Satcom on the train
For us, communications is a constant preoccupation. When we travel we tend to have local-country and U.S. mobile phones with us, as well as variety of satellite phones, including both laptop-sized Inmarsat phones (we have, by the bye, an extra O’Gara Compact M device for sale. It uses full M coverage, not spot-M coverage. We would be delighted to let someone have it at a bargain price…), as well as handheld devices (we try for one per person) including Iridium, Globalstar or Thuraya handsets, depending on where we are going. We also, of course, have personal locator beacons. Even with all this, communications can be iffy, depending on where you are. In the Grand Canyon, for example, we are given to understand that you may have a few hours of Globalstar coverage each day, depending on the whim of the moving satellites, with no other options available if you feel chatty. At the Poles, Iridium is your only choice. And, of course, you need to be able to see a satellite, so satcom doesn’t help you indoors unless there is a satellite within view out the window.
This led us to wonder whether we could acquire and maintain a satellite connection from a train. So, on a recent transcontinental train trip we brought an Inmarsat device into the observation car to give it a try. We figured this would be a best-case opportunity, as the train tends to run in a pretty straight line across the prairie. If we could acquire the satellite we should have a good shot at maintaining it.
In fact, this was the case. We easily picked up the Atlantic Ocean Region- West satellite as we sped across the Great Plains. We maintained a strong signal, and were able to continue talking even when cell phone coverage disappeared. We could not have done this with our various collections of handheld satellite phones.
On the other hand, we have been in situations where we did not have a clear shot at an Inmarsat satellite, but did have line of site to other satellites, so you pays your money, takes your choice, and hopes you knows where your satellites are located!