In Singapore last week at the stand of global satellite telephony major, Inmarsat, I got to try out the company’s flagship ISatPhone2, a personal satellite phone that lets you speak to anyone, anywhere on earth without having to bother about telecom networks or providers.
This experience while thrilling, would have been frustrating for an Indian—till now. But on the same day I was trying out the ISatPhone in the Marina Bay convention hall, Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha was helping to launch satellite phone services in India. He did this at a function in Gurgaon, where Inmarsat has set up an earth station as a gateway to its Global Satellite Positioning System (GSPS) gateway. BSNL is partnering Inmarsat to roll out satphone services in India. This will initially be restricted to government users like the railways or border security or disaster relief agencies—but BSNL hopes in 18-24 months to offer the services ( tentatively priced at Rs 30 to Rs 40 per minute) to private customers.
Inmarsat’s world-wide services are backed by three geostationary satellites, recently augmented by a fourth for redundancy. The company seem to have addressed the government’s security concerns—since the communication will now land within India at the Gurgaon earth station. It will now allow government to equip civil authority and the national disaster relief agencies with satphones and also possibly with Broadband Global Area Network data terminals which will work when all other forms of communication—radio, cellphone, Internet and telephone—fail.
I had seen the first ISatPhone in 2012 and version 2 is lighter and handier at 316 gram with a swing-out satellite antenna. In some ways it looks and feels like the early, pre- 1990 mobile handsets, being about the size of a walkie talkie set. It works for voice, text and data—but the data connection is quite slow—around 2.4 KBPS. The voice was crystal clear when I made a call. The set I tried had an addition over earlier models—a red button for SOS calls. It boasts 8 hours of talk time on a full charge of its Lithium Ion batteries and comes with Bluetooth for hands free operation. In many respects it is similar to any hand phone and takes a SIM card.
The box includes mains and car charger and a rather nice holster for the phone.
It is too early to talk phone prices in India—but on global sites, ISatPhone 2 is quoted at between US $ 750 and $ 900. But service providers ( in our case, BSNL) might bundle the service with the phone and offer better deals. Inmarsat also sells a slightly lighter and cheaper ISatPhone Pro model, which I have seen but not tried.