iridium9555Lucky me! I recently came into possession of an Iridium satphone. I’ve always wanted something like this which can be used far from land (like while sailing) or in a grid-down emergency scenario (like the next San Francisco earthquake or other such localized disasters). But such devices are usually thousands of dollars, and that’s really a lot for a “nice to have” item. This one was essentially free!

How did it come to be freely mine? From what I can tell, some Australian visiting Maui saw that it wouldn’t charge, thought is was broken, and threw it away. Then via a friend of a friend there picked it out of the trash, and eventually it wound up in my hands. Judging by the age of the phone and the fact that it had no charger adapter for the US, I guessed that the battery had been completely discharged for some time and had simply gone bad. So I bought it a new one and a USB charger for $30 bucks, and…I was right!

Now it works fine. I think.

Well, it powers up anyway. I need an active plan to really test it, but those are much more than $30.

It’s actually a minimum of USD $150 for a 75-minute prepaid card for one of these babies. That’s $2.00/min to make a call. It gets cheaper per minute from there, but that’s the lowest overall cost to test and make sure my phone works like I think it does. Remember that these phones are not intended to compete with local carriers, they are meant to work where/when the local carriers are no longer available. This is the phone you can use while crossing the Pacific, or lost in the tundra, or (as it’s former owners probably did) traveling in the Australian Outback.

I’m not planning to be any of those places anytime soon, but I am going to Indonesia for the first time later today. And though there is absolutely no reason that I need a satphone for this trip, knowing for sure that I have a working satphone does seem like a good idea. And just in case there’s a huge earthquake, or volcanic eruption, or tidal wave, or something while I’m in Bali, I’ll be able to call out to my family half the world away and let them know I’m okay, or coordinate efforts that no one else can. My Mom likes the idea.

If you ever think about communications during a disaster (and you should do so BEFORE it happens), know that you don’t need to run out and buy a satphone. First, things first.

  1. Seriously, have a communications planWho needs to hear from you? What are some alternate ways you can contact them? Do they have a list of your everybody else’s to call on your behalf? Who is the designated backup? Answer these questions please. Templates and resources abound.
  2. Then maybe get your Ham Radio License which is kinda fun anyways, and you can probably do it for less than $50. I did this and highly recommend it. You can get handheld ham radios for super cheap these days and as long as you’re near enough to signal a repeater, you’re good.
  3. Only then is it time to start shopping for satphones. Or being gifted “broken” ones in the mail…