By Greg Illes
For years my wife and I were more amused than concerned about cell phone coverage on the road. It was almost a “badge of courage” for us to find ourselves out of contact — a condition emblematic of our isolation. At times we reveled in how far away from civilization we had managed to wander.
After many outings, some realities began to intrude. Once, a financial issue had to be attended to very quickly. Another time, our daughter had a medical urgency. We were lucky to be able to quickly drive to an area of phone coverage and take action.
About a year ago, I had my trusty 4×4 out in the remote desert of southeastern California. I had been out of cell coverage for literally days and was more than 30 miles of hard, rough country from any outpost or help of any kind. Did I say “trusty”? I realized that even a simple mechanical breakdown could be life-threatening.
I did some research (Spot, InReach, etc.), but decided that I really wanted two-way communication. I decided on the Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro. This is one of the simplest satellite phones, and is small and light enough to be day-packed or backpacked.
There are more expensive phones, many on the LEO (low Earth orbit) system. My Iridium phone uses geo-stationary satellites (higher orbit, with slight lags in conversation). Both systems have other advantages and disadvantages, but this Iridium phone met my needs without breaking the bank.
As for the expense, yes, satphones are pricey, but not hideously. The IsatPhone Pro is $650 from various service suppliers and retailers. My service plan is $35/mo., which includes 10 minutes of talk time. Extra minutes are $1 each. Service can be paused for $30 cancellation/activation fees — so if you will only need the phone for a couple of months a year, it’s even cheaper.
Obviously, this is not the tool for long, leisurely chats. But short-and-sweet connections to stay in touch, let folks know your whereabouts, contact your broker, wish a friend a happy anniversary, or (worst case) call for help in an emergency — these all are very affordable. It will also handle texting and voicemails, so you don’t have to have it powered up all the time.
A few months ago, my new satphone proved indispensable to make contact with a traveling friend. I had been out of cell coverage in the Oregon woods for more than a week. Through several satphone connections, we managed to adjust both of our travel schedules and meet up on an Oregon beach.
Life is good — and just a bit safer and more convenient, too.