Exweb Tech Week 2014: The Death of the Satellite Phone

Exweb Tech Week 2014: The Death of the Satellite Phone

Posted: Feb 04, 2014 11:05 am EST

(Tom Sjogren/HumanEdgeTech/edit Tina Sjogren) It's that time again. Spring around the corner, what's new in expedition tech? Here goes.


Last year we predicted a "Smartphone Revolution" was about to shake up adventure communication. 2014 points to the end of the satellite phone as we know it. 




Walkie talkies (VHF) reigned the peaks until someone gloriously unpacked the first handheld satellite phone: made by Iridium and hitting the market late 1998. Brands such as Thuraya, Inmarsat and Globalstar expanded the choices, with Iridium and Thuraya dominating among explorers today. 


At first the phones were all about voice calls but soon they evolved to text messaging (SMS) and finally into a device for internet access when connected to a computer.


The satellite coverage area (or "footprint") for the systems remained fairly unchanged: True global (including the polar regions) for Iridium, with Thuraya limited to Asia, Africa and Europe. Polar explorers brought Iridium while cheaper calls and faster internet made Thuraya top choice for Himalayan climbers.


The different satellite systems battled each other for market shares until last year smart phones turned up from nowhere and stole the stage.  Each system having their pros and cons, a marriage of convenience has produced a new generation of sat phone hybrids.


Thuraya "SatSleeve" - use the iPhone/Galaxy for satellite communication


Late 2013 Thuraya introduced a "SatSleeve" for iPhone 5/5S. Using your smartphone as the "brain" it offers more funcionality while costing less than the standard satellite phone.


Read: Himalaya 2014 - Alpine Style Technology


Priced at $795 the sleeve is a great deal. HumanEdgeTech offers a ready-to-go ultralight package for mountaineers based on the SatSleeve including solar power. Starting this month a version is also available for the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone at the same price. 


Iridium based "SatCase" - coming soon


Other systems could follow suit. With a background in technology and heli rescues Jim Thomson set out to build a smartphone "wrap" based on Iridium. Jim told us this week that the SatCase is very close to consumer production. It will not be available for this spring season, but should hit the market mid or late 2014.


Expedition software CONTACT works on SatSleeve and will be ready for the SatCase at launch.


How it works


After initial pairing, using the Thuraya SatSleeve is pretty straightforward. Snap a picture with your iPhone/Android and upload to internet over satellie. Expect to see the first Everest summit pictures coming through this way in May.


All entries in this series:

1. Exweb Tech Week 2014: The Death of the Satellite Phone

2. Exweb Tech Week 2014: High Speed Satellite Internet Made Easy

3. Exweb Tech Week 2014: Best Sellers and Innovations







The Thuraya SatSleeve generation 2 "wraps" around your iPhone. CONTACT5 expedition software.
courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE
A "wrap" for Android based on Iridium will hit the market during 2014.
Thuraya coverage.
Iridium satellite phones and Iridium trackers have true global coverage.