Some of the satellite phones are bigger in size than the mobile phones that you see today and heavier too. It is more expensive to buy compared to your mobile handset. In the event you find yourself in a situation where you require the guarantee of connectivity, where the other alternatives do not exist or are scarce, a satellite phone becomes an invaluable means to meet your general communication requirements and possibly a life saver as well. In such cases you may consider renting a satellite phone, which is affordable and becomes a valuable and essential asset in your journey to the middle of no-where.
A satellite phone needs the open sky to operate. It cannot be used from inside a building or in such places where the sky is not visible. It is the antenna of a satellite phone which should have the sight of the clear sky above, for the phone to operate. This would mean that such phones will not work indoors unless you are by the side of a window with a view of the clear sky. Not only that, the window should face such a direction where the concerned satellite currently is, if the satellite happens to be a Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite. There is the other type, which is called a Geostationary Earth Orbiting (GEO) satellite, remains in the steady state relative to the Earth’s movement. While LEO satellite orbits the Earth at a relatively low altitude, a few hundred miles above the Earth, GEO satellites are placed at about 22,000 to 32,000 miles above the Earth, where they remain in the same position above the Earth’s surface at all the time.
If you are on a ship, you might have to go on to the deck to be sure to have that open space for a reliable operation of your satellite phone. If you are in a car, you would put that external antenna that came along with your phone on the roof of the car to have a reliable connectivity. But mind you, you may have difficulties of dropped calls in urban areas because of the high rise buildings. If you are outside but in the middle of a forest, the trees might block the line of sight of the satellite and your calls may get dropped or disrupted.
The GEO satellites, being placed much higher than the LEOs, cover a greater part of the earth, are able to see a larger area. On the other hand, the LEOs would need a constellation of satellites to relay the communication information from one satellite to the other, for it to reach the desired destination. The LEO satellite orbits the Earth once in about 90 to 100 minutes and this is the reason why the round-trip time for transmission is minimal. More-over, being at a lower altitude, some 600 miles above the Earth, the power required to transmit signals from Earth is much lower compared to the GEO satellites. Satellite phones, serviced by LEO satellites, require a shorter antenna, while the ones meant for the GEOs are quite larger in order to accommodate for the power required to transmit signals to the concerned satellite. The disadvantage of LEO satellites is that they need to operate in a fleet as they orbit the Earth at a larger speed, synchronised in the manner that when one satellite moves out of a certain position, the next one takes over.