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Satellite Phones: Movie Fodder or Genuine Help?

While mobile phones are easily the most popular tech device on earth, it’s not a given that telephone networks are the means of choice for making calls. Figures from Statista indicate that 87% of Internet-based calls are made through smartphones but this includes apps like WhatsApp, which provides a free calling service, something that traditional carriers have never been able to offer.

A survey conducted by revealed that almost a third (27%) of smartphone owners do not use their device for calling for upwards of a week. Considering that Brits spend around 900 hours a year with their phone in their hands, this might seem a little bit strange. However, just as millennials don’t answer the door to unexpected knocks, they aren’t picking up the phone either.

How do satellite phones fit into this mix then? An analogue to the standard telephone network, albeit one that communicates via radio, satellite phones have long been a staple of disaster movies and action films, where heroes lost in the jungle seek rescue with something that looks like a plastic house brick. Nobody can possibly be using this kind of device as an alternative to mobiles, right?

“Bug-out Bag”

Well, no, they aren’t. That’s not to say that the satellite phone doesn’t have a civilian purpose, though.

One of the most popular genres across the entertainment sector is ‘survival mode’. There are dystopian/apocalyptic movies, books and games galore out there, and so it’s perhaps no surprise that many people have an emergency plan in place for how they would survive a ‘world’s end’ scenario. A satellite phone is at the heart of this. For example, an infographic created by software company ExpressVPN indicates that a satellite phone should be included in what it terms a tech survival kit. This “bug-out bag” includes a number of communication devices, such as a standard mobile phone, a SIM card, and a portable WiFi hotspot.

A tech survival kit should also have backups of important files, chargers and power banks, and a range of different tools. In ideal circumstances, this collection of items would help the owner call for help and/or make minor repairs during a natural disaster. Preparedness in these scenarios is essential. The BBC notes that recent British wildfires moved faster than a human can run.

Of course, any tech survival kit should be paired with a standard pack of supplies, just in case. The US government recommends that standard survival kits contain food and water, a first-aid kit, maps, masks, and a whistle to raise the alert. It’s important to get away from the idea that survival kits are only used in cases of the apocalypse. A simple snowstorm can endanger life, after all.

Disaster-Prone Areas

So, is a satellite phone worth the investment? They were used to great effect during Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the Haiti earthquake disaster in 2010 when telephone networks collapsed. The downside is that they can be an expensive solution to a problem that may not ever occur, with the Garmin inReach costing a staggering £259 from Amazon. Still, people in remote, disaster-prone areas may appreciate the peace of mind they can provide.

The concept of a car-based survival kit is already considered an essential bit of business for drivers, even in a normally temperate country like the UK, so taking a few more precautions shouldn’t be too onerous a task. It can be a life-saving task framed as a piece of weekend entertainment.