Camper Trailers Tech Tips

Inmarsat Pro IsatPhone





Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro

normal contact

We have purchased an Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro satellite phone for peace of mind when travelling in the remote areas that do not have conventional mobile phone coverage. The SatPhone will only be used for ‘emergency’ use. Normal contact will still be by our mobile phone and also our Netbook PC with a Telstra USB modem to receive emails when in mobile range.

urgent contact

The SatPhone will not be switched on most of the time, even when we are in a remote location & out of normal mobile phone coverage. Obviously if a critical situation has arisen and we have already made initial contact with help and are therefore anticipating further communications, the phone would be left on permanently.

If we know we are out of normal mobile range we will turn on the satellite phone at least once a day to check for any SMS or email messages. If an urgent situation arises and someone cannot voice or SMS contact us on our mobiles, then they need to try one of the following to contact us via our SatPhone.

sms Enter the international dial code of the country you are in, then the SatPhone number to send a SMS message in the normal way.

tc communications who operate the system in Australia also provide a free text message facility from their website  The box is near the bottom of the home page.
* Enter the satellite phone number in the top box after the 87077 (i.e. 6476439)
* Enter an email address in the second box. This is a mandatory field.
* Enter your message of up to 160 characters which includes the number.
* You do not need to tick the ‘I agree’ box.
* Click the send box.

email Enter (our satphone number) in the ‘To’ field and up to 160 characters of email content in the normal way. Experience so far would seem to indicate that SMS and email contact might take longer to receive via the satellite than conventional means, assuming we have turned the phone on. If you know we are remote, there is no reason why you cannot send non-urgent SMS and e-mails (160 characters) to the satellite phone just to keep in touch, but we may not reply!

voice It is very expensive for you to call a satellite phone, although costs vary dependant on your supplier. Telstra charge $19.99 per minute in 60 second blocks, even if the call is not accepted or the satellite phone is turned off. To make a voice call, dial the international dial code of the country you are in, then the SatPhone number.

When you call you may experience a relatively long delay whilst your phone tries to connect, so don’t hang up until you get some sort of response. We do not intend to activate voicemail on the satellite phone as it is just as practical to rely on SMS and e-mail contact.

If the satellite phone is turned on and for some reason we fail to answer it, we will get a missed call message identifying your number, unless it is private. As already explained, if we are out of normal mobile reception we will turn the satellite phone on at least once a day, between 1800 and 1900 Australian Eastern Standard Time. If the satellite phone is turned off when you call we do not get a missed call message.

why we might contact a friend

If we require emergency contact we will normally try to call help from the appropriate person/organisation directly.

However, certain non standard redirected numbers such as 1800, 1300, 13nnnn and ironically 000, that are redirected within the Australian phone system can recognise it is an incoming international phone call and most probably will ignore it. Organisations that operate these types of numbers such as NRMA, banks, etc normally have separate numbers if you are calling from abroad and these are the numbers to call from a satellite phone.

If we cannot reach help directly we may need to contact a friend as an intermediary so that they can relay our difficulty to the appropriate person/organisation. We would probably give the GPS coordinates of our location as well as other general location details so help can find us.

There is one situation when we might contact a friend via the satellite phone when it is not an emergency. We will always have purchased a voucher so we can activate the phone to make calls in an emergency. These vouchers expire after 12 months, so if we are approaching that expiry date we will activate the phone and use it for normal use rather than lose the free airtime.

satphone info

The use of a satellite phone is somewhat different to a normal mobile phone. Firstly it is like a GPS in that it must be able to ‘see’ the relevant satellite to function. It will not work inside buildings, cars, caravans, tunnels, difficult terrain etc. Another significant difference is that the in-built antennae must be in a vertical position and not stored within the phone, which makes it difficult to carry like this.

The most practical way to use the phone is probably to place it on its side with the antennae upright and use the included microphone/earpiece connected to the base of the phone. In voice mode it therefore works better as a sending device as the cost and practicality of receiving calls, without an additional external antennae, make it difficult to receive voice calls unless you are expecting them and have set up the phone accordingly.

Assuming you are within satellite reception, a satellite phone will always be able to receive voice, SMS and e-mails worldwide.

Inmarsat provide a free test facility for you to check that your phone is working. From the SatPhone call 00870776999999 to receive a recorded message.

prepay info

Satellite phones, like mobiles, can operate on a plan or pre-pay basis. Unless you are on a plan, if you want to make calls/SMS etc. you have to purchase a voucher which must be activated within 12 months of purchase or it will expire. The vouchers are sold in a number of units and each denomination lasts for a specified period once it is activated.
* 25 units last up to 30 days and cost $33
* 50 units last up to 90 days and cost $65
* 100 units last up to 180 days and cost $130

Voice calls are charged in 15 second increments at a cost 25 cents of a unit, so a one minute call costs about $1.30. To send an SMS is half a unit or about 65 cents

Normally we will purchase a 25 unit voucher and not activate it unless we need to make an ‘emergency’ call/SMS or the 12 month expiry deadline of the voucher is approaching.

New pre-pay vouchers can be purchased from -
TC Communications 02 97145100 e-mail:
Videosat 02 94823100 e-mail:

A satellite phone is also capable of receiving data and fax communications through separate contact numbers, but this is not relevant to us.

making a satphone call

To make a call from the satellite phone:
- Turn on the phone by pressing the red button for a few seconds. It may take several minutes for the phone to detect a satellite and will display 'waiting for the satellite' before it has a service and you can use it.
- If a voucher has not yet been activated enter - * 101 * 16 digit voucher number #
- then press the green key

We keep the latest inactivated voucher number in the phone contacts as VOUCHER NUMBER. The first eight digits are in ‘telephone’ and the last eight digits are in ‘mobile phone’ as it will not display clearly in only one field.

To call from a satellite phone irrespective of your location, dial 00, then the country code of the destination phone Australia is 61, then the phone number without the leading zero of the area code or mobile.
- to a home phone within Australia as an example 0061212345678
- to a mobile within Australia as an example 0061412345678   

NB There is also an option on the menu to activate a pre-pay voucher, ‘Settings’ - the spanner - then ‘Prepay’.

The phone knows its location and can display these GPS coordinates for reference in the menu screen bottom row middle option and if required send them via e-mail and SMS. The GPS location is in the format -
L dd mm ss - where as  L=Latitude with N=north, S=south, dd = degrees, mm=minutes, ss=seconds
L dd mm ss - where as L=longitude with E=east, W= west, dd = degrees, mm=minutes, ss=seconds

A useful website is
latitude degrees=minus if South
longitude degrees=minus if West
If you enter these coordinates in the bottom righthand boxes you can see the location on a map. For example -
S 33 40 16 - enter as –33 degrees,  40 minutes, 16 seconds
E 151 6 35 - enter as 151 degrees,  6 minutes, 35 seconds

emergency numbers

I have compiled a separate list of emergency contacts within Australia that will accept satellite calls and these are also stored in the phones contact menu together with personal contacts. A printable list can be found here.

If you are in the USA you can make an emergency call by dialling 911 even if the phone is inactive.

what you get

The phone comes with a 240volt mains charger, 12volt car cigarette charger, computer USB lead/charger and a microphone/earpiece lead.

satphone prepay - good points

* It now seems more sensible to have a satellite phone rather than an EPERB emergency device.
* Provided you have satellite reception you can receive voice calls, SMS and e-mail from anywhere in the world, irrespective of your location.
* You may be eligible for an Australian government subsidy of 50-85% of the cost of the phone.
* If you do not want to make calls, send SMS or e-mails on a regular basis, you can leave the phone in receive only mode and carry a voucher which you only activate if needed. A $33 voucher will expire after one year if not activated, and once activated will operate for 30 days.
* Call costs from the phone are relatively cheap $1.30 per minute and $0.65 an SMS.

limitations of use

* Reception is not as flexible as with a normal mobile although an external antenna may help in certain situations.
* The cost of calling a satellite phone is probably prohibitive except in critical situations.
* Certain redirected numbers especially 000 will not work in Australia.
* You will not get a missed call message if the phone is not turned on, so you may need to use voicemail if necessary.


Thanks to Mike Sargeant for the article