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satellite communication

Cellular phones work great if you stay near-coastal. You can usually use them with no problem as long as you are within 5 miles of the shoreline. However, if you want to venture further out, and still stay in touch, your only alternative until recently was a very expensive IMARSAT system. Now, staying in touch seems to be getting more affordable.

Note: This is not an endorsement or advertisement. We have not yet used this system and have no connection with it or the companies producing it. This information is provided to inform readers of new items and services that may be of interest to boaters.

Globalstar satellite telephone service is delivered through special multi-mode phones, which work like traditional cellular phones when you are in an area with cellular coverage. Globalstar phones look and act like mobile or fixed phones with which you're familiar. Globalstar's mobile satellite phones, slightly larger than traditional cellular phones, are built by three wireless manufacturers, Ericsson, QUALCOMM and Telit. The difference is that they can operate virtually anywhere, carrying your call over a secure Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) satellite signal.

When you need to communicate from outside the area covered by ground-based systems, such as offshore, the phones switch to Globalstar satellite mode. A wide assortment of accessories are also available for both cars and boats.

Globalstar is a consortium of international telecommunications companies originally established in 1991 to deliver satellite telephony services through a network of exclusive service providers.

The Globalstar system is designed to provide satellite-based telephony services to a broad range of users:

  • Cellular users who roam outside of coverage areas

  • People who work in remote areas where terrestrial systems do not exist

  • Residents of under-served markets who can use Globalstar's fixed-site phones for basic telephony

  • International travellers who need to keep in constant touch

The Globalstar system offers a number of services:

  • One phone for both cellular and satellite calls

  • Voice Calling

  • Short Messaging Service (SMS)

  • Global Roaming

  • Facsimile

  • Data Transmission

Globalstar's constellation of 48 Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites transmits calls from your Globalstar wireless phone or fixed phone station to a terrestrial gateway, where they are passed on to existing fixed and cellular telephone networks in more than 100 countries on 6 continents.

Like "bent-pipes", or mirrors in the sky, the Globalstar constellation of 48 Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites picks up signals from over 80% of the Earth's surface, everywhere outside the extreme polar regions and some mid-ocean regions. Several satellites pick up a call, and this "path diversity" assures that the call does not get dropped even if a phone moves out of sight of one of the satellites. As soon as a second satellite picks up the signal and is able to contact the same terrestrial gateway, it begins to simultaneously transmit. If buildings or terrain block your phone signal, this "soft-handoff" prevents call interruption. The second satellite now maintains transmission of the original signal to the terrestrial "gateway".

Additional advantages of using Low Earth Orbiting satellites within the Globalstar system include no perceptible voice delay and lighter/smaller all-in-one phones.

This map illustrates the current and expected future Globalstar coverage. Actual coverage may differ depending on gateway development, licensing and other factors. A progressive rollout will bring Globalstar service to most of the populated areas around the world.


If I have peaked your interest, now for the really good news. Currently, you can get a tri-mode Globalstar phone from $199-$799 depending on the plan you choose. The $799.00 price gives you a plan for only $29.95 per month. Doesn't sound like a bad deal to be connected globally. For additional information on the Globalstar system and pricing contact Globalstar US at http://www.globalstar.com.