Difference between satellite phone and cell phone | satellite phone vs cell phone

This page compares satellite phone vs cell phone and mentions difference between satellite phone and cell phone. It derives difference between both as per advantages and disadvantages and their network types satellite network and cellular mobile network respectively.

Introduction: Satellite phones and cellular mobile phones are used to provide communication capabilities such as voice calls, text messaging and data services such as email, basic internet access etc. They operate using different technologies and have distinct features or characteristics.

Satellite Phone based on Satellite Network

A satellite phone also known as sat phone is a mobile communication device that allows users to make or receive calls, send or receive text messages and access data services via satellites orbiting around the Earth. Satellite phones connect to network of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. When a user initiates a call or sends a message, the signal is transmitted from satellite phone to the nearest satellite overhead. The satellite receives the signal from the sat phone and transmits it to the ground station on the Earth. The ground station functions as a gateway that routes the signal to the appropriate destination such as satellite phone, landline phone or cell phone registered on cellular network.

Iridium Satellite Operating Frequencies

Following are some of the features of satellite phones and their corresponding satellite network system.
➨Satellite Phone uses satellite network such as Iridium, Inmarsat to dial call or receive call.
➨It is mainly used in non city areas such as remote terrain, desert, polar regions, for aviation and maritime communications etc.
➨Satellite phones are very costly.
➨The satellite phone is mainly used for voice and text messages. Internet services are planned to be available in future due to launch of new satellites in "Iridium NEXT" constellation. Dual mode handsets provide both cellular (e.g. GSM) and satellite connectivity.
➨Call drop due to handover is not an issue due to global coverage with one unique single number and SIM. It is great option for frequent travellers on business trips. It is also used in maritime communication, defense, disaster rescue operations etc.
➨It offers not much benefits to the service provider currently. With the launch and installation of Iridium NEXT satellites, it will offer more advanced features. It will be used in aviation by aeroplanes to provides their location to earth stations or gateways. The other services such as internet are also provided in maritime communication.
➨Installation of satellite network is complex and requires more resources and more time. Satellite network consists of satellite phone, 66 LEO satellites and Earth stations or ground stations or gateways. This is depicted in the figure-1 above.
➨Maintenance of satellite system is complex and more costly.
➨It will take time to be used by more people as it requires learning or familiarity of the working of the satellite system. The learning need to be imparted with the help of education.
➨Satellite bandwidth is scant resource. Hence less bandwidth is available for satellite phone users and consecutively low data rate can be achieved.

Cell Phone or Mobile Phone based on Cellular Network

Cellular mobile phones operate on cellular networks that consist of network of cell towers or base stations on the ground. The cell towers support various radio access technologies (RATs) such as GSM, CDMA/UMTS, 4G LTE, 5G NR etc. at different frequency bands. These cell towers are installed relatively closer to the cell phone users compared to satellites.

When a user initiates call, cell phone sends a signal to the nearest cell tower or base station. This signal is relayed to the mobile switching center ( MSC ) or base station controller (BSC). The MSC is the central hub of cellular network which manages call routing and other network functions. The call is routed to the recipient's network. The two way voice channel is established when recipient answers the call.

cellular network

Following are some of the features of cell phones and their corresponding cellular mobile network system.
➨Mobile phone uses Cellular network such as GSM, CDMA, LTE to dial call or receive call.
➨The mobile phone is mainly used in city areas where in more populations leave.
➨Mobile phones are very cheaper and many options are available to purchase.
➨Internet services and other advanced features for high data rate applications are already available in cellular network. It is used for voice, data based apps, SMS, MMS, VOIP and so on.
➨Call drop due to handover is a big concern while traveling and moving from network to network. It often requires new SIM and new mobile phone itself to be purchased in different countries. This depends on availability of cellular network type such as GSM (i.e. 2G) or CDMA (i.e. 3G) or LTE (i.e. 4G) or LTE advanced etc.
➨It offers major benefits to telecom service provider due to high density population as target users of the cellular services.
➨Installation of cellular network is easy and requires less resources and less time. Cellular network consists of mobile phone, Base station (i.e. BTS) and cellular infrastructure (MSC, PSTN, ISDN, PSDN, Wifi interface etc.) This is depicted in the figure-2 above.
➨Maintenance of cellular system is simple and less costly.
➨It has been already penetrated into market and used by huge population across the world. People have become familiar with the use of mobile phones and cellular system. Moreover many technicians are available in each and every streets of almost all the developed and developing countries.
➨Bandwidth in cellular network is not a concern due to advanced multiple access and modulation techniques such as MIMO, OFDM, OFDMA etc. Hence high bandwidth and consecutively high data rate can be achieved easily.

Difference between satellite phone and cell phone

Following table mentions difference between a cell phone and a satellite phone with respect to various comparison parameters.

Parameters Satellite phone Cell phone
Network type used Sat phone uses satellites installed in LEO around the Earth for its operation. Cellular mobile phone uses cellular networks (GSM, UMTS, 4G LTE, 5G NR ) installed by service providers.
Call drop No such issue Big concern when travelling from network to network within same RAT or another RAT
Transmit power Higher (About 2 watts to 5 watts or even higher, varies as per specific model and satellite network) Lower (0.1 to 2 watts, varies as per frequency band and cellular technology used)
Communication transmit and receive frequencies L band ( 1616 to 1626.5 MHz for uplink direction from the phone to the satellite and 1626.5 to 1660.5 MHz for downlink direction from the satellite to the phone. Cellular mobile phones communicate using various cellular band frequencies as per their technologies such as GSM, CDMA/UMTS, 4G LTE, 5G NR, 6G etc. and region wise allocations in each of these technologies. The 2G GSM phones use 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz frequencies, 4G LTE phones use 700, 800, 850, 900, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2600 MHz range frequencies, 5G phones use sub-6GHz and millimeter wave bands and so on.
Antenna Sat phone requires extendable or foldable antenna to establish line of sight (LOS) connection with satellites. Cell phone requires internal antenna or small external antenna to communicate with cellular tower antennas
Battery power consumption Higher, due to high transmit power, longer distance, longer call setup time and signal processing requirements. Lower, due to low transmit power, shorter distance and faster call setup time
Voice call quality Offers lower quality due to longer signal delay and high atmospheric interference Offers higher quality due to fast call setup and less interference
Data services Provides basic data services with slow speeds for email and basic internet Provides fast internet services with 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks
Availability and accessibility May require an obstructured view of sky for satellite connection Widely available and accessible in urban and suburban areas where cellular infrastructures are available
Roaming charges No such charges Roaming charges apply outside the home area of subscribers
Cost Generally satellite phones are expensive Cellular phones are more affordable

Conclusion : Both satellite phone and cell phone offer unique benefits in their specific usage applications. The choice between a cell phone and a satellite phone depends on the user's specific needs and the intended usage scenario. The Satellite phones are invaluable for communication in remote or disaster afflicted areas with no cellular coverage where as cell phones or mobile phones excel in areas with an established cellular network.

Satellite vs Cellular Related links

Refer following links to know more on satellite vs cellular wireless technologies and terminologies. This will help one understand more on satellite phone vs mobile phone and the difference between satellite phone and mobile phone.
Satellite tutorial   VSAT system basics   Cellular vs Adhoc network   Iridium satellite call setup   Iridium frequencies   Iridium country codes   Iridium phone manufacturers   What is Iridium Next   Satellite IoT network   Cellular frequencies   Cellular Communication  

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