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Why Satellite Phones are Illegal in India and Other Countries?

why Satellite Phones are Illegal in India , Satellite phones

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A satellite phone, also known as a satphone, is a kind of mobile phone that, unlike cell phones, connects to other phones or the telephone network via a radio link via satellites orbiting the Earth.

In this article, you will get all the information about satellite phones and Why Satellite Phones are Illegal in India and Other Countries.

why Satellite Phones are Illegal , Satellite Phone

What is a Satellite Phone?

In many parts of the world, satellite phones rely on satellites to connect with landlines, cell phones, or other satellite phones. They are particularly useful in emergencies, especially in remote areas where there are no landline or cellular networks available.

Responders can use satellite phones for emergency communication while coordinating response and recovery efforts in these locations. Even in areas affected by natural disasters like earthquakes or severe weather, where existing networks may be disrupted or overloaded, satellite phones can be invaluable.

Therefore, satellite phones play a crucial role in maintaining command and control functions when conventional communication systems are unavailable during emergencies.

How do Satellite Phones Works?

A satellite phone is a device that connects to landlines, cellular networks, and other satellite phones using satellites. A satellite phone receives information signals, such as text or voice, from the sending phone and transmits them back to Earth to a receiving satellite phone.

Satellite phones typically use either an omnidirectional or directional antenna for both transmitting and receiving signals. To receive a signal for service, most satellite phones need to have a clear line of sight to the sky.

According to a study published in the Journal of Information Technology Management, when a user makes a call using a satellite phone, the nearest satellite responds to the call and verifies the user through the nearest Earth-based gateway. The call is then directed to the nearest gateway and subsequently to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) if the destination phone is connected to it. The PSTN provides services and infrastructure for public telecommunication.

How do Satellite Phones Works
Photo Credit : Journal of Information Technology Management

Since call routing occurs exclusively through satellites, the efficiency and quality of transmission are improved when the destination phone is another satellite handset.

Satellite phones utilize satellites that are either in Low-Earth orbit (LEO) or geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO). GEO satellites, positioned approximately 36,000 kilometers above the Earth’s equator, remain stationary relative to the Earth’s surface, offering nearly constant global coverage with only a few satellites. This makes them convenient for satellite phone systems.

However, due to the extended distances that signals must travel to and from GEO satellites, users may experience noticeable delays when using data services or making phone calls.

In contrast, low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites do not maintain a geosynchronous orbit. Instead, they travel at much lower altitudes, typically between 780 and 1,500 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. These satellites orbit the planet while moving with respect to the ground.

A satellite in geosynchronous orbit completes one orbit in sync with the Earth’s axis of rotation.

It’s crucial for every coverage area to always be visible to at least one satellite. A single pass of a low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite can last anywhere from four to fifteen minutes, depending on the satellite’s position and the user’s satellite phone. Therefore, to ensure continuous coverage, a network comprising 60 satellites is required.

What Are the Applications of Satellite Phones?

During natural or man-made disasters, responders rely on satellite mobile phones as an additional form of communication. While voice calls are the main use for emergency response organizations, these phones can also support email, text messaging via Short Message Service (SMS), and Internet access.

Today’s handheld satellite phones, especially those utilizing Low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, are lighter and more compact compared to previous models. This makes them more convenient to carry and use.

In contrast, satellite phones connecting to Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites generally require more power and are larger in size compared to those connecting to LEO satellites.

Some satellite phones offer wireless computer connections for data access and can even function as remote headsets. This is possible because these satellite phones incorporate features similar to cell phones, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and global positioning systems (GPS).

Different Satellite Phone Operators 

The major providers of voice and data services via satellite networks include

  • Thuraya,
  • Inmarsat,
  • Globalstar,
  • Iridium, etc


Satellite Phone Operators , Satellite Phone

How To Use a Satellite Phone ?

To make a call using a satellite phone to either a landline or another satellite phone, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the satellite phone from its casing.
  2. Step outdoors to ensure a clear view of the sky.
  3. Extend the antenna towards the sky.
  4. Press and hold the power button for five seconds.
  5. Wait for the green LED network indicator to illuminate.
  6. Dial the area code, followed by the desired phone number.
  7. Press the green button to initiate the call.

The same steps apply when making a call to a satellite phone.

To receive a call on a satellite phone, ensure that the phone is turned on. When an incoming call is received, the satellite phone will emit a sound or vibrate, and the LED network indicator will turn red.

To answer the call, extend the antenna and select the “Accept” button on the left side of the phone. To end the call, press the red button on the right side.

What Are the Rules for Using Satellite Phones in India?

  • In India, carrying a satellite phone requires permission. Visitors and tourists must adhere to Indian regulations and are not allowed to bring or use satellite phones in India without permission from the relevant authorities.
  • However, satellite phones are permitted with specific approval or a No Objection Certificate from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India.
  • Additionally, satellite phones are allowed when provided by BSNL by the company’s licensing for offering and operating satellite-based services through gateways established in India.

Relating Rules 

  • According to Section 6 of The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, it is prohibited to possess “any wireless telegraphy apparatus, other than a wireless transmitter, in contravention of the provisions of section 3 [of the Act]”.
  • Section 3 of the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 prohibits the possession of wireless telegraphy gear without a license, save as specified in Section 4.
  • According to Section 4 of The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, the central government can make rules to exempt individuals or groups from the Act’s provisions, subject to prescribed conditions or for specific wireless telegraphy apparatus.
  • According to a notification on the Department of Telecommunications website, satellite phones can only be used with permission from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India, or as provided by M/s BSNL under their license for offering satellite-based services using Gateways installed in India.
  • According to Notifications Posted on The Indian Embassy’s websites in various countries:
    • The use of Thuraya/Iridium satellite phones is illegal in India.
    • Passengers carrying satellite phones must declare them to Customs upon arrival and obtain permission from the relevant authority.
    • Individuals found in possession of unauthorized satellite phones in India may face prosecution under Indian law.
    • Law enforcement agents will seize any unauthorized sets.

Limitation of Satellite Phones

  • Firstly, satellite phones are considerably more expensive than regular cell phones.
  • Talk time with these plans is limited, meaning that extended usage incurs additional costs.
  • There are a few prominent satellite connectivity providers.
  • Each satellite phone device is compatible only with a specific provider; for example, a Thuraya phone will not function on the Iridium network.

Difference between Satellite phones and Smartphones

  • Satellite phones enable users to make and receive calls from remote locations, such as the Himalayas and deserted Pacific islands. Unlike cell phones, satellite phones rely on satellites for communication rather than cell towers.

Difference between Satellite phones and Smartphones, Satellite Phones

  • The Thuraya X5-Touch is a ruggedized Android smartphone capable of supporting GSM and LTE networks. Satellite phones differ from smartphones in appearance due to their external antenna system for signal reception.
  • Satellite phones offer connectivity in remote areas where mobile towers are unavailable. Providers of satellite connectivity for satellite phones include Iridium, Inmarsat, Thuraya, and GlobalStar.

Countries Where Satellite Phones Are Banned or Restricted

Satellite phones serve as a valuable tool for travelers seeking to stay connected while venturing off the beaten path or requiring a means to seek assistance in emergencies. However, some countries may not welcome these devices.

Countries With Satellite Phone Restrictions

  1. Bangladesh

    Possessing a satellite phone is illegal in Bangladesh and can result in imprisonment. For inquiries, individuals are advised to Contact the Embassy of Bangladesh.

  2. China

    It is illegal to possess a satellite phone in China, and many other GPS devices are also considered suspicious.
    Travelers visiting China are advised to use their regular cell phones instead. It’s important to note that certain websites, such as Google and some social media platforms, may be blocked in China. For inquiries, individuals can Contact the Chinese Embassy

  3. Cuba

    Many electronics are forbidden in Cuba, including satellite phones. You cannot bring or ship a satellite phone into Cuba unless you have a permit from the Cuban Ministry of Informatics and Communications. Cuba restricts the use of satellite phones because they’re seen as tools for subversive purposes; being caught with one can lead to arrest, time in prison, or an espionage charge.

  4. India

    In India, only satellite phones utilizing the Inmarsat network are permitted, and travelers must obtain approval from the Department of Telecommunications before their travel. Using an unapproved satellite phone may result in arrest.

  5. Libya

    Libya has prohibited Thuraya satellite phones, and individuals found possessing them could face espionage charges. However, the interpretation of the law remains vague and may vary depending on the circumstances. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Libya for further information.

  6. Myanmar

    Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, experienced prolonged periods of turmoil under a military regime, during which many communication channels were restricted to prevent information leaks. However, with the transition to a democratically elected government, many of these limitations have been lifted. Before traveling to Myanmar, it is advisable to check with the Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to inquire about the latest rules regarding satellite phones.

  7. Nigeria

    Satellite phones were banned in Borno after extremists were found using them to coordinate attacks. The legality of satellite phones in the rest of the country is currently uncertain. For inquiries, please contact the Consulate General of Nigeria.

  8. North Korea

    Satellite phones are banned in North Korea, where various electronic devices are monitored and subject to search as there is no right to privacy. The United States government has issued a travel warning against visiting North Korea. To learn more about visiting North Korea, please refer to additional resources here.

  9. Republic of Chad

    This landlocked Central African country faces ongoing threats from terrorists, leading to the declaration of a ban on satellite phones. Possession of a satellite phone may result in both confiscation and arrest. Satellite phone permits are not issued under any circumstances. For inquiries, please Contact the Embassy of Chad.

  10. Russia

    Russia allows the use of satellite phones, it is necessary to obtain approval in advance and register your SIM card. SIM card registration remains active for six months. For further details, please Contact Roskomnadzor.

  11. Sri Lanka

    Journalists and other media professionals can obtain pre-clearance for their equipment, including satellite phones. A license from the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is required for this purpose.

  12. Sudan

    The majority of electronic devices are prohibited in Sudan, so when applying for your visa, be sure to inquire specifically about satellite phones. Be prepared for customs to confiscate your devices, which may be held indefinitely for scrutiny.

Before visiting any foreign country, including those listed above, it is crucial to understand the latest legislation governing satellite phone usage. The current political environment or state of instability in a country can influence communication regulations, and restrictions may change frequently.


Navigating the legislative complexities surrounding satellite phones requires a delicate balance between security and accessibility. As we look forward to a future of global connectivity, it’s clear that achieving unrestricted communication is both crucial and intricate. Therefore, let’s stay informed, adapt to evolving legal frameworks, and strive towards a connected world without boundaries.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Can Indians use satellite phones?

    According to the Indian government, both Indian and international travelers are barred from carrying satellite phones such as Thuraya and Iridium unless they have special clearance from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Having one on you at any Indian airport may result in you being denied a flight.

  2. Can satellite phone be tracked?

    Yes, satellite phones can be tracked. They transmit calls and messages via a network of orbiting satellites, which have the capability to determine the phone’s location. Additionally, satellite phones have unique identifying numbers that can be used to track their whereabouts.

  3. What is the cost of satellite phone per minute in India?

    However, BSNL only offers one device, the Inmarsat ISAT Phone-II. The phone is priced at approximately ₹70,000, with a rate of ₹35 per minute for local satellite calls and ₹260 for national roaming.

  4. Can I use my iPhone as a satellite phone?

    Yes – While the iPhone 14 and 15 series can utilize satellites to send text messages to emergency services when phone calls are not feasible, and the Find My app enables you to share your location via satellite.

    No – you cannot use any iPhone as a dedicated satellite phone.

  5. How do I get permission for satellite phone in India?

    Carrying a satellite phone without a license is illegal in India. For approval, please contact the Department of Telecommunications at Room No. 1204, Sanchar Bhavan, 20, Ashoka Road, New Delhi – 110 001.

  6. Why were satellite phones invented if they are illegal in some places?

    Satellite phones were developed to provide communication capabilities in areas beyond the reach of standard cellular networks, focusing on connectivity over legality. The restrictions are often the result of subsequent governmental concerns.

  7. Can I carry a satellite phone through an airport in a country where they are banned?

    It’s crucial to research and adhere to the local laws of your destination country. In places where satellite phones are banned, carrying one might lead to confiscation or legal issues.

  8. Are there any international treaties governing the use of satellite phones?

    Yes, several international treaties and agreements touch on the use of satellite communication, aimed at ensuring compatibility and reducing interference across borders.

  9. How can I find out if using a satellite phone is legal in my destination country?

    Consulting the embassy or official government website of your destination country is a reliable source for up-to-date legal information regarding satellite phone use.

  10. What are the consequences of using a satellite phone in a region where they are prohibited?

    Consequences can range from confiscation of the device to fines, and in severe cases, imprisonment. Always ensure you’re aware of and comply with local regulations when using your satellite phone.

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