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Satelitte-phones and Emergency Beacons


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I've started this thread so we can discuss and share information and experience regarding the use of satelitte phones and Emergency beacons. As it might be of interest of international users on this board, I suggest that we mainly use the english language.

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This is a reply in another thread, regarding the disapperance of a dutch hiker in Jotunheimen, Norway


It's an off-topic reply I'm afraid because it doesn't help in this tragic case. But I know of countries where you can hire a satellite phone when you go on a trek or climb in potentially dangerous ("rough") terrain. And especially if you are nevertheless determined to go on your own. The phone, its batteries: it's all organised somehow to facilitate tourism (amateur, or even more professionally with the use by mountaineers). They are very expensive (I have no idea how expensive), these phones. But provided no service like that exists in Scandinavia / Norway / Jotunheimen, it might be an idea to work out.

It is possible to hire a satellite phone or an emergency beacon in Norway, but it is not a common thing to do. Mainly only people going to very remote areas, sailing on the oceans or traveling to unstable countries tend to bring such communication equipment. Some of the guides in Jotunheimen may carry a sat-phone or an emergency beacon I belive, but I am not sure how many?. Tourist huts do not offer sat-phones or beacons for rent, and I am not sure people would be prepared to pay the cost (lets say €100 a week for a wild guess). A private company, Neratek (neratek.no), has sat-phones for rent, but at a rather high price. Also some individuals rent out their phones and beacons.

In mainland Norway only a tiny fraction of mountaineers do carry a sat-phone or a beacon I think. Mabye a tiny fraction of tourists also do travel with a sat-phone, esessially thoose who need to stay in-touch everywhere. As an example, on Iceland I met a Dutch photografer on vacation bringing an Iridium 9505 sat-phone.

The reason is partly a cost issue I belive, tough it has been alot cheaper to aquire and use the last years. Also I think people is not really aware of the benefits and added safety you could get when bringing either a sat-phone, or even better, an emergency beacon. However, I also see that most people dosn't need one, even when walking in the mountains. Fore thoose walking alone it might be a very wise thing to carry. In 10-20 years time, one can asume that a normal cell-phone also has got an emergency option by satellite, hopefully?

There are really only two options for hand-held sat-phones at the time beeing, where only one offer very close to a global service:


Nearly global coverage (except 2-3 countries like North-Korea) using 66 satelittes in polar orbits (Low altitude satelites). Expensive phones ($1000-$2000??) and no roaming agreements with gsm-networks, so you have to have a direct subscription to this service. Rather cheap calls, international flate rate $1-$2 a minute depending on call-plans. Prepaid availeble as well. The best choice at sea, at the poles and souronding areas and elsewhere when coverage is the main priority.


48 sattelites in low orbit as well, but not polar orbits. Roaming agreements with most main GSM operators in europe (as far I know), so no direct subscription is needed if you do not want to. Romaing charges: $2-$3 a minute in europe. With direct subscription: $0,5-1,5$ in europe depending on plan (Elsacom). This is a "bent-pipe" type of network. Better coverage in some areas because of multiple satelitte coverage, but only within 60 degrees north og 60 degrees south. Single satelitte coverage between 60-70 degrees north/south. Limited coverage on the oceans and SEVERAL countries are not served. A lot cheaper phones ($500-$1500??) and roaming is the main advantage.

Just a notice for norwegian globalstar users: Chess discountinued their globalstar roaming this year without telling anyone... (as part of the "moving") Luckely I got another sim-card aswell. I would recomend a basic Telenor mobil or Netcom subscription (not prepaid or restrictions like "young talk")

A typically hand-held sat-phone is just like the first GSM phones in size, but with a bigger antenna. I've used both Iridium and Globalstar networks. Last year I bought a Ericsson R290 globalstar phone for a long solo ski-trip.

When used in "the field", theese phones must be handeled with care, a waterthight box is recomended.

Depending on the topography and satelitte orbits, it may take some time to get on the network. When using Globalstar in Norway it takes typically from 0-20 minutes before getting coverage, slightly more in the northern parts. In a very deep valley or other places with limited view of the sky, it might take a bit longer. Iridium should be somewhat faster to log on, espessially in north of Norway.

Another issue is that emergency numbers do not work on theese sat-phones! So you have to use alternative telephone numbers to get in touch with the police or medical assistance (remember country codes, like +47 for Norway).

(Thureya offer hand held sat-phone services from 2 geostationary satelittes, mainly in the middle-east and asia. GSM roaming)

Emergency beacons (EPIRB - PLB)

2 american and 2 russian satelittes in polar orbits as well as 4 (?) geostationary satellites do pick up signals from emergency beacons.

Essensially a small box with just one button. Press it and you will alert the nearest SAR centre whereever you are.

If the beacon has got an internal GPS, it will pinpoint your location and brodcast it. If not, the satellites in polar orbits will calculate your position. If having geostationary coverage, the system will pick up the signal at once. With only coverage from polar orbiting satelittes, which often is the case inbetween mountains, it may take 0-2 hours before picking it up. Theres also a homing signal which a search helicopter could use to trace the exact position.

It is very easy to use and designed to operate under extreme conditions, so no worry about batteries, water or things getting broken. Much more reliable than a sat phone, but only for use in an emergency. With a sat-phone you could get advices and also tell what the situation is like (e.g. easier for to priority when several SAR at one time) and also report if you just is late due to the weather.

Prices ranging from $500 to $1500 I think. In addition a licence fee, about 500NOK (€60) a year, for devices registered in Norway, free in most other countries. Global coverage.

Setting of an emergency beacon would trigger a quick and huge rescue effort, at first with helicopters. Just a reminder: Setting of a false alarm will be heavely fined and you would be responsibile for rescue expences

When traveling on remote parts on the norwegian islandgroup Svalbard (with Spitsbergen as the biggest island), the authorities insist that you carry an emergency beacon. They also highly recomend a sat-phone (Iridium). The SAR teams on Svalbard also use sat-phones activly when operating (in addition to VHF)

Edit: Wikipedia's article on emergency beacons


Edit2: Just changing text-size on headlines

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Ragnar, "long time, no see" :)

Frankly, I've always felt that this post of yours deserves a lot more attention. Because it's about mountains and safety/security, and the technical gadgets nowadays to help secure that safety....

But I'm really very very much under-educated about such technical issues, which is why it's no use at all for me to comment on what you posted here.

However, though I know that www.mounteverest.net is quite regularly mentioned on these boards here, I wonder if you were familiar f.e. with this 3-year old article?


It's from The New York Times, "Taking Technology to Extremes" (published in 2003). And watch the part about the Iridium versus the Thuraya phones.

So this is old, but I'm under the impression that - whether it's about Norway/Scandinavia or any other country - the Team at ExplorersWeb will know all the latest re. technical developments and improvements in the field of secure, wireless "beacons" and communications under heavy-duty circumstances. That is one of the major fields of their ongoing attention, and business. And I imagine you'll know how to contact them, in New York, if you'd have any questions or comments to discuss with them.

One thing is for sure: they're eager to help!

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  • 4 weeks later...

In respect of satphones, here are links & quotes re. some fairly new articles on Mounteverest.net.

I hope you don't mind they're added here; I don't know if this is plain "advertising", and moreover I haven't really looked in the Terms of Use of Fjellforum re. (somewhat) commercial postings. I'm just intrigued that for not more than 130 grams, you can carry a genuine satellitephone with you. I think they used to be a whole lot heavier, and probably bigger too.


The world's smallest Satellite phone makes world's first high-speed Internet connection

11:42 am EST Aug 23, 2006

At 130 gr, it's the world's smallest Satellite phone and last week, Thuraya made a high-speed Internet connection through it. It was the world's first such call and yet another feat for the rapidly expanding company. Thuraya's second generation phones will become a new favorite with Himalayan expeditions and limited numbers of the SO-2510 were introduced to the market recently ahead of its full commercial launch in September. They are now available at HumanEdgeTech.

Browse the Internet and download files over GPRS

Wednesday, Project Manager Ahmed Mansoor Al Abd and his team made the first successful 'packet call' on the SO-2510 handset (packet call refers to the data transmission technology known as GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service).


The new generation of adventure smart phones: A closer look at Thuraya SO-2510

10:58 am EST Aug 25, 2006

(HumanEdgeTech.com) At 130 gr, it's the world's smallest Satellite phone. Limited numbers of the SO-2510 were introduced to the market recently ahead of its full commercial launch in September and are now available at HumanEdgeTech. Thuraya's second generation phones will become a big favorite with Himalayan expeditions - but what are they, exactly? Here go the cool details.


The satellite phone has GPS with altitude built into it. We tried it in US and it picked up correct location within a minute. Waypoints can be stored and you can set automatic download intervals from 10 seconds to 1 hour.

Mars Rover, Color screen and high-speed GPRS

The SO-2510 has a nice 65,000 color display and a very intuitive and easy to navigate menu running on VXWORKS; a fast and popular OS used also on the Mars Rover.

The data speed is 9.6kb/s as with the old model, but the phone is ready for the introduction of packet data GPRS later this year. The GPRS traffic will allow for 60kb/s download and 15kb/s up.

The size of a standard cell phone

The new SO-2510 is manufactured by South Korean APSI. The world's smallest satellite phone by far, it weighs in only at one third of an Iridium and almost half of the old Thuraya. The dimensions are 118 x 53 x 18.8 mm (140mm with antenna), virtually the size of a standard cell phone.

Cho Oyu climbers first test pilots

The unit is fairly solid but needs to be protected in extreme conditions. The problems of the data cable connections are hopefully solved with a new USB to Thuraya data cable that snaps nicely in place.

As the two new models won't released to the general market until next month, no first hand reports from users have been available. HumanEdgeTech clients are taking the first units for their upcoming climbs on Cho Oyu and the first feedback from the peak is expected to arrive in September.

[. . .]

Increasing dominance in Himalaya

The light handhelds combined with relatively fast data and cheap air time have made the Thuraya system very popular with Himalayan climbers and trekkers in only a few short years. The new units will add to the system's increasing dominance in Himalaya and beyond.

[. . .]

- HET has provided technology for hundreds of non-techie adventurers moving in the world's most extreme locations and operating under very difficult conditions; but also to trekkers, media, relief workers and the military.

Will add another link/article regarding a safety device for travellers/hikers a little later; I don't know if it's still online, so it may take some searching/surfing.

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Just some words about Thuraya

Unlike other handheld satellite projects, Thyuraya offers they're services from geostationary satellites. Thats about 35800Km above equator, compared to Iridiums low orbit satellites at 780km above earth surface. Thuraya satellites offers good coverage in central europe, parts of Africa, the middle east, India and Nepal. An extended service is also available to other parts of Asia.

-The main advantages of this system is very small and lightweight phones (130g), rather high data rates (9,6kbps) and quite low costs. Thuraya also has roaming agreements with major GSM operators and a normal gsm sim-card can be used.

-The disadvantages is limited coverage because of the "footprint" and the geostationary orbit. You need a clear view of the sky in the direction of the satelitte.

Comming soon at Thuraya, is a gprs-service, just like the one we have on GSM. This allow packed switched communication, first time on handheld sat-phones I think! Data rates from up to 60kbps at best I've heard!

The new Thuraya phone weighing only 130g is offered for $795 at this humanedgetech.com:


:)Link to coverage map at Thuraya.com

In the Himalayas, Thuraya know is the prefered satelitte phone, because of the reasons above. Also, the coverge is rather good in most areas, even Everest ABC (on the Nepali side)!

Thuraya's coverage in Norway (A bit technically...)

Norway is listed as a country served by Thuraya, but I'm not so sure about the coverage here. As we live so far from the equator, the satelitte will be positioned between 24,1 degrees and 9 degrees above the horizon ( :arrow:Shown on this page). In addition, we're close to the edge of the satelittes footprint. I do think Globalstar and Iridium would be a better choice to use in Norway, but I'm sure it would work to some extent. Note that also Inmarsat and similar communication satellites is geostationary and coverage might be comparable regarding the need of sight over the horizon, except Inmarsat has a larger footprint in our areas. Also TV satelittes is geostationary, so if you can tune into one of them, theoretically Thuraya might work at that location, but take into account the footprint, the angle above the horizon and the horizontal directions towards the Thuraya satelitte (approx towards Etiopia).

In short, do not relay on Thuraya in Norway, unless you are aware of the limitations regarding coverage.

If someone has experience with Thuraya in the nordic countries, I would really like to hear about it!

So, for people traveling in the Thuraya's main coverage areas, it's maybe the best option for handheld satellite communication.

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  • 4 months later...

We have a PLRB (Personal Rescue Locating Beacon) made by ARC here in the U.S.. The top model sells for over $600. but they can be rented online.

These are satellite beacons and the user is registered with ARC, whether they own or rent.

Once activated the signal, with your GPS location and your short message, is sent to their headquarters from which they inform search and rescue authorities. If, and this is a big IF, you are not down in a deep valley or ravine the GPS signal will be accurate and it will be marely a rescue operation, without the search component. This saves valuable time. If you're in a ravine the signal may bounce around and give a location miles off.

I feel that responsible mountaineers and solo wilderness hiker should use something like this. Satellite phones may not be the best option. They need an automatic GPS location signal imbedded in the voice transmission if they are to be an effective PLRB.


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