Cellular Phones Satellite Satellite Internet VSAT

The Difference between Cellular and Satellite Communications

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


The most common mobile telephony platform used by the majority of people today is Cellular. Most of the time and in the majority of situations, cellular communications allow you to get connected and stay in touch. However, there are many situations where cellular communications cannot provide the connectivity required, and in these cases, Satellite communications is needed.
If you are wondering on how Cellular communications differ from Satellite communications, it will be fully explained in detail. Below are the fundamental difference between Cellular and Satellite communications.

Cellular Communication Technology

Cellular communications 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 using cellular technology is that there may be no nearby cell tower thus no cell signal, or the cell tower is too far away which results to bad signal reception.

cell tower

Satellite Communication Technology

Satellite communications are not dependent on terrestrial systems, but utilize a satellite orbiting the Earth. This allows satellite communication systems to receive a signal over a much wider area. A satellite device can connect anywhere as long as it is covered by the satellite beam. The signal from the satellite device 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 device. The receiving device can be a land line, cell phone, or another satellite phone.


Cellular Communication Coverage

An issue with cellular communication 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 cellular phones worthless for communications when not close to a cell tower. Although most cities and urban areas now have access to cellular networks, they still represents only a fraction of the Earth’s surface.

The sample photo below shows the area covered by a cellular network. Only the areas inside the red circles have cellular reception, the circle is the extent that the cell tower signals can reach. The areas not covered by the tower cells do not receive cellular signals, and cellular systems cannot be used to communicate in these areas without the required cell coverage.

Coverage Map

Satellite Communication Coverage

Satellite signals are transmitted far above the earth and do not rely on towers, making them especially useful in remote areas. This is why mobile satellite communications are more useful than cellular communications for those who are traveling to isolated and remote areas.
The photo below shows 3 satellite coverage beams with each covering a very wide area. Any mobile satellite device located anywhere inside a satellite coverage beam can communicate with other satellite devices, regardless of how remote the location, whether at land, air, or sea.



The primary downside of satellite communications is their cost – both to acquire the devices and to use it. Satellite operators 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 mobile satellite communications and its usefulness in an emergency situation compared to cellular communications. In an emergency situation or when you have no other means of staying in touch, satellite systems are the most viable options.

Cellular systems are certainly useful and ubiquitous in today’s world. For everyday communications, they are more than adequate. But cellular communication coverage is limited, while the coverage area of satellite communications is the widest there is in telephony. In certain situations, you need the advanced capabilities and worldwide network that a satellite communication offers.

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