Still amazes me that satellite communications has evolved to the point that mobile handsets are about the size of a large cellular telephone. Pictured are the top two options. The Iridium 9555 (left) and the Globalstar GSP-1700 (right).
It should be obvious to anyone that has spent much time on this site that communications is a big deal with me. Maybe it is because I have seen so many situations in the backcountry where good comms would have been the difference between life and death or maybe it is because I have always been something of a techy. I am not sure myself but I can tell you that I absolutely, positively don’t feel properly equipped for the boonies without the ability to effectively communicate with the civilized world. That is why I am such a huge fan of the hockey puck sized second generation SPOT device.
When I was an Airborne SAR Tech-EMT for the sheriff’s office I had to travel very light because of the type of helicopter we used and the severe environmental conditions we often encountered. Nine times out of ten I left the helicopter with what I carried in my flight suit and Tactical Tailor vest pockets. Believe me, that is not a lot of room for gear so it should speak volumes to you that I carried three communications devices. First, was a Motorola HT1000 VHF radio to communicate with the guys in the bird (both simplex and duplex through the repeater system) and with our dispatcher. Second, was a Motorola MT1000 UHF radio to patch with my base hospital and access the statewide Department of Public Safety Emergency Medical Service Communications network known as EMSCOM.
However, due to the very nature of our mission and the extreme terrain found in our first due area, I was often out of radio contact and on my own which is why I carried another device. Third, was a Globalstar satellite telephone. When all else failed, I was almost always able to get through to somebody on the sat phone.
The Globalstar form factor (right) is lighter and more compact. Note the antennae of the Iridium on the left makes it significantly taller than the Globalstar which makes a difference if you have limited space for gear.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a little biased towards the Globalstar product because it is what I carried in the field. At that time, I evaluated both services and phones (earlier versions of these models) and the clear winner all the way round was the Globalstar GSP-1600 and subsequently the smaller, lighter and more compact GSP-1700. The voice quality was clear as a bell with no echoes or tinny sound and it worked when I needed it to.
Unfortunately, that all changed because of major technical problems Globalstar had with their satellites. To their credit, Globalstar has been up front about the issue, spent a great deal of money to address it and is in the the process of fixing it but it is a lengthy process. Right now, my GSP-1700 is an expensive and nifty paperweight. I expect that to change in the next year or two but who knows and I can’t sit back and wait any longer.
Antennaes extended and in position to transmit and receive. Operation of the two phones is pretty straight forward and similar but both have to be used outside with a good view of the sky. Automobile kits are available for both.
I could make this a long, drawn out technical comparison but I will spare you all of that. The simple truth is that while the form factor of the Iridium 9555 handset is a little bigger and heavier (9.4 versus 7.5 ounces) and the voice quality is not quite as good, the device works well. In fact, the Iridium phone worked every single time I tried it and that dear reader is what really counts.
So, when the circumstances dictate that I need to carry and use a satellite telephone, I am using an Iridium 9555 and would recommend that you do the same.
In anticipation of your email, what is the difference between the SPOT and the sat phone in terms of deciding which one to carry? Well, I will carry SPOT anyway because it has proven to be so reliable, the sat phone would be an additional piece of gear. The reason I wil also carry a sat phone is because it would give me the ability to have a real time conversation and exchange detailed information with whoever is on the other end of the line which is nice but not always a necessity.
Do I need very basic text messaging and SOS capability (SPOT) or is full two way communications (sat phone) so important to me in a particular situation that I am willing to pay the size and weight penalty of also carrying the sat phone? That is the determining question that you will have to answer for yourself.
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