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Thread: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

  1. #1
    Stephen Willard's Avatar
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    Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    I am considering purchasing a satellite phone for use in the backcountry far away from civilization and cell phone reception. My plans are to use the phone to inform my wife about any change of plans. Sometimes the shooting is real good, and I intend to stay an additional week. Sometimes the basin I am in is not worth my time so I intend to move on to another basin. Keeping my wife informed about where I am affords me more flexible about my time and place of shooting. The phone could also be use to augment my PLB in the event of an emergency.

    The price of the phones is dropping. I have found a satellite phone for $300 new, and there is a variety of service plans to meet anyones needs including limited use such as my application. Most now offer free incoming text messaging and around $0.50 for each out going text message. It is my belief that a satellite phone would increase my yields in the field, and the added cost would be well worth it.

    Has anyone ever used one of these phones? Do they really work? Will they work with cloud cover or in storms? Will they work in tree cover? How about in deep valleys?

    Any considerations or comments would be appreciated.

  2. #2

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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    Hi Stephen, I have no direct experience with a sat phone but I do carry an epirb. This is a device of last resort that when activated will send out a distress signal notifying the authorities of your position via satellite.

    A new device has come along that may be of interest to you. Spot will not allow you to text or carry a conversation but it will allow you to send three types of messages. The first is an I'm ok message that will e-mail your exact coordinates to anyone you set up on your list. Via satellite it will send your gps coordinates and they will show your location on google maps, very cool. You can also turn on the tracking feature and people on your list can real time follow your progress.

    The next notification is send help. It tells the people on your list that you need assistance but are not in a life threatening situation. Handy if you break down.

    The third is more like my epirb, it is a 911 feature. When activated the authorities are notified that you are in a life threatening situation.

    As I recall the device is a couple hundred dollars and you have to pay for an anual service at about $150.

    I bought one for my 22 year old daughter when she decided she would ride her bike from South Florida to New York alone. It was the best way I could keep an eye on her and allowed me to sleep at night.
    http://www.findmespot.com/en/

    john
    www.timeandlight.com
    www.gladesgallery.com

  3. #3

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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    my friend has this device that basically tracks where you go and how long you stay in any location. he basically wore it around NYC and then after that day we looked at where he went and where he stopped and all. not sure if it will work out tin the BC...or that it is even what you need......as it is not a phone.
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  4. #4
    Geos
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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    Where did you find the phone for $300?

    I too have been considering a sat phone. I would probably lean toward the Iridium brand as it is usable all over the world - that means polar regions. I do envision at least two trips to polar regions and would like total coverage. Also, with wars and associated activities raging, I think Iridium will be in business for a long time to come.

    The latest Iridium handsets are small and well accessorized. You can also get annual packages that dispense with monthly fees.

  5. #5
    Eirik Berger's Avatar
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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    There are several satellite phone providers and services (Iridium, glabalstar, Inmarsat, Thuraya etc). Before choosing one it is very imporant to check their coverage map. Not all providers have coverage everywhere.

    Iridium is the only phone system that has a good coverage in Arctic regions, so I had no choise. As I often travels up to 80°N no other providers could guarantee coverage. I bought a used 9505 handset with extras for about $1000. Since it is for emergency use I chose a postpaid service. Then I know taht I will be able to use it as much or as little as necessary. Prepaid services are just valid for a given period. That was unacceptable to me.

    The phone has served me well, it is big phones compared to ex. Thuraya handsets, and the battery capasity tends to degrade after some time. In cold they are useless without external 12V power. No problem if you are in a motorized vehicle with 12V battery. On longer trips on foot/ski I use a solar charger to ensure that I have charged batteries at any given time.

    If you get an Iridium phone for $300 you are most likely buying stolen goods.

    I also have a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) with GPS and transmitting on both 406 Mhz and 121,5 Mhz. The latter frequency is officialy not used anymore (from feb. 2009) and Cospas/Sarsat does not listen there anymore. But all rescue helicopters will use that frequency as a homing signal, useful in bad weather when they arrive to pick you up.
    Best regards,
    Eirik Berger

  6. #6
    Eirik Berger's Avatar
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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    Quote Originally Posted by George Stewart View Post
    I too have been considering a sat phone. I would probably lean toward the Iridium brand as it is usable all over the world - that means polar regions. I do envision at least two trips to polar regions and would like total coverage. Also, with wars and associated activities raging, I think Iridium will be in business for a long time to come.
    Well if the Iridium sattelites manage to stay out of obscolete Russian satellites they might be OK
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/new...cle5713541.ece

    You are correct regarding to coverage in polar regions.
    Best regards,
    Eirik Berger

  7. #7
    Stephen Willard's Avatar
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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    John, a PLB and EPIRB are basically the same thing. They are both legalized airplane black boxes. My PLB will also send GPS location information with the signal. Do you have a website for the device you gave to your daughter?


    George here is the website for the GSP 1600 satellite phone that sells for $299.

    http://www.globalstarusa.com/en/

    It is called a GSP 1600 and functions as both a cell phone and satellite phone. If a land cell signal is found it will use that system first. If not, then the phone will connect to a satellite as a last resort.

    For all of you, here is a website that has ten useful tips about satellite phones.

    http://www.satellitephnoerental.com/

    Eirik, it makes sense that a satellite phone would draw more power because it has to transmit longer distances to satellites through the ionosphere. In that case, I would not consider the GSP 1600 a viable cell phone unless it is designed to use less energy when connecting to a cell phone tower. I also would not treat a satellite phone as something you would use frequently because the high energy level of those phones would very likely cause brain cancer.

    Eirik, what solar charger did you use to charge your satellite phone?

    For all of you, weight is less a consideration for me because I can port around 200 pounds of gear with my two llamas I bring with me.

  8. #8
    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    My brother had a globalstar phone but it didn't work in the gulf of Maine like it was supposed to due to a satellite problem. They work most other places though and sat phones are popular with serious boaters and the yacht crowd as it doesn't take much to get outside cell phone range on the ocean.

    For no monthly cost you could also consider amatuer radio. You no longer need to learn more code, just learn a few things about radio and electricity. It might not work in a deep valley like a sat phone, but the low frequencies will carry MUCH better than a cell phone, and there are repeater networks all over for VHF frequencies.

  9. #9
    Eirik Berger's Avatar
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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Willard View Post
    Eirik, what solar charger did you use to charge your satellite phone?
    This one:
    http://www.solstarenergy.com/iridium...ar_charger.htm

    Not cheap and not light/small, but needed if you are away for some time and if you donīt have access to external power for charging.
    Best regards,
    Eirik Berger

  10. #10

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    Re: Satellite phones and backcountry photography

    Hi Stephen, The site for Spot is.
    http://www.findmespot.com/en/
    I would consider it in addition to the sat phone if you can make it fit the budget.
    West marine, bass pro etc. sell the spot.

    A Lama? Your photo trips sound way cooler then mine.
    jb

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