Satellite Phones Keep Execs in Touch Anywhere

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Considering the roller coaster the markets have us on this summer, the sad fact is that if you want get out of the office these crazy days -- since who knows what tomorrow will bring? -- you're going to need a foolproof way to communicate with the office.

And considering how wobbly cellphone service tends to be in the more remote areas we all like to travel to, some sort of upgrade over normal wireless mobile phone service is suddenly not such a bad idea.

So how handy is it that a new generation of lower-cost satellite communications options has quietly crept onto the market? Over the past year or so, several satellite devices and services have lowered the cost of true call-from-anywhere speech and text. Keep in mind I did not say low cost; major satellite providers such as Iridium (Stock Quote: IRDM) and Globalstar (Stock Quote: GSAT) still like to charge real money to use their networks. Phones and devices run several hundred dollars at least, and they require serious monthly and by-minutes service fees.

But if you play your celestial communication cards right, legit, worldwide, foolproof satellite connectivity is a viable option.

Here are three ways to bring a little bit of NASA into your office communications mix:

Spot Connect App ($169 for the app and transmitter, plus $99 a year for the plan)

Yes, friends, you really can turn that barely-able-to-make-a-phone-call Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) iPhone, iPad or even iPod of yours into a worldwide texting machine for not a zillion dollars. For sure, sat-enabling an iPod is not exactly idiotproof. You must procure a Spot Connect device, which takes effort. Then you must pair it with your mobile device using wireless Bluetooth technology. Again, that's a step. Then you'll need a line of sight to the sky and the time and patience for the Connect device to find and establish a data connection with communication satellites orbiting overhead. And then once all that is set up, you will really only will be able to send -- but not easily receive -- up to a 41-character message, depending on what service you use. You can even post to Facebook or Twitter.

Now, the technology is several steps away from full-on, two-way voice or text. But if you are looking a reasonably low-cost way to communicate from anywhere, Spot Connect is surprisingly handy.

iSatPhone Pro ($585 to buy or $40 per week rental)

The other big story in lower-cost satellite communications options for business is the softening market for rental phones. Right now, even $40 a week fetches a real-deal satphone: the iSatphone Pro. There seems no shortage of features here. You can hold a real live conversation with any phone on earth.

But watch who you call. Satphone-to-satphone calls -- particularly with other carriers -- can get above $7 a minute! You will like the rugged design and decent short-messaging options, but keep in mind you are still spending a minimum 99 cents per minute to use this thing. And 50 cents per text message.

So keep usage to a minimum. But for calling in that sell order from a far-flung beach, its tough to beat the iSatphone.

Qualcomm (Stock Quote: QCOM) GSP 1700 ($499, plus one-year discounted rate of $20 per month for access)

International satellite provider Globalstar has decided discounting is not such a bad thing after all. Until Aug. 31 the company is offering a dang good deal on a nice looking satphone and a one-year plan for what adds up to $750 for the year. The GSP 1700 is a full-function, two-way text and voice phone sporting full memory dials and a reasonable form factor and color. And you can count on Globalstar being a first-tier communications provider. Coverage and call quality should be solid.

Sure, $750 sounds like a lot. But remember, a fancy iPhone can cost close to $1,200 a year for service, and simple international cellular roaming can easily double that. That means if you are doing any sort of global wandering, the GSP 1700 is worth considering.

—For more tips and tricks on managing your small business, visit MainStreet’s “Small Business” topic page for our latest coverage!

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