The Thuraya SO-2510 is a far cry from the traditional large and chunky satellite phones. In fact, it's claimed to be the world's smallest satellite phone. Although not rugged or waterproof, the SO-2510 should satisfy most users' needs in terms of reliability. Thuraya's reliance on a single satellite means coverage can be hit and miss, however.
The Thuraya SO-2510 has a candy bar form factor, and although it is bulky compared to most regular mobile phones, it is very compact for a satellite phone. A large, slide-out antenna helps to obtain a satellite fix, and the handset's controls are fairly straightforward and comfortable enough to use.
Unlike some other satellite phones on the Australian market, the Thuraya SO-2510 isn't rated as ruggedised or waterproof. Despite this, the largely grey plastic body certainly feels capable of taking a few knocks. Thanks to the rubber flaps covering both the headphone and charging ports, a few splashes of water if you happen to get caught in the rain hopefully won't cause too many problems.
Unlike the Thuraya SG-2520 satellite phone, the Thuraya SO-2510 has no GSM capabilities. Satellite phones are traditionally used by people in rural or regional areas of Australia who can't access regular mobile phone services. It is more expensive to make satellite calls than when using a regular mobile network, and often people living in regional areas opt for two phones: a regular mobile for when normal mobile coverage is available (such as Telstra's Next G network, which is claimed to have the best coverage in rural areas of Australia), and a satellite phone when no mobile coverage is available.
For satellite coverage in Australia, Optus uses the Thuraya-3 satellite that was launched in January 2008. This satellite is currently in orbit over Singapore, so this means you need to extend the antenna and aim the handset in a north-westerly direction in order to pick up a signal. The Thuraya Satellite footprint covers the entire Australian continent and at least 200 kilometres out to sea; line of site to the Thuraya satellite must be established to make and receive calls.
We weren't able to test the handset in a rural or regional area, though in the city the Thuraya SO-2510 often took up to two minutes to acquire a satellite signal. Unfortunately, the reliance on a Thuraya satellite means that if you are surrounded by mountains, buildings or heavy cloud cover, you most likely won't be able to pick up a satellite signal — as we found when testing the Thuraya SO-2510 at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Even when connected, satellite phones require plenty of bandwidth to maintain a call, so even a few degrees of deviation can lead to poor call quality and drop outs.
Thankfully, when the Thuraya SO-2510 is connected and remains aimed in the best direction, call quality is good. It doesn't compare to a regular GSM phone, particularly because incoming audio is slightly muffled, but overall the audio quality is pleasing.
The Thuraya SO-2510 satellite phone uses a VXWORKS-based operating system and has a simple icon-based main menu and a list format for submenus. The display is quite small and doesn't have a very high resolution but, importantly, it's easy to read in direct sunlight.
The Thuraya SO-2510 allows you to save as many numbers as you wish in the phonebook. It also offers polyphonic ring tones, SMS messaging and support for 12 languages — Arabic, English, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Urdu, Italian, Portuguese and Turkish.
The Thuraya SO-2510 satellite phone doesn't come cheap, with Optus offering the handset on a range of satellite plans. For more details on plans, visit Optus' dedicated Thuraya page. Fortunately if you're an Australian citizen, permanent resident or registered business and live in an area without regular mobile phone coverage, you're eligible for a government subsidy of 60 per cent of the retail price up to $1000.
Conveniently, the Federal Government is increasing the subsidy to 85 per cent (with the same $1000 cap). According to the office of Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, this will be in place from 1 July, 2009, at the latest. If you live in an area with mobile coverage but spend more than 120 days per year in places without regular mobile coverage, then you can claim a 50 per cent rebate up to $700.