For years, satellite phones have been limited to making and receiving calls. For the hiker lost and injured in the woods, a satellite phone is a lifeline to help. For the sea captain out on the ocean, it’s a connection back to land, and the dispatch center warning him about impending weather. For the journalist in a war-torn nation, it’s a means of sharing new developments with the world at large. But in every situation, communication is via a phone call and person-to-person conversation.
That’s all changing, though. In an era when all you need to do to access your social media profiles or connect with people all over the globe is tap a button on the screen on your smartphone, a device that can only make phone calls might not hold the same appeal. Not to mention, many people rely on social media to stay connected and share important news and information with others. It’s easier, after all, to send a quick tweet or update your Facebook status than it is to call everyone on your contact list, or to rely on other people to share your news quickly and accurately.
Because so many people need to have access to their social media profiles, even if they are in remote areas that aren’t served by traditional cellular service, a number of satellite phone networks are developing ways for customers to access their profiles, or at least send and receive messages via social media. While none are quite as simple as tapping on the icon for an application, they represent a huge leap in the functionality and connectivity of satellite phones.
Share Your Status in 140 Characters or Less
The microblogging service Twitter actually began as an SMS-messaging service back in 2006, so it makes sense that the same messaging technology used back then is the means by which satellite phone users can access their feeds today. While you still can’t see the feeds of those you follow on your satellite phone, you can easily send messages to your feed and receive responses via text message.
It works like this: You must register your satellite phone with Twitter, using the Twitter.com website. You’ll enter your sat phone number and confirm it through a series of text messages. Once your phone is confirmed, you can send texts to “40404,” which will then post to your account to be seen by all of your followers. (If you are using a phone on the Thuraya network, the number to text is “1888,” while Inmarsat users should send texts to “898.”) If you want to be able to receive replies, simply visit the profile of the person who can reply, choose to receive notifications of their tweets, and you will receive a text message every time that person posts.
There are a few things to keep in mind when tweeting from a sat phone. One, while the SMS text service allows messages of up to 160 characters, Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet. Any message over 140 characters will be cut off. You must count characters to ensure you send a complete message. Second, because most satellite networks charge per message, you’ll want to be careful about which tweets you subscribe to; receiving a lot of text message could send your bill skyrocketing.
Other Social Media Accounts
Updating your Facebook status via satellite phone is a similar process. Log in to your Facebook account, click on account settings and then the link for “Mobile.” You’ll be prompted to enter your mobile phone number, and then activate it for text messaging. Similar to Twitter, you’ll need to confirm the number, and after confirmation, you can then update your Facebook status by texting the update to “32665.” Again, you are limited to 160 characters, but that will be enough to let family and friends know you are safe during an emergency or to update followers of your whereabouts when you’re exploring a remote part of the world.
As satellite phone technology improves, it’s likely that in time we will see additional capabilities for social media connectivity in the future. Already, satellite provider Thuraya is developing a case for the iPhone that turns the device into a satellite phone; presumably, users will be able to do almost everything that they are used to doing on their iPhones using a satellite network — including staying connected via social media. Until then, by using a satellite phone’s text capabilities, you have one more way to stay in touch beyond the traditional phone call.
About the Author: Georgia native Hobert Pruitt works with GlobalSatelliteCommunications.