Satellite Telephone (December 2003)         Back to Projects

Handheld cellular phones are quite convenient and inexpensive but are limited to the range of terrestial stations for coverage.  Not too practical at sea unless you happen to be near a coastal station.  With our planned movement throughout Asia over the next few years I found an alternative that, hopefully, will provide instant emergency communications 24/7.

The Asia Cellular Satellite (ACeS) network is a satellite-based communications system specially designed for the Asian region.  ACeS uses the Garuda-1 satellite located at the equator and 123 degrees longitude. 

The ACeS Satellite footprint covers 11 million square miles of Southeast Asian Region, and includes 24 countries such as the Philippines archipelago, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, China to name a few. 

The fixed terminal I purchased locally is the FR-190 model, which comes complete with the telephone unit, telephone set and antenna with mounting hardware.  In the Philippines it is marketed by SMART Communications and is called "SMARTLink".  The complete unit cost is about US$95.  Using prepaid cards, the cost for a long distance call (IDD) anywhere in the world varies from  US$0.35 to US$0.85 per minute.  The cost for a call, per minute, in the Philippines is US$0.25 peak/US$0.15 off peak/weekends.

      

Here's the unit and telephone set (the big black one under the Nokia cell phone) mounted on a bulkhead in the saloon and the antenna mounted on the aft end of the starboard pin rail, inside the upper shroud to prevent fouling with the genoa sheet.

The mounting plate that comes with the antenna is of painted mild steel and would rust quickly in the marine environment. I fabricated an adjustable mount from scrap stainless steel pieces in my 'junk box'.  It always gives me great pleasure to use those odds and ends I've been carrying around for years, hoping to find a use for them.

Antenna orientation is normally of concern when mounted on a moving platform without any means of automatically pointing the antenna at the satellite.  This is my experience with a digital satellite radio (World Space) but that hasn't been too much of a bother.  In this case, the link to the satellite is much less sensitive to orientation and from my present location 550NM north of the satellite's geoposition a full strength signal is obtained with a horizontal orientation as shown.  A fellow cruiser with the same system and a horizontal antenna made successful calls from near Hong Kong.  Time will tell if this becomes a problem as I move west.

Though the unit comes with an AC adapter (100-235 VAC) which supplies 18VDC at 1.4 A (that's over 25 watts!) it works on 10.5-24 VDC at less than 100 mA, about 1.2 watts.  So direct wiring to the ship's batteries works fine and leaving it on all the time is an acceptable power budget.

A small consideration is the availability of the phone cards.  The cards are linked to the SIM card (which determines your telephone number) and it would be possible to purchase a SIM card in each of the local countries you are located.  But that would mean the number keeps changing so my solution will be to prevail upon a friend in the Philippines to purchase cards for me and send me the necessary information.

If you would like to know our phone number, please send me an email with your telephone number and country code.  See How To Contact VALHALLA,

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