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The Best Satellite Phones of 2024

Satellite phones allow people in remote locations to make phone calls from pretty much anywhere in the world. We dug in to find the best satellite phone and plan for off-grid adventures around the globe.

Choosing a satellite phone(Photo/Christophe Noel)
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While satellite text messengers have become popular tools for backcountry communications, the trusty satellite phone still has a place in our expedition tool kits. And with subscription plans becoming downright affordable — with some even offering a free phone — why text when you can make a voice call?

For abbreviated exchanges, a quick SMS message usually works perfectly. For conversations demanding a high degree of detail and large volumes of information, however, nothing beats a voice-to-voice dialogue.

We’ve been using satellite phones since before, and now after, they’ve been cool — and we’ve watched the technology advance in that time. Along the way, we’ve traveled to some pretty deep places on this planet and stress-tested the market of sat phones to manage our needs for expedition communications.

From the summit of Denali to the Amazonian tangle, our explorers have cut through the static to bring together this list of the top satellite phones (and one worthy messenger) on the market today. All of these handhelds will get your call out when it matters most, and while the humble sat phone may seem dormant for now, there are big things on the horizon. Rest assured, we’ll be disappearing into the bush with those, too, to measure their worth.

If satellite phones are new to you, consider digging into our in-depth Buyer’s Guide and FAQ after our selections. And to measure each phone against the other, our Comparison Chart should be able to make the connection. Otherwise, dial in and check out the best sat phones we’ve used to date.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Satellite Phone guide on May 14, 2024, to include new testing information from our expeditions in Alaska, as well as add the Garmin inReach Messenger — a satellite device that does almost everything a sat phone does — but better.

The Best Satellite Phones of 2024


Best Overall Satellite Phone

Iridium 9555

Specs

  • Network Iridium
  • Satellite Coverage Global
  • Antenna Internally stowed, omnidirectional
  • Text Messaging Yes, T9 predictive text
  • Battery Life 4-hour talk; 30-hour standby
  • Display Monochrome
  • Waterproofing N/A
  • Size 5.6” x 2.1” x 1.1”
  • Weight 9.4 oz.
Product Badge The Best Satellite Phones of 2024

Pros

  • Extensive global coverage and high-quality voice coverage
  • Affordable monthly plans
  • Compatible with an externally mounted antenna
  • Call timer to manage plan usage

Cons

  • Global coverage doesn't include U.S. embargoed areas
  • Not waterproof-rated
  • Does not host a GPS chip
Best Budget Satellite Phone

Inmarsat IsatPhone 2

Specs

  • Network Inmarsat
  • Satellite Coverage 90%, no polar coverage
  • Antenna Fold-out; directional
  • Text Messaging Yes
  • Battery Life 8 hour talk; 160 hour standby
  • Display Color
  • Waterproofing IP65
  • Size 6.6” x 2.9” x 1.1”
  • Weight 11.1 oz.
The Best Satellite Phones of 2024

Pros

  • Great value for the price
  • Integrated GEOS SOS response
  • Ability to send GPS locations
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Coverage isn't truly global, and leaves off the polar regions
  • Directional antenna will require care to keep aligned
Best Satellite Phone for North America

Globalstar GSP-1700

Specs

  • Network Globalstar
  • Satellite Coverage North America, most of South America, Europe, Japan
  • Antenna External; directional
  • Text Messaging Yes
  • Battery Life 4 hours talk; 36 hours standby
  • Display Color
  • Waterproofing No
  • Size 5.3" x 2.1" x 1.5"
  • Weight 7.1 oz.
The Best Satellite Phones of 2024

Pros

  • Good deals can be found on this device
  • U.S. phone number with no added fee
  • Compact design
  • Fast uncompressed data speeds

Cons

  • Satellite coverage map isn't extensive, and there are numerous dead zones
  • Phone isn't made anymore, and support may be limited
Best Satellite Messenger

Garmin inReach Messenger

Specs

  • Network Iridium
  • Satellite Coverage Global
  • Antenna External; fixed
  • Text Messaging Yes, on-device or through connected app
  • Battery Life 28 days w/ a message every 10 minutes; 1 year standby
  • Display Monochrome
  • Waterproofing IPX7
  • Size 3.1" x 2.5" x 0.9"
  • Weight 4 oz.
The Best Satellite Phones of 2024

Pros

  • Garmin Messenger app makes for seamless texting
  • Integrated SOS functionality
  • Extended battery life and can be used to reverse charge devices
  • Compact size compared to satellite phones
  • Allows for location tracking

Cons

  • Not a true satellite phone in that it doesn't support voice calls
  • Using without a phone can be a bit challenging

Satellite Phone Comparison Chart

Satellite PhonePriceSatellite NetworkGlobal CoverageBattery LifeWeight
Iridium 9555$1,150IridiumGlobal4 hours talk; 30 hours standby9.4 oz.
Inmarsat IsatPhone 2$899Inmarsat90%, no polar coverage8 hours talk; 160 hours standby11.1 oz.
Globalstar GSP-1700
$499GlobalstarNorth America, most of South America, Europe, Japan4 hours talk; 36 hours standby7.1 oz.
Garmin inReach Messenger$300Iridium Global (text only)28 days w/ a message every 10 minutes; 1 year standby4 oz.

How We Tested Satellite Phones

Redbull athlete Paul Guschelbauer stuck with the author on the side of a mountain at 17,200 feet in the Atacama; (photo/Christophe Noel)

Some winters ago while traversing Chile’s Atacama desert, our Toyota Hilux inexplicably died, leaving us stranded on a mountain at 17,000 feet. After a volley of sat-phone calls to friends and mechanics in three countries, we diagnosed the problem as an antitheft system gone haywire.

One final call to Chile’s national police put our extraction in motion with no delay or drama. We could have achieved the same result with our satellite communication device, but voice calls undoubtedly expedited the resolution.

Breakdowns in the Andes aside, you don’t have to travel far to justify a satellite phone. Cellular service in the backcountry of North America is terrible. Drive an hour from Denver, and you might as well be in Mongolia.

The GearJunkie team plays host to a number of far-flung adventurers who regularly leave cell service in the dust, and while satellite messengers get all the attention these days, there’s undeniable utility in being able to hash out a conversation when you are truly deep in an expedition.

No backyard testing would suffice in testing these sat phones, and we put in the effort to get out there to challenge them. Most recently, tester and mountain guide Eli Spitulnik used these devices to keep in contact while he climbed a first ascent on Mt. Bradley in the Alaska Range, as well as a follow-up ascent of Denali where he guided a team of climbers on the West Buttress.

Being off the grid for 4 weeks at a time requires dialed-in communications, and Eli used these sat phones for everything from getting in-depth weather to hailing the team’s glacier pilot.

We measured these phones against one another in terms of connection speed, audio quality, and the number of times we had calls drop — not something any of these phones were immune from. As handheld electronics, we also compared more commonplace specs such as battery life (an important feature when aiming to call from the top of North America), display legibility in harsh or dark conditions, and durability when faced with whipping rain or snow.

Each of these devices has been used hard and put away wet, and we’re confident in each of their abilities to get out a call when you need it most. And while satellite phone technology hasn’t evolved much previously, new technology just this year is rapidly advancing, and we’re likely on the brink of true satellite phone coverage integrated into your regular phone. We’ll be testing the newest and greatest, and continue to update our list as new devices become available.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Satellite Phone

Multi-day expeditions that require a good bit of logistics are where a satellite phone shines; (photo/Chris Anders)

Although only three providers dominate the satellite phone market, it’s difficult to know which to choose. Iridium, Globalstar, and Inmarsat all make great products backed by billion-dollar satellite networks. The best option for you hinges on one variable: where you plan to put it to use.

The first step in selecting a provider is comparing coverage maps. Iridium’s 66 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites offer connectivity to 100% of the globe. Our experience has proven this to be one of the most reliable satellite voice networks out there, and it’s only being improved with time.

Inmarsat’s 15 satellites rotate in geostationary orbit over the equator at a staggering height of 22,236 miles. At such a lofty position, they cover 90% of the planet only missing sight of the poles. By 2026, the provider plans on having launched three additional new-generation Inmarsat I-8 satellites, which will provide additional coverage and future-proof the service into the 2040s.

Globalstar’s constellation of 48 LEO satellites, once chided for spotty coverage, continues to improve. Nonetheless, vast swaths of the world remain outside Globalstar’s reach, making it a non-starter for some users. Still, if your adventures mainly traverse the coverage zones, subscription plans can be affordable.

The Impossible Nature of Direct Comparisons

As much as we would love to pick one phone and network as the ultimate winner for every situation, it’s simply not in the cards. Where and when you attempt to make a call has a direct impact on the ability to connect to satellites.

While camped in Alaska, we have been able to place a call in the morning with a Globalstar phone, but not in the evening. The Inmarsat phone failed to get a signal at all until we relocated to the next valley over. At a camp near Tibet, the Iridium phone was useless, but the Inmarsat phone connected in seconds.

Every phone had moments when it just could not make the link. A shift in time and place is the only remedy.

International Travel and Satellite Phones

Check out if you’re allowed to bring a satellite phone into the country you’ll be exploring — lest you be labeled a spy; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

During the five years we’ve spent compiling these impressions worldwide, each destination required strict attention to satellite phone regulations. Many countries require expensive permits or ban satellite phones outright. Failure to obtain the necessary permissions can result in confiscated phones or stiff fines.

And it gets worse. In a handful of countries (India, North Korea, Libya, etc.), where satellite phones are illegal, unwitting travelers with phones in their luggage are regularly tossed in jail. Know before you go — you’ll be glad you did.

Talk or Text Messaging?

Garmin inReach Applications
With a good sat messenger and your phone, you can get a steady stream of information in and out — just without the talk; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Before you chuck your inReach, SPOT, or Bivystick satellite messengers, evaluate the features you currently use and like. Satellite phones are great, but most don’t offer tracking features, GPS navigational aids, or detailed maps. In that regard, a satellite messenger might be your best bet.

As the cost of satellite phones and services continues to drop, one thing remains constant. When you’re in a jam far from home, hearing a friendly voice on the other end of a phone is priceless. Also, consider if your communication needs require the use of a satellite at all. For short-range chats between camps on Denali, we find that a powerful walkie-talkie makes it happen.

Price

Satellite phones aren’t cheap pieces of technology, and while bounding strides of advancement have been made since their invention, prices still remain relatively high for the privilege of total off-grid voice communications. Still, there exists a range of satellite phones and, with it, a range of features you’ll have access to.

More budget-minded phones like the Globalstar GSP-1700 won’t provide the widest coverage, and there are certainly places on the planet where you won’t be able to get a call on the Globalstar network. But at a sub $500 price tag and with some of the cheaper service plans available, it can be an excellent way to get into a sat phone — if it covers where you’ll be going.

It’s also important to note that almost every text-only satellite messenger is $400 or less, with subscription plans also being more affordable. Consider if having access to voice calls is worth the extra dough you’ll drop for the privilege.

A sub-$1,000 satellite phone like the Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 makes a compelling case for itself, and while there are some areas it lacks, it does offer a good amount to make up for it. The biggest difference between this and the premium sat phones out there is going to be the network itself. The Inmarsat satellite network is still robust, but being geostationary and limited in satellites there is some delay in getting a signal.

Even still, there are functionalities that the IsatPhone has that even premium sat phones don’t, such as a full-color display, GPS capabilities, and extended battery life. Bumping up to the $1,000 and above satellite phones is going to be all about the network, and in our opinion, Iridium reigns here. With global coverage, we’ve had the best success at getting a call out on the Iridium 9555 than any other phone.

FAQ

Are satellite phones worth it?

In this day and age, there is still a definite need for satellite phones, and it only gets greater the further you are from civilization. While satellite messengers work well for recreational use on weekend or even week-long trips, expeditions require a higher level of communication ability to be able to pull off, and when shuttling around information is essential, you need a device that can move a lot at once.

Being able to talk means that you not only get information across faster, but with less confusion and the ability to quickly ask for clarification. This can be the difference between getting the full weather forecast for the rest of the week, and getting the abbreviated synopsis in whatever will fit into 180 characters.

Finally, the feeling of being able to hear a loved one’s voice is also a large draw on extended trips, and can be worth it all on its own.

What to look for when buying a satellite phone?

When looking for a satellite phone, consider first where you’re going to be using it, as this is the most important aspect of your sat phone, and if there’s no coverage, you’ll be carrying around a useless brick. Iridium is the broadest satellite phone service offered currently, and is a safe bet if your adventures will take you around the world.

If you’ll be heading abroad but don’t have the appetite to be a polar explorer, an Inmarsat device can save you a good bit of money, and still provide a high-quality audio connection. Also, consider Thuraya if you only travel to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Finally, take a look at the nitty gritty specifications for the phone you’re looking to purchase.

Why are some satellite phones illegal?

Satellite phones are illegal in several countries that believe they could be used by militant groups or to transmit sensitive information gathered through espionage. This includes China, Pakistan, Cuba, Russia, Chad, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Libya, areas of Nigeria, and India. Specific laws and regulations vary (for example, you can obtain a permit to use a sat phone in India and Cuba, but will be arrested, no questions asked, in Libya or Chad).

To be safe, consult the embassy of the region you are looking to travel to with a satellite phone before doing so to ensure you aren’t absentmindedly breaking any laws (or strongly held traditions).

Can satellite phones lose signal?

Like any other wireless device, your reception is only as good as your connection, and with satellite phones being a direct connection device, signal loss can occur as the satellite you’re connected to moves through its orbit.

This can be combated in a number of ways. For one, ensure that you have as wide of a horizon as possible, with a clear view of the sky. Angle your antenna so that it points toward the sky, or if your phone hosts as an eCompass function like Inmarsat devices do, use it to orient yourself toward the satellite.

Iridium sattelites are constantly orbiting and are linked, so service may wane for a few seconds, but will typically recover. Inmarsat satellites, on the other hand, are geosynchrous, meaning that they are a bit tougher to connect to, but once connected, tough to loose signal.

How far do satellite phones reach?

Satellite phones have some impressive reach, not only in where you can call from but also in how far your signal needs to travel to make that happen. The low earth satellites in the Iridium constellation orbit at a little less than 500 miles above the planet, while the Globalstar birds are at a little less than 900. The geosynchronous satellites of the Inmarsat system, however, are a staggering 22,000 miles, which is quite a long way for your signal to travel — twice!

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