld GPS

(Image credit: Iridium)

7. Iridium Go!

Best portable satellite internet communicator

Specifications
Network: Iridium
Weight: 305g
Dimensions: 114 x 82 x 32mm
Talktime: 5.5h
Standby: 15.5h
Display: mono status display
Waterproofing: IP65
Data connection: 2.4kBsp
Other features: SOS, Wi-Fi
Reasons to buy
+
IMake calls from inside (with the Go! outside)
+
Data compression 
+
Android & iOS compatible
+
SOS button
Reasons to avoid
-
Many apps not compatible

The Iridium Go! promises the ability to send and receive data from anywhere on the surface of the planet using your preferred smartphone or tablet, but you need to understand the small print. The big problem is that the data bandwidth of the network simply isn’t suited to the kind of thing you’re used to doing with your phone on typical phone network – so given the limitations the Go! actually pulls quite a few tricks out of the bag.

It does this via apps which allows you to use your phone to make a satellite call. A range of other phone features look a little like a smart phone – texting, tracking, weather update and other icons are there on the main page. There is a separate email app which you’ll need to set up a specific account for the email – while not ideal, it will prevent wasting bandwidth on spam. 

The software is polished, and the system overcomes technical hurdles and simplifies them at the same time – though even with the Opera browser’s compression web browsing is not feasible.

(Image credit: Zoleo)

8. Zoleo Satellite Communicator

Cheap and simple satellite location check-in device

Specifications
Network: Iridium
Weight: 150g
Dimensions: 91 x 66 x 27mm
Talktime:
Standby: 200 hours
Display: None
Waterproofing: IP68
Other features: SOS, Location
Reasons to buy
+
Location sharing key
+
Available with combined plan
+
1047 character messages
+
Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-
No status display

While the Garmin inReach Mini is an excellent portable device, ideal for anyone in the outdoors to have an emergency link back to reality, there is another option which makes use of the same Iridium network: the Zoleo Communicator. This offers what, for many, will be the same key function: texting via Bluetooth and an app. In fact it makes an exceptional job of it; if you can get your recipient to use the Zoleo app too you can send much longer texts than standard sat phones, and the Zoleo can switch to cellular to save power if possible 

The Zoleo has its own GPS, and four LEDs which is the only means of knowing what’s going on inside, though it is great to have a “check-in” button which, when pressed, simply texts your location to a defined number. There is also a SOS button with 24/7 monitoring, meaning the paired down device has all the essentials and nothing more which makes sense for a budget-conscious backpacker or back-country explorer. 

(Image credit: Garmin)

9. Garmin Montana 700i / 750i

Rugged color GPS with camera and sat communicator

Specifications
Network: Iridium
Weight: 397g
Dimensions: 88 x 18 x 33mm inc. antenna
Use: 18h
Standby: up to 2 weeks
Display: 5-inch 480 x 800px
Waterproofing: IPX7
Data connection:
Other features: nReach weather service, Pairs to select Garmin devices without need for Earthmate App, Pairs with Garmin Pilot app
Reasons to buy
+
Two way messaging
+
+Topographic maps and city GPS
+
+Eight megapixel camera
Reasons to avoid
-
Relatively heavy device

This is a chunky device, the size of a very fat version of the largest of mobile phones, but that means it can actually be held one handed and used much as you might for Google maps in the town. Maps can be prepared in advance by downloading 15km square satellite images from Birds Eye, and followed along with GPS and the 3-axis compass. The touch screen has a glove mode, so it can be used in most temperatures meaning the Montana 700i and 750i are essentially amazing maps combined with inReach services like messaging and weather (the 750i bringing an 8 megapixel the camera into the equation too). The large touchscreen also gives you a more phone-like keyboard than T9 arrangements on many sat phones. As Garmin fans would expect, the back features an assortment of mounting brackets, for example for bikers, and the many apps can track your journeys 

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With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 


Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 


He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook