How to buy satellite communications products
By Tim Dees
When radio, landline and cellular communications are unreliable, satellite conduits may be your only option.
Every user's situation is a little different, so it's difficult to talk about a "standard" public safety satellite communications (satcom) solution. You may need voice communication only, or voice+data. You may also be in a situation where sometimes you will have access to a standard cellular network, and sometimes reliant on the satellite link only. Most agencies contract with a provider that can supply some combination of equipment and airtime to meet your needs.
An internal battery will run for 15-30 hours on standby and provides 2-4 hours of talk time. Data-compatible phones will work as modems, but don't expect to be watching YouTube videos. Data speeds vary between 2400 and 9600 bps (a typical broadband connection is about 1,000X as fast). That's enough for simple text, but not much else.
Handsets typically cost between $500-$1,500, plus accessories, but that's not where you'll spend the most money. Air time on a satellite network costs $1 or more per minute. Air time is sold in packages of 100-5,000 minutes, and the more you buy, the greater the discount. You may be able to negotiate a pay-as-you-go rate, but it will come with a monthly service and access charge, whether you use the phone or not.
Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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