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The Difference between Cellular Phones and Satellite Phones

The use of mobile phones is now a necessity for most people throughout the world. Mobile phones allow us to get in touch with family and friends, and allow access to email and other important tools that we need in our daily lives. Today’s mobile phones are capable of not only making calls, but also storing data, taking pictures, accessing the internet, and many other functions that make them invaluable.

Phone

The most common mobile phone used by the majority of people today is the cellular phone (smartphones).  Most of the time and in the majority of situations, a cellular phone allows you to get connected and stay in touch. However, there are many situations where a cellular phone cannot provide the connectivity required, and in these cases, a satellite phone is needed.

If you are wondering on how cellular phones differ from satellite phones, it will be fully explained in detail. Below are the fundamental difference between Cellular and Satellite phones.

Technology – Cellular Phones

Cellular phones transmit and receive using land-based towers. A single tower forms a cell, which is the area covered by the tower transmitters. A cellular network consists of a range of towers, each having its own cells. When you are in a particular area, your cellular phone is using the cell of the closest tower. If you move to a different area, you cellular phone is transferred to the next tower. The reason for weak signals or dropped calls is that there may be no nearby tower thus no cell signal, or the tower is too far away which results to bad signal reception.

Network

 

Technology – Satellite Phones

Satellite phones communicate directly with a satellite orbiting the Earth. This allows satellite phones to receive a communications signal over a much wider area. A satellite phone can connect anywhere as long as it is covered by the satellite beam. The signal from the satellite phone transmits directly to the satellite, which then sends the signal to the nearest land-based earth station or teleport, which then transmits the signal to the receiving phone. The receiving phone can be a land line, cell phone or another satellite phone.

Satellite

Coverage – Cellular Phones

An issue with cellular networks is that a tower cell has a relatively short range, and wide cellular networks require a large number of towers to cover cities, which may be very expensive or require infrastructure that is not readily available. It is not cost effective for the cellular providers to put up cell towers in rural areas or in many third world countries where there is low usage. It is also impossible to place towers out in the ocean or in very remote or mountainous regions, making your cellular phone worthless for communications when not close to a cell tower. Although most cities and urban areas now have access to cellular networks, this still represents only a fraction of the Earth’s surface.
The sample photo below shows the area covered by a cellular network. The areas not covered by the tower cells do not have cellular signal, and cellular phones cannot be used to communicate in these areas without coverage.

Towers

Coverage – Satellite Phones

Satellite signals are transmitted far above the earth and do not rely on towers, making them very useful in remote areas. This is why satellite phones are more useful than cellular phones to those who are traveling to isolated and remote areas.
The photo below shows satellite coverage beams over very wide areas. Any satellite phone located anywhere inside a satellite coverage beam can communicate with other phones, regardless of how remote the location, whether at land, air, or sea.

Footprint

Phone Handsets

Satellite phone handsets tend to be larger than cellular phons, and usually have prominent antennas designed to improve communication with the satellite. In other respects, using a satellite phone is relatively similar to using a cell phone and their physical designs are getting closer and closer.
Satellite Phone
New satellite phones, like cellular phones have grown smaller, and modern satellite phones are nearly indistinguishable from short-range cellular phones. Also, a cellular phone is not usually made for harsh conditions, while a satellite phone is designed to withstand extreme variations in temperature, and is built to be very durable.

Functionality

When it comes to functionality, cellular phones have an advantage over satellite phones, especially with today’s cellular smartphones which can have thousands of apps. Satellite phones are designed specifically for communications, meaning that most are designed to only make and receive calls. However, newer satellite phone models are coming out with access to the Internet and the capability to send and receive SMS text messages.

However, satellite phones are more useful in emergency situations because they do not rely on land-based towers and networks to operate. Many emergency responders rely on satellite phones because they allow for communication even during power outages, which often shut down land-based communications.

Cost

The primary downside of satellite phones is their cost – both to acquire the phone and to use it. Satellite phone companies have to deploy their own expensive technology with each satellite costing tens of millions of dollars. But it is very important to consider the purpose of a satellite phone and its usefulness in an emergency situation compared to cellular phones. In an emergency situation or when you have no other means of staying in touch, a satellite phone is the most viable option.
Cellular phones are certainly useful and ubiquitous in today’s world. For everyday communications, they are more than adequate. But cellular phones coverage is limited, while the coverage area of satellite phones is the widest there is in telephony. In certain situations, you need the advanced capabilities and worldwide network that a satellite phone offers.

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