DO YOU NEED TO TRAVEL WITH A SAT PHONE?
This year has been a shocking year for people dying in the Australian Outback - often after getting bogged or breaking down and not being able to call for help.
Yes a mobile phone on the Telstra network will cover most of Australia's built up areas, and a surprising number of remote locations. But even if you're just doing a traditional big lap and sticking to the bitumen you'll still find large patches of the country that are completely without a mobile phone signal. And if you're going off the beaten track like us you could ve without mobile signal for weeks at a time.
And that is why we chose to travel with a Satellite phone. We chose a stand alone sat phone over a Satellite sleeve as Sat sleeve are often specific to a model of phone, so if you change phones your sat sleeve becomes useless. I also figured having a completely separate phone was a good idea in case my mobile phone was lost or damaged.
We also chose a sat phone over a EPIRB or PLB because these are for use in genuine life threatening emergencies only. And aren't so great if you just want to call a tow truck, or roadside assist, or get in touch with family at home. We preferred the option of a sat phone because it talks back - if I need to call 000 in a medical emergency I'd rather speak to a real person who can give me advice and support, than to just press an Emergency button and wait for help to arrive.
There is also a common misconception that you can use 112 or 000 on a regular mobile phone and connect to a Satellite service even if there is no mobile coverage. This is definitely NOT TRUE and is an extremely dangerous myth. If you're on say Vodafone, and you're in an area that has no Vodafone coverage, but does have Telstra coverage then yes you can dial 000 or 112 and you'll connect to the Telstra tower. But a regular mobile phone cannot connect to a satellite service under any circumstances so this should definitely not be something you rely on!
Our sat phone cost us $600 ex-hire on eBay, and has been on a $15/month casual plan over our entire travels. This keeps it available to use, and then if we need to make any calls they're billed separately. It also has a regular mobile number, meaning people can call & text us at regular cost. So if we were out bush and wanted to speak to my family, we'd send them a text and ask them to call us back. Regardless we see it as a small price to pay for that safety net of being able to call for help from almost anywhere.
There are still some limitations to using a sat phone. They generally need to be used outdoors in a wide open space to acess a good signal, so may not work in very hilly or overgrown areas, or at the bottom of narrow gorges. And as we discovered they're not so great in a moving vehicle. But they're still the best option we've got for areas outside of mobile coverage, and personally we very much recommend having one with you.
If you're going on a short remote trip then a hire is a good option. But if you're planning a big trip it's probably most economical to buy your own.
And of course now we've finished up and we're back in civilization we no longer need our sat phone. We've listed it for sale on eBay, so if you're in the market for one you can check it out here
EDIT: ours is now sold, but there's usually a few second hand ones floating around on eBay if you're looking for one.