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After too much Type 2 and Type 3 fun, my wife wanted me to be able to call 911, and to stay in touch with her when in the backcountry. I had sent satellite phones with scientists to worldwide locations for more than 10 years, and new devices like the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger had just reached the market. So I did some market research to fill my needs. At one point, my wife said something like "maybe other people would want this information." Little did I know how much work lay ahead.

This article is the first in a three part series on two-way satellite communications for lightweight backpacking. This Part 1 is an introduction; briefly describing alternatives, how satellite systems work, and each of the satellite systems you might consider. Part 2 covers satellite phones, and Part 3 covers satellite text-only devices. All the information in this series comes from vendor web sites and online reviews, except for the "Personal experience" sections.


  • Introduction
  • Why?
    • Cell phones
    • BGAN satellite terminals
    • Ham radios
    • PLBs
    • One-way texting by satellite
    • SENDs versus PLBs
  • How two-way satellite systems work
    • Voice quality and Internet access
    • Geostationary Satellites
    • Low Earth Orbit Satellites
    • Theoretical coverage versus Service
    • Factors affecting signal strength
    • Devices locked to one system
  • Satellite Systems
  • Recommended systems for satellite phone or text
    • Best: Iridium
    • OK: Inmarsat, Terrestar
    • Marginal: Globalstar
    • Non-players: Orbcomm, Thuraya
  • Recommendations for satellite Internet access
    • OK: Terrestar
    • Marginal: Inmarsat, Iridium
    • Alternative: BGAN terminal with Wi-Fi Internet device
    • Not recommended: Globalstar
    • Non-players: Orbcomm, Thuraya

# WORDS: 3510
# PHOTOS: 20

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