Stylised image of digitised planet showing lines of connectivity resembling the path a satellite in orbit may take.

AST Networks Explain how Satellite Phones Work – 7 Key Takeaways

7/3/24 | 4 minute read

Satellite phones, (satphones) enable communication via satellites orbiting the earth, rather than relying on traditional terrestrial cellular towers, which is the connection network used for regular mobile phones. We have broken down the key points of how satellite phones work, in 7 handy takeaway points.
  1. HandsetSatellite phones look and function much the same as a traditional mobile phone device, however, they have a larger antenna, which needs uninterrupted line-of-site visibility to to establish a strong connection with satellites in orbit.

Close up of a person with a handheld satellite device, depicting a satphone in use.

  1. Satellite Network – Satellites orbiting Earth are positioned either geostationary (GEO), which means they are fixed relative to the Earth’s surface, or in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), meaning these satellites move in orbit around the Earth. Satellite phones use these networks to provide reliable and remote connectivity.

Image of satellite in orbit to demonstrate how signals are sent and received via LEO or GEOnetworks to enable satphones to send and receive data.

  1. Signal Transmission – Signals are transmitted to the nearest satellite ‘in view’ whenever a message is sent, or call placed, from the satellite handheld device. These transmissions are received as signals by the satellite, which in turn relays them to a ground station (antenna), acting as a gateway between the satellite network and traditional land-based communication infrastructure.

Abstract image of satellite receiving tower (ground network or antenna) demonstrating signal transmission.

  1. Ground Stations – Ground stations are facilities equipped with antennas to communicate with satellite networks. They receive the signals transmitted and route them to the appropriate destination, allowing the end user to send and receive data.

Image of ground stations demonstrating the antennas used to receive and send signals in order to deliver data to satphones and mobile phones.

  1. Interconnection – Depending on the destination of the data, the signal will either be sent via the satellite network to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) – for traditional landlines or mobile phones - or it will be routed directly through the satellite network - if the communication is between two satphones.

Stylised illustrations displaying two handheld devices and the networks and signals they can send and receive signals to and from to send and receive data.

  1. Two-Way Communication – Satellite phones allow for two-way communication, users can both make and receive calls and send and receive messages, from anywhere in the world, as long as there is a line-of-site with a satellite in orbit, switching between either GEO or LEO, depending on which is the most reliable connection for where they are.

Image of woman out for lunch with a friend taking her picture, highlighting two-way communication between satphones and mobile devices.

  1. Remote & Reliable Connectivity – Satphones provide coverage in even the most remote of locations, where traditional cellular networks may not be possible to reach - or maybe unavailable due to a natural disaster for example - such as at sea, in the desert, on top of a mountain, or polar regions. This makes them essential for the maritime industry, emergency services and in an environmental or humanitarian crises scenarios.

Dramatic image of a mountain and isolated house showing that satellite phones can send and receive data even in the most remote of locations.

Overall, satellite phones provide a reliable and secure means of communication, especially in areas without traditional terrestrial network coverage.

Satellite phones are often crucial asset in safety kits, for both personal and industrial uses – acting as a lifeline for communication in many scenarios, such as humanitarian disaster, natural disaster, or remote expeditions.

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