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Will Starlink replace satphones for 4×4 overlanders?

Will Starlink replace satphones for 4×4 overlanders?

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For many years the remote-communications market has been satphones, messagers and HF radio. The satellite networks of Iridium, Thuraya, Inmarsat and Globalstar are old, and aren’t designed for the modern, data-driven world.

Now there’s Starlink, which offers incredibly fast high-speed Internet access, anywhere in the world. So, no need for satphones, just use your smartphone, right?

Well, not so fast. Starlink is really new so global coverage isn’t complete, and it’s nowhere near as portable as a satphone. So like so much with the world of 4X4, there’s a range of systems which have individual pros and cons with overlapping functions. In the video below I explain why you need remote-area communications, explode a smartphone myth, explain how satcomms work and then we talk to Marcus Tuck, a global 4×4 traveller who has extensively used Starlink in a number of North American locations, and Dave Darmody of the Australian Offroad Academy. We also take a number of viewer questions as Marcus’ interview was one of my webinars with a live audience.

It’s a long video, so you can use the chapter links to jump to sections of interest. But if you watch it all, you’ll know all you need to about Starlink and get a decent grounding in remote communications and maybe you’ll join me in signing up!

UPDATES:

5/8/2021 – Starlink files patents for ruggedized dishes to go on moving vehicles, exactly what us travellers need!

Here’s a list of links to go with the video:

Remote comms systems

Satphones & satellite networks

There’s now 5 satellite networks to chose from. Here’s the list:

  • Iridium 9575 Extreme – one of the best satphones and networks in my view, runs 66 satellites in LEO, and the only really global option.
  • Inmarsat Isatphone2 – geostationary network using three satellites, has relatively high data speeds.
  • Thuraya XT Pro Dual – geostationary network using two satellites with feature-filled phones, also has a satellite sleeve for your smartphone, and a hotspot. Doesn’t have worldwide coverage, and service not great towards the edges of the cover zones. The Dual switches between GSM and satellites.
  • Globalstar – older LEO network of 48 satellites now really just running the Spot messager. Not recommended for a new satphone if you can even find one.
  • Starlink – what the webinar is all about! Super-high speed Internet, but not very portable and in its early stages.

Distress beacons and rescue organisations

A distress beacon is a one-way SOS system which is guaranteed to get you found and rescued. No ongoing plan, just press the button and you’ll be found. It transmits location data via satellites and by broadcast on 406Mhz.

Messagers

Send text messages, track your location, and some units offer navigation. Some can use your smartphone as an input device.

  • Spot – messager/tracker via Globalstar.
  • Garmin InReach – GPS receiver with satellite messaging/tracking, can use a smartphone app via Bluetooth.
  • Garmin InReach Mini – messager/GPS/tracker system, requires a smartphone as an input device via Bluetooth.
  • Garmin Montana – one of several Montana units that combine navigation with satellite messaging via Iridium
  • Iridium Zoleo – message system that uses your smartphone as an input device for text, tracking etc. No voice.

Data Hotspots

Limited, slow and expensive Internet access.

  • Iridium Go – use your smartphone to make satellite voice calls, limited Internet access via specialised apps on your phone
  • Thuraya XT Hotspot – “world’s fastest WiFi”; they need to rethink that with the advent of Starlink, but otherwise, yes they’re the fastest which means still very slow!
  • Inmarsat BGAN – mobile hotspotwith WiFi.
  • Starlink – this one isn’t limited or slow! Super-high speed Internet, but not very portable and in its early stages.

People Links

Marcus Tuck’s Truck blog and Facebook – Marcus was my main guest, have a read of his informative blog posts on Starlink and overlanding.

Australian Offroad Academy (Dave Darmody) and Facebook – Dave was my other guest, widely experienced offroader and remote-comms user.

Eliana Sheriff on YouTube – Starlink news and reviews and Facebook, follow her if you want all the latest on Starlink.

Got questions, comments? Ask here on on the comments in the video!

Robert Pepper Automotive journalist specialising in 4X4s, sportscars, camping and future tech.

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