Thanks to new innovations by companies like Thuraya and Spot, satellite networks are finally about to deliver on the promise of truly planetwide connectedness. Just be sure to tap into the right network. See the sidebar for a map of coverage areas.
Thuraya Sat Sleeve
The Device: Smaller than a paperback, it turns an iPhone 4/4S into a sat phone via Bluetooth.
The Network: Two satel-lites hover 22,000 miles above the United Arab Emi-rates, Thuraya’s financier.
The Signal: It’s the best option for the Himalayas but provides spotty coverage in northern latitudes and none in the Americas.
Price: $500 plus $1.20 per minute.
Spot Global Phone
The Device: Delivers GPS coordinates at the touch of a button.
The Network: Forty-eight satellites orbit 870 miles above every continent but Antarctica.
The Signal: The noto-riously weak voice signal, especially over the oceans, is strongest in North America. But in the past few years, Globalstar, Spot’s parent company, has fired new satellites into orbit, promising vastly expanded coverage and reliability.
Price: $500 plus $.20 per minute. findmespot.com
The Device: This adventure-ready handheld is element and shock resistant.
The Network: Sixty-six satellites orbit in a crosshatch pattern 485 miles over the entire globe.
The Signal: The only network with oceanic and polar service and truly global coverage. It’s also expensive and inconsistent. Fortunately, Delorme’s inReach SE ($300) taps into the same network and reliably sends and receives texts anywhere in the world.
Price: From $1,200 plus $.95 per minute.
HolidayPhone Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot
The Device: A palm-size router that gives service to your cell phone and eight other devices.
The Network: Skips satellites and connects directly to the closest cell towers.
The Signal: The best option for travel in well-wired countries, but it would be better if the 3G moved faster than cold molasses.
Price: $99 plus $80 unlimited coverage for 30 days.
Getting Through: How to Get the Best Signal
1. Head for open skies.
2. Break texts into two-word messages, which take less bandwidth to send.
3. Point the antenna toward the equator, where most satellites orbit.
4. Rent from remotesatellite.com (starting at $30 a day).