We all recognise the need to regularly update our smartphones and our other connected devices but how many of us know to update the firmware in our satellite phones? If you don’t, it may not work at that one critical time when you need it most.
Most travellers purchase satellite phones for times when they are in remote areas and only use them in emergency situations. Others use them to stay in touch with family if they are out of the range of the regular mobile phone range. Either way, they tend to be a seldom-used item meaning they are kept out of sight and out of mind most of the time.
This is particularly dangerous as the satellite carriers are constantly making changes and improvements to their network and your satellite phone needs to have its firmware updated to keep up with these changes, otherwise, it may not work properly when you need it.
As an example, a few years ago, the Australian Government made it mandatory for all phone networks including cellular mobile and satellite networks, to allow users to make free triple zero emergency calls.
This includes being able to call triple zero when:
- The phone account is out of credit
- The phone is security locked
- The phone is out of range of the particular cellular carrier but in range of another
- There is no sim card in the phone itself
In other words, as long as you can find a cellular mobile phone that is in range of either the Telstra, Optus or Vodaphone cellular networks or a satellite phone in the range of its particular network, and it has sufficient power, you should be able to make emergency calls to triple zero.
There are a few caveats to this you need to be aware of.
- Cellular phones must be compatible with the 3G, 4G or 5G networks. Old 2G phones may not work anymore since the 2G network was decommissioned in mid-2018.
- Cellular phones cannot access any of the satellite phone networks.
- Satellite phones cannot access any of the cellular networks unless you have a satellite phone sleeve for your cellular smartphone.
- Satellite phones won’t work across different satellite phone networks.
This change in the law necessitated a firmware update to many satellite phones, particularly older models.
How to perform a Firmware upgrade.
The update process is not too difficult. Each carrier or phone manufacturer should have instructions on how to do it on their websites.
I recently performed the update on our Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro and, while it wasn’t difficult, I did have a couple of slight issues along the way.
Firstly, the update software is only available on Windows PCs or laptops. I own a Mac so I had to source a Windows PC for the job. The other issue was that I needed to download a USB driver suitable for the phone to connect with Windows. While this was made clear in the instructions, finding the driver was a bit of a challenge as it was located at the bottom of the instructions page for this phone.
The process involved downloading the USB driver as explained, the proprietory update software package and the latest firmware file. These all came as compressed files and needed to be extracted before they could be installed. I then ran the update package, selected the new firmware file, connected the phone to the PC using a suitable USB cable and, when the program recognised the phone was connected and ready, I clicked install. Both the program and the phone itself confirmed the update was in progress.
NOTE: Do not disconnect the phone from the PC until the update is completed!
Once completed, I disconnected the phone and it reset itself automatically. Once it rebooted, I checked the settings to confirm the new firmware was uploaded successfully.
The last step was to confirm the phone was actually working properly. Inmarsat phones have a unique phone number to call that allows owners to test the phone’s connection free of charge. Other carriers may have a similar function.
And that’s it. My phone is now updated to the latest firmware and will function properly when needed.
It is a good idea to periodically check your satellite phone provider’s website to ensure you always have the latest firmware installed.
If you found this process a bit too daunting, many satellite phone suppliers offer a firmware update service where you send your phone into their offices and they perform the update and return your phone to you all set to go. There may be a charge associated with this service.
For more information about Iridium, Thuraya and Inmarsat network update requirements, visit www.clientsat.com.au