The satphone sheds the paradox

Alexander Lachner
Thuraya

When satellite phones debuted they offered a new, unparalleled opportunity to communicate across all corners of the globe. This was an exciting technological breakthrough, but only the few who could afford it.

Retailing at well over $1,000 and charging per minute rates of over $10, satphones were clearly out of reach for the everyday user. Plus, they were literally the size of a brick.

Over the past decade, mobile satellite companies have been studying consumer trends and developing satphones that appeal to a larger customer segment. Devices today are smaller, easier to use, and more rugged and reliable. They can withstand harsh environmental factors at the top of mountains, in the middle of the desert or even at sea, where there is no terrestrial connectivity or cell towers for miles.

Recently, we’ve seen a slew of devices that have broken new ground and taken the mobile satellite industry to a completely new segment — the retail customer.

Satellite operators are challenged by what casual users look for when it comes to purchasing their first satphone. As someone who uses their satellite handset periodically or keeps it as a backup for emergencies, such a user wants an affordable, easy to use and compact handset that can be used for calls and SMS, and which doesn’t take up too much space in their backpack or pocket.

In the future, users will expect to have one device that will take care of all their global communication needs. For now, satellite operators and manufacturers are attempting to bridge the gap by addressing the questions: How affordable can a satellite handset be, and does affordability compromise quality?

Satellite handsets are inherently different from regular phones because of two key differentiators. First is the technology, which requires niche expertise and materials that result in longer development time. There are only a handful of companies that are capable of developing the technology to build the satellite chip that is used in a satellite phone.

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