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Traveling: Using Cellular vs. Satellite

Traveling: Using Cellular vs. Satellite

The Difference Between Cellular and Satellite

For the casual phone user, particularly someone who lives in an urban area, a cell phone is usually all you’ll need to carry on your day-to-day or even to conduct business. There are, however, situations in which a satellite phone can be more useful. Certainly in today’s world of the internet-of-things where machines can talk to machines and transmit important business data, you’ll want to choose a technology that works best for your needs. To understand the differences between two technologies, it is important to first understand how the differing systems work.

  • Cellular technology: Cell phones transfer their signals via land-based towers. Your phone connects to the closest tower, which then transmits to another tower and so on until the signal reaches its destination. That means cellular can be limited by tower placement and by land barriers between towers.
  • Satellite technology: Satellite phones transmit signals, as the name suggests, to satellites that orbit the earth, and those satellites beam the signal to the desired target, whether a landline, a cell phone, or another satellite phone. They can, however, be impacted by weather or signals can be delayed because of distances involved.

Considering now how the two systems work, you’ll want to compare the two to decide which works best for your needs. You’ll want to ask questions about where and how you’ll be using your device, the budget you have, whether you’ll need new hardware, security of your data, what you’re business goals are, and what long-term plans you have. After you’ve answered these questions, you can compare and contrast to pick the system that works best:

  1. Cost: By far, a cell phone is the most cost effective of the two choices. Smart phones can be purchased for $200-$300 dollars, and cell plans are not costly. A reliable satellite phone can cost in the thousands and subscription services are pricier than cell service.
  2. Coverage: Because cell phones are limited by tower coverage, you may find yourself in areas where coverage is weak or even nonexistent. Some terrains don’t easily allow for tower construction and land barriers can block signal transmission. On the other hand, satellite phones can beam signals from almost anywhere, which is why they are often used for emergency situations. They also don’t rely on electricity for coverage. While cell towers often have back-up batteries/generators in case of power outages, their life is limited,  leaving users unable to communicate or transmit data in cases of long-term outages such as natural disasters.
  3. Functionality: Cell phones currently offer their users more functions. While satellite phones are designed for telephonic communication, cell phones offer internet connection, text messaging, and telephone service. There are, however, newer satellite models that are offering limited versions of the same functionality.
  4. Reliability: Because of the means of communication, satellite phones generally offer the more reliable service and can be used in almost any area. Cell phones are limited by network coverage (i.e., number of towers and their placement).

Ultimately, the choice you make comes down to how and where you think you will need to use your phone. Some companies combine both to get the best of both worlds, using the ease and low cost of cellular for the day-to-day and reserving satellite comm for remote needs or for emergency situations.

Written by Ivan Young in partnership with Faxage online faxing service.
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