Satellite Phone Prepaid or Monthly Airtime and What is Best For You?

Posted by NorthernAxcess Satellite Communications on 4th Mar 2014

Choosing Between Satellite Prepaid or Monthly Airtime

Satellite airtime is not exactly like choosing a cellular plan at your local cellphone carrier. The prices are quite a bit higher when first observed. However most of the time when people are using satellite phones they are out of the country or way out of typical cellular signal range. So if you were to use your cellphone when out of the country or in any roaming area, you would be paying a lot more than you would pay for satellite airtime. So when choosing satellite airtime you must consider the fact that you are buying it to save on any roaming fees you would probably get with using your cellphone, and also the fact that it is emergency use airtime that could save your life.

When choosing airtime for your satellite phone you will have the choice of either a Prepaid airtime bundle or sim card, or also a monthly type of service agreement where you pay a monthly service charge, and a per minute charge for any minutes used. So we will help you with some different scenarios below so hopefully choosing the right airtime plan is a bit easier, and less shocking.

Satellite Prepaid and Monthly Airtime advantages and disadvantages

Prepaid airtime is a very popular choice for many satellite phone users because of the fact that you don't have to worry about signing up for an airtime contract. Lets face it...nobody likes to sign any type of contract much less another monthly airtime contract for a period of a year or two. So prepaid is of course a favorite among many for this single reason. However there are some other reasons pointed out here that make prepaid one of the best options for satellite phone airtime.

Advantages to Prepaid and Disadvantages to Monthly:

  1. With Satellite Phone Prepaid Airtime Sim Cards your paying a one-time fee of an airtime bundle. An example is the popular iridium 500 minute prepaid sim card. The price for this card among ALL carriers is only within $5-$10 of each other at around $720, and when reviewing it you will see that it gives you an average per minute rate of around $1.50. Now, the thing is that not too many satellite communication providers tell you is the math on this so lets break it down between monthly and the 500 minute prepaid card here in the chart below: 
Plan TypeMonthly FeeMonthly Fee /per yrPer Min. RateMin. UsedTotal YearlyDifference
PrepaidN/AN/A$1.44500$720$629.88 less
Monthly$49.99$599.88$1.49500$1349.88$629.88 more

*This chart is based of of someone buying a 500 minute iridium prepaid sim card, and likewise someone using 500 minutes on a Basic/Standard monthly iridium airtime plan. However someone of course can use less minutes on a monthly plan, but even if the monthly customer were to use only 200 minute over the course of the year it would still come out to more money than the iridium prepaid airtime card.

So the only disadvantage to this would be the out-of-pocket cost of the satellite prepaid card compared to the monthly activation. This means you would have to spend $720 up front to get the 500 minute/12 month card, whereas to activate the monthly airtime plan it is only a $50 activation fee. For some, this is a big deal and would rather pay over the course of the year in payments.

   2. Another advantage to Prepaid is the fact that you do not have to worry about overage charges. Overage charges on monthly plans can be much more if you are on a plan that sections you to lets say 50 minutes a month, and every minute over that is $2 per minute which is kind of where they get you.

   3. You can also check your minutes on your satellite prepaid airtime card at anytime. Such as on the iridium prepaid cards you just dial 2888, and it tells you how many minutes you have and how long you have until your card expires. It also does the same thing at the beginning of every call outgoing. On monthly plans you cannot check your minutes at any given moment, because airtime records are not real time with the provider.

   4. If your using a lot of minutes per month or per year then prepaid satellite airtime can also better because if you don't mind the out-of-pocket cost discussed above, which in that case you can reduce your per minute cost down to around $.79 per minute or less in some cases. Such as if you are using 3000 minutes per year then a monthly airtime plan if you can imagine based on the above chart would be very high, but on a prepaid card can be only $.95 per minute, and the card itself will not expire for 2 years.

   5. Also if your using your satellite phone in only one region such as lets say,..Africa, or North America then you can buy a Regional Prepaid card that can give you rates as low as $.50 per minute or less. Monthly plans do offer certain regional plans from time to time but they still are not as cheap as the regional prepaid satellite airtime.

Advantages to Monthly and Disadvantages to Prepaid:

  1.  With Monthly Airtime plans you don't have to worry about your card expiring at the wrong times just because someone might have used more minutes than you realized. The Satellite Prepaid airtime cards with all networks have specific validation times, such a smaller 75 minute prepaid card with iridium only last for 30 days. However you can purchase extensions for 30 day increments.
  2. Also if your a business that needs to have call records for all calls placed to and from the satellite phones such as on a crab fishing boat that has one satellite phone, all calls need to be recorded so that the boat captain or owner can bill the shipmates or deckhands for any personal calls made. Prepaid cards do not have this option of getting detailed call records on a monthly statement the way a monthly plan would. This can be a big plus for businesses needing monthly.
  3. Also if a company, or anyone that is only using there satphones for yearly back-up satellite emergency communication, and not really using it except for testing here or there, then a monthly plan would be better, because prepaid expires, and you also have to worry about using the minutes purchased on the prepaid bundle, whereas an emergency type plan you are just keeping the satellite phone active for needed use, and only paying for the service charges.

So to recap what we discussed above regarding the advantages, and disadvantages or satellite prepaid or monthly airtime, here is a point list describing some of the biggest key points to both airtime plans, and what would be best for you:

  • For a business that needs to keep track of minute usage on airtime records - monthly/yearly service agreement would be best
  • Do not want to worry about your airtime card expiring, and having to reload - monthly/yearly service agreement would be best
  • Business that is using it for back-up emergency communication - monthly/yearly service agreement would be best
  • Want airtime plan for specific regional area - prepaid voucher is best
  • Want to get reduced rates on airtime by buying bundles - prepaid is best
  • Need to use a lot of minutes without worrying about overage charges, or monthly limits to use - prepaid voucher/card is best
  • Need to know how many minutes you have left at all times - prepaid voucher/card is best

For any information on airtime plans please visit our airtime section Here.