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Thread: Satellite Phones 911 Access

  1. #1
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    Satellite Phones 911 Access

    I am just curious if satellite phones in the US will pass 911 calls if the phone isn't subscribed?

  2. #2
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    As of Feb. 11, 2005, mobile satellite providers were required by the FCC to provide 911 service within the U.S. See following link for a write-up of what 911 services Iridium provides to it's subscribers: http://support.ocens.com/downloads/d...%20service.pdf
    Bottom line for Iridium is you theoretically need an active sim card to place a call whether it's for 911 or a regular call(at least in theory, I wouldn't want to depend on an uninitialized handset without a sim card to place any call). To be fair Iridium and other providers are complying with FCC regulations which are written differently for satellite than for cellular providers and the 911 call will not be charged to the subscriber. Plus Iridium does have some regional discount programs (e.g. Alaska, Canada or Africa) and prepaid services. Anyway, it would be desirable to have a return phone number in an emergency situation for rescue services to contact the party in distress while they are en route or if they need additional information.
    Another satellite emergency solution would be a SPOT satellite telemetry handset(no connection to Iridium; it uses different satellites that are part of the GlobalStar network). Very basic but it provides location tracking and an emergency transponder for $100/year. http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=1300

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    Before you look at the SPOT messenger, id highly suggest considering a personal locator beacon (PLB), as they are designed to work anywhere in the world and notify emergency personal directly without charge. The satellite constellation is much more reliable in my opinion, and will be soon supplemented by the galileo positioning satellites.

    Spot and Global Star are two private companies that you would have to entrust with your safety. Why add two commercial layers and a service fee? While Global Star's simplex data service is unaffected by the serious problems the satellites are having, i simply do not trust them much.

    The biggest issue with a PLB (or any) device is there is no way to convey the severity of the emergency, and sometimes the user has differing opinions on what signifies a real emergency.

    Iridium will work without a service plan, however, I have not tried to make a 911 test call with a deactivated sim to actually verify this. They are mandated by the FCC, but who really tests it...

    911 also will not work outside a very strict geographic boundary drawn around the United States. It uses the built in positioning capability of the system (the same system that provides crude positioning data for regional service plans, call routing, and short message burst positioning reports). The problem with this is, even though the resolution of the position is 10km, the error can be as high as 20 miles at times, which could actually exclude beach areas.

    Dialing 911 from an iridium can be troublesome even if it were to work perfectly 100% of the time from anywhere, as it sends you to a national dispatch.

    To summarize, i'd highly suggest one of the two options:

    1) PLB, for about 400 USD, to carry with you in case of an emergency

    2) Iridium satellite phone with a global prepaid service plan for the duration of activity (1 mo - 12 mo vouchers are available) AND a GPS AND the direct number of a local emergency service/SAR. Service costs will be from $100 - $600 depending on month duration and number of minutes required. Phones, while $1500 new (for a sleek and sexy 9555), can be purchased for around $300-$600 with some careful ebay shopping. Used handsets are usually as good as new as long as there is no real damage.

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