Globalstar vs Iridium | Which Network Is Best For Sailors?

Satellite phones provide coverage over large swathes of the Earth and, as a result, are particularly useful to sailors.

Depending on the satellite constellation placed in orbit by the system, they may provide complete or only partial coverage.

Two of the most well-known networks are Globalstar and Iridium. This article is going to compare them side-by-side so you can pick which suits you best.

At a Glance:

1️⃣ The satellites receive the call from the phone and transfer it to a terrestrial station, routed through that country’s phone networks.

2️⃣ This means that some countries can restrict their use.

3️⃣ The Globalstar network covers North America, Europe, and Australia. The Iridium network covers the whole planet.

Before we kick off the comparison, check out our guide on using a satellite phone at sea to understand the practicality of satellite phones.

🌎 Globalstar Overview

The following provides an overview of the Globalstar network.

Satellite Network

The Globalstar network consists of 40 ground stations that receive the signal from the 25 overflying satellites and transfer these to the local telephone networks.

The smaller size of the Globalstar network means that there is not as much coverage provided compared to Iridium.

Services And Products

Globalstar services include the following:

  • Voice Telephony
  • SMS text messaging
  • Direct Dial-Up Internet
  • Internet Broadband
  • Short-burst messages that are mobile originated.
  • A geolocation function accurate to within 30 km.

Globalstar has teamed up with Apple and offers satellite communication on the latest generation of iPhones.

This is only available in areas where Globalstar provides Network coverage. North America is the primary market in which this service is offered.

🪐 Iridium Overview

The following provides an overview of the Iridium network.

Satellite Network

The Iridium satellite network comprises 66 satellites in low earth orbit (LEO).

These lower orbiting satellites (485 miles high) are close to the Earth and, in theory, should provide a superior signal compared to the other systems.

The LEO satellites rotate relative to the Earth in a north/south direction.

Because they move in a direction relative to the Earth’s rotation, they are called non-geostationary orbits.

A unique feature of the Iridium network is that coverage includes the North and South Poles. The Iridium satellite network has the most extensive coverage of the two systems.

At all times, four Iridium satellites are “cross-linked,” providing backup in case of failure.

The downside of LEO constellations is that the signals are subject to ionospheric interference at low latitudes.

Iridium uses L-Band frequencies more resilient to weather events than other systems.

Services And Products

Iridium offers an extensive range of products, some listed below.

  • Animal tracking
  • Asset tracking and surveillance
  • Emergency SOS transmissions
  • Maritime On board communication
  • Satellite broadband internet connectivity
  • Vehicle tracking systems
  • Voice services

⚖️ Coverage Comparison

Satellite phone companies are required to license in all countries where they provide a service.

For political reasons, some countries resist satellite phone operators. The result is that even though there is satellite coverage, satellite phones cannot operate in those areas.

You may be arrested and jailed for having a satellite phone in some countries. While available services work in others, but an issue may exist when traveling through customs with a satellite phone:

Arrest Risk CountriesCustoms Issue Countries
North KoreaAngola

Only Inmarsat devices are permitted in India, and possession of another network makes you liable for arrest and jail time.

China does not allow satellite phone coverage.

Globalstar Coverage 

The Globalstar system covers North and South America, Europe, Australia, some parts of Asia, and some parts of Africa.

No Voice Coverage AreasNo Message Send/Receive Coverage Areas
Central and Southern AfricaBelize
China (for political reasons)China (Political)
Most of AsiaCosta Rica
GreenlandEl Salvador
Northern CanadaHonduras
India (Must be Inmarsat)

Iridium Coverage

Technically Iridium covers the entire planet. Apart from the restrictions placed by certain countries for political reasons, the Iridium system provides coverage across the globe for all of its products.

💨 Service Quality And Speed

If you’re asking whether it’s worth getting a satellite phone, you should consider that sat phone speed and quality are affected by the following factors:

  • The extreme distances that satellite call data travels affect call quality. Data packets are compressed to speed up the transmission, which may also affect the call quality.
  • There must be a line-of-sight view between the phone and the responding satellite. This means satellite phones will not work indoors.
  • Poor weather conditions affect the speed and quality of phone communications.
  • Satellites communicate with each other. At the equator, satellites only remain in view for 7 minutes. When the satellite moves out of view, it hands the call to the following satellite. If the handover fails, the call is dropped.
  • Heavy seas and severe storms may affect the quality of the call.

🪙 Pricing And Subscription Plans

The pricing for each network is listed below. These all work with the best satellite phones for sailing.


Globalstar offers the following monthly plans:

Orbit 50Orbit Unlimited1700 Orbit 100Orbit 1700 Unlimited
Calls50 MinutesUnlimited100 Minutes/MonthUnlimited
Additional Voice Calls$0.99/minUnlimited$0.99/minUnlimited

Globalstar offers the following annual plans:

Galaxy 600Galaxy Unlimited1700 GalaxyGalaxy 1700 Unlimited
Calls600 Minutes/YearUnlimited1200 Minutes/YearUnlimited
Additional Voice Calls$0.99/minUnlimited$0.99/minUnlimited


Iridium offers the following monthly plans:

GO! BasicGO! ExtraGO! PlusGO! UnlimitedGO! Unlimited Plus
Subscription$59.95/ Month$84.95/ Month$104.95/ Month$139.95/ Month$209.95/ Month
Contract Term1 Months1 Months1 Months1 Months1 Months
Voice Allowance5 Minutes/ Month75 Minutes/ Month150 Minutes/ Month150 Minutes/ Month250 Minutes/ Month
Data Allowance(Unlimited Data)(Unlimited Data)
Additional Voice Calls$1.29/ Minute$1.09/ Minute$1.09/ Minute$1.09/ Minute$0.99/ Minute
Additional Data Calls$0.89/ Minute$0.69/ Minute$0/29/ MinuteUnlimitedUnlimited
Text Messages$0.25/ Message$0.15/ MessageUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited

Iridium offers the following annual plans:

GO! AnnualGO! Annual Unlimited
Subscription$720/ Year$1,680/ Year
Contract Term1 Year1 Year
Voice Allowance5 Minutes/ Month150 Minutes/ Month
Data Allowance(Unlimited Data)
Additional Voice Calls$1.29/ Minute$1.09/ Minute
Additional Data Calls$0.89/ MinuteUnlimited
Text Messages$0.25/ MessageUnlimited

🎯 Final Verdict

Globalstar rates are lower than Iridium, so in American, European, and Australian coastal waters, it makes sense to opt for this provider.

If you are traveling outside these areas, the Iridium system provides more extensive coverage.

Its global coverage ensures you stay connected no matter where you are, even in the most remote locations.

The wide range of services offered by Iridium also makes it a versatile choice for various needs, from emergency transmissions to asset tracking.

Lastly, its resilience to weather events ensures reliable communication even in challenging conditions.

🏆 Editor’s Choice: Given the advantages of Iridium, I would recommend choosing the Iridium network over Globalstar.

🔑 Key Takeaways

Satellite phones offer amazing functionality to sailors outside of cell phone range.

And if you are undergoing any voyage that takes you more than 60NM offshore, then they are crucial ocean safety items.

1️⃣ The Globalstar network provides coverage in and around America, Europe, and Australia. They are also cheaper.

2️⃣ The Iridium network provides coverage across the whole planet. They are more expensive, but they are better in terms of network reliability.

3️⃣ Some countries do not allow satellite phone use within their borders.

For a more comprehensive understanding of satellite communication systems, consider reading our comparison of Inmarsat and Iridium.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.