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Update on the Isatphone, August 2012

The Isatphone continues to perform extremely well. We have received positive reports from field partners in Indonesia and Africa, and even a rancher friend in Montana (USA).

Price of the Isatphone is still $650,
with both prepaid and postpaid plans available, including an emergency
plan for < $30 per month which
includes 60 minutes of airtime.

Note: prepaid plans for as little as 30 days are now are available for use in North America and worldwide. Please contact for current pricing.

A Team from the Penn State Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) use an Isatphone in Baoma, central Sierra Leone. The team of five students and two faculty mentors completed a latrine project and collected comprehensive data for a future water project. Pictured are Dr. John Lamancusa, student Jared Yarnall-Schane, and Rich Kercher, near the foundation of the school where the latrine was constructed.

Isatphone field test, 2010

Inmarsat’s new IsatPhone, introduced in 2010, has so far lived up to its billing. At $650, it is a light, reliable, and easy-to-use handset for voice and text, with global coverage and integrated GPS. 

Jared Barnhart of EWB makes an IsatPhone call from El Toro, a remote
village in northern Argentina. Jared was the team’s technical lead.

The handset weighs only 9.8 ounces (279g) and appears to be well designed.  The menus are easy to access, with the expected functions (phonebook, contact management, text messaging) and several very nice features, including the ability to easily send your GPS coordinates to any phone or email address by SMS text messaging.

Especially noteworthy is the long battery life: 100 hours in standby, and 8 hours “talk time” while connected to the satellite network.  While we have not tested the full 100 hours, it was clear after 24 hours that the battery was maintaining a charge.  With DC or solar power available, keeping the IsatPhone charged should be no problem.  In the field test, the phone held the charge very well for several days without recharging.

The cost of IsatPhone service is very favorable: with the standard plan, a postpaid subscription is only US$ 13.50 per month and 88 cents per minute ($1.05 to cell phones). Again, coverage is global.

Other specifications can be found at the Inmarsat IsatPhone web site.  The full user guide can be downloaded from the Support page.  Please see our Current Updates for more information, or email us at

In November, HumaniNet conducted an initial test of the IsatPhone in the U.S.  The only issue with the test related to text messaging, a service problem that was quickly corrected.   Care must be taken to not block the antenna, which must have line-of-sight.

IsatPhone with AC and DC chargers, with soda can for size comparison.

For our first field test, we were fortunate to have a very capable and willing partner: Brian Houston, of the Chesapeake Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), located in the Washington, DC area.  In early December, Brian and the EWB team traveled to a village in a remote region of northern Argentina where cellular phone service was unavailable.   The IsatPhone was loaned by the owner, Paul Gunderson. 

For more on the EWB trip and their projects, please click here.
Here was Brian’s summary report on the IsatPhone while in Argentina:

“As for the phone, I would say that overall we were very pleased with it. When starting up the phone, the antenna does seem very sensitive about being pointed towards the equator, but once the signal is locked it seems to hold well.  Once a connection was established, new texts and voicemails were generally downloaded within the first two or three minutes.  There is a noticeable delay when talking to someone, but not so noticeable that it disrupts the conversation.”

While in town, each team member used the phone to call someone back in the United States.   While Brian reported some degradation on one of the calls (“missing words”), he said that “other members of the team who used the phone reported no issues with communicating whatsoever and found the overall experience to be quite good.”

Brian also reported that the IsatPhone retained its charge very well during their stay in the village.

“While we were there, there was also a minor medical issue and a transportation issue for the teachers at the school.  In both cases, the phone was used very successfully to contact the nearest town.  Apart from the satellite phone, there was no form of communication available to the people of the town.”

Beyond operational convenience, there are many reasons for having a satphone handy when out of cell coverage – unexpected medical problems, security, or helping local people (often in critical situations) as the EWB team did.   At $650, the IsatPhone is pretty good insurance for project trips, development teams, and emergency communications.

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