Satellite phones during emergencies

There’s quite a bit of chatter on the RAC ARES group about the relative worth of expensive (around $800/month) satellite phone service for use during wide-spread emergencies such as the Haitianearthquake. Seems one of the systems (and this may or may not be true of all systems now and in the future) do not provide 24-hour communications. According to several users of the systems, the problem is the very limited time that communications can take place before the satellite moves out of range. Reports of concerns about using the satellite-based system by search and rescue teams during emergencies have been voiced by ARES coordinators from across Canada.

4 Responses to “Satellite phones during emergencies”


  • They don’t say which system, but basically could be one of the two platforms available……

    1) the Irridium system which is a constellation of 66 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. As the satellites pass overhead, the phone call is supposed to be handed off to the next satellite. If I remember right, the uplink-downlink frequncies are 19GHz and 22GHz. This makes it useless in jungle areas by signal absorbtion. The picture you show here is an Irridium phone. Also, each satellite has radio links to adjacent satellites, and links to ground dishes for connection to the traditional phone system. In all, there are 10 antennas on each satellite.

    2) the older geo-stationary based satellite phone. For these, the users’ phone has a small portable dish to aim at the satellite, because the distances to the satellite are on the order of 23,000 miles, instead of the LEO distance of a few hundred miles. These geo-stationary type cannot be used in polar regions, because the satellite is below the users’ horizon there.

    Side note: The Irridium system was almost scrapped a few years ago, because it was financially broke. Someone took pitty on it to save it, but it would not surprise me if there are maintenance problems. Sixty six satellites do require monitoring and maintenance, and maybe even occasional replacement.

  • Just a side-bar – Iridium has 66 active and 6 spare satellites. There was originally a total of 77 satellites proposed which is why the constellation is called Iridium – 77 is the atomic number for the chemical element of the same name!
    The next generation of satellites is due to start launching in 2014 and will be backwards-compatible with the existing satellites.

  • VA3QF — so, how are things at ComDev these days? No doubt you work there……. I was there in the mid 1990′s.

  • I was just reading an article about Satellite communications. THe American Red Cross deploys satallite communications for 50 to 70 disasters per year. They practice often to make sure they know how to use it and have batteries etc. The Satellite companies are cooperative to make bandwidth available on a priority basis.

    When talking about satellites, there are ground terminals and portable phones and not all these are equal. Satellite is the major long haul emergency communications solution in use today. There weren’t hams from Haiti, because they used satellite which provides voice and email, direct communications and instant response.

    There are now satellite push to talk services and it is being used extensively for disaster interoperability.

    The role of Amateur radio providing local communications feeding information into these central satellite stations.

    Regards
    Peter – VE3BQP

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