A Really Remote Communication Solution

Does a satellite phone make sense for an engineer? Amanda Hopp tries out the Inmarsat IsatPhone 2
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When I was asked to take a look at Inmarsat’s IsatPhone 2 I was intrigued. While here in Denver, I don’t have much need for a satellite phone — all four of our sites have a landline and cellphone access. But there are many engineers who have sites in areas where cellphone and landline access are scarce.

The biggest reason to have phone access at any site would be for emergencies. We do deal with high voltage and if someone gets hurt we might need to call 911. I don’t think people realize just how dangerous this job is, but when you are elbow-deep in a transmitter one mistake could cost you your life. Another reason engineers would need a phone at a site is for technical support.

The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 looks exactly how you would picture a satellite phone. It is a large “candy bar “phone. It comes with a carrying case that you can put on your belt. It comes with a car charger as well as a wall charger. It has your typical keypad, and a call and end button, and the buttons are easy to see. The onboard menu is useful.

The company says the phone is dust-, splash- and shock-resistant. It says battery life should be eight hours of talk and up to 160 hours of standby time. The battery is replaceable.

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One extra item it has is an emergency assistance button that will send out your GPS location to a preprogrammed emergency number (not 911).

The IsatPhone 2 is very much like a cellphone: It can do voice calls, text messages and email. However, the text and email functions are limited, and if you send a text with more than 160 characters it becomes two or more texts.

When outside, and with a clear view of the sky, the phone finds the satellite fast. Inmarsat maintains its own geostationary satellite fleet so connecting shouldn’t be a problem.

Making a phone call is easy. Just dial the country code (00 for the United States) then 1 and the number. It does usually take several seconds before you hear the ring and I noticed the line would cut in and out at times. I expected this though, since it is a satellite connection.

There is a delay of 2–3 seconds when talking; this is definitely something to keep in mind. You cannot just interrupt and talk over someone. Because of the delay, parts may be lost, which is disconcerting for us as we are so used to the lightning-fast world of a quick back-and-forth conversation. The overall quality of the calls using the phone was surprisingly good. It sounded no different than a cellphone.

The phone allows for hands-free operation with a speaker or a plug for a headset. This is great if you need your hands to do some work while being on the phone. The only real downside, and it’s a biggie, is the phone antenna needs to be pointing up towards the sky to work, which can easily be forgotten. If you are working inside of a building it doesn’t work.

Therefore I can’t recommend it as standard equipment for engineers. That being said though, for those engineers who work and maintain extremely remote sites, (contractors, I’m especially addressing you), I could make a recommendation for this phone.

For information, contact Inmarsat in England at 011-44-20-7728-1000 or visit www.inmarsat.com.


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