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I've been looking if there is an alternative to renting a satellite phone when it's to be used in absolute emergencies only.

As far as my searches showed, most prepaid plans have very short expiration times like a month, and for subscriptions you pay a lot without talking a single minute.

Did I miss something, or is there really nothing with low costs when not used?

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It sounds like what you want is a personal locator beacon (PLB). They cost about $250, and there is zero cost after you buy it. It's not a phone. It's just a beacon that broadcasts your position so that a search and rescue team can come and rescue you. They're small and lightweight.

Some people use a device such as a SPOT instead. IMO the SPOT is more of an entertainment device, but it does also allow you to do some other stuff besides acting as a beacon. They have a reputation for being unreliable, and I believe they also have a monthly fee.

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    @HelmHammerhand Please be sure to understand how PLB's work and how they differ from Avalanche Beacons and devices such as SPOT. The reason I am pointing this out is to avoid situations such as this. I encourage you to give this a read. – AM_Hawk Jul 18 '14 at 1:00
  • The article says the person received the device as a gift. I think almost all people who buy such a device themselves will know how it works. I don't think many spend $250+ without reading a few lines about it. That being said, compulsory registration seems like a good idea to me at first glance. – helm Jul 18 '14 at 16:42

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