Thuraya phone not working: Big troubles and high costs.

Thuraya XT handset

In 2013 before the expedition to Pamir I purchased my own Thuraya XT satellite phone. I had rented and used one in 2012 in Ethiopia and was very positively impressed by the quality and ease of communication regardless of the place and time – to very moderate prices compared to cellular network roaming.

In Asia and Africa Thuraya still looks like the best choice for satellite communication compared to the alternatives – Iridium and Inmarsat. However, only as long as it works…

Like any technical device one day it may not. If you think that the only trouble will be then being cut off from the rest of the world while you are far from home, you are wrong. Of course, I had it, too, when my Thuraya XT stopped functioning: I was in Ethiopian mountains without any communication. But this wasn’t the only problem, as I had to learn after my return.

Everything began before the trip when I was charging the batteries of the equipment before packing it. Then I discovered that the Thuraya XT didn’t charge nor switch on at all. I had used it a little in July-August, 2013 in Pamir and Alay. Since then I kept it in a box together with other communication equipment but charged the battery now and then. Last time I did it in September, and three months later the phone wasn’t functioning anymore – soon after the warranty period was over. This was still an almost new Thuraya XT handset that seized functioning just by itself, without any recognisable reason.

I noticed it on Friday evening, and in 3 days – on Monday evening – I was leaving for the Ethiopia expedition. I contacted the customer support of Thuraya via their website:

My XT handset doesn’t turn on nor the display lights up when I want to charge it, i.e. it looks completely dead. It was at home, and I didn’t use it since summer 2013. I turned it on now and then and it was OK. Last time I did it in August this year and charged the battery. Then switched it off again. On Monday I am going for a longer expedition to Ethiopia and need the phone there. Today I was going to charge it, connected to the charger but the display remained dark, charging didn’t start. To exclude the possibility of a damaged charger, I tried the car charger – with the same result. Both chargers seem to work, but the phone doesn’t charge. Now I don’t know what to do. I would like to know if the phone normally turns always on when it is connected to the power source, i.e. also when the battery is discharged. In other words: Can the battery be as much discharged that the phone shows no life signs even when connected to power socket?

The reply was almost immediate:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your email,

Kindly note that according to your scenario we suspect the battery is damage and therefore we suggest you to take the handset to our respective service provider on the below given address for checking and advise.

• Astrium Services Business Communications GmbH

Thank you
Thuraya Customer Care Team

Obviously, I had no time to send the handset for servicing. Since there was a suggestion in this mail that the failure may be caused by the battery, I decided to try to replace it before departure. There are 3 to 4 firms in Germany who sell Thuraya equipment. Fortunately, one of them – Därr Expeditionstechnik – is in Munich, and my flight was on Monday evening from Munich airport. So I decided to try to get the new battery. I called Därr Expeditionstechnik in the morning on Monday and asked for a battery for Thuraya XT. Fortunately, they had some. This company has neither a shop nor a public office, but the owner allowed me to pick up the battery at his home.

I did it. Then I tried the new battery… I didn’t help. The phone was still dead. I had to come around without it for three weeks in Ethiopia.

After return I addressed the company Astrium Services Business Communications GmbH, as Thuraya Customer Care had suggested. I sent an email at the provided address in Germany. They sent a request in English to their Customer Care department:

Please assist Mr. Tiutenko with his technical hardware failure issue (Thuraya XT handheld, <2 years old, the battery does not charge and cannot be switched on – when using a new battery, the problem persists).

Mr. Tiutenko states that Thuraya Customer Care Dep. forwarded him to Airbus DS as Service Partner in Germany, the reason of his email request.

Soon I received a weird request (original spelling preserved):

Dear sir,

could you please provide me the thuraya sim card numbers?

Do you have the GPS position?

What is the error message ?

Please desribe the issue

I had thought the “issue” was already described in several mails. But I did it again. The request of “sim card numbers” looked particularly strange. Why could the SIM card and my geographical position be a course of the problem with the handset? Anyway, I sent the requested information.

The next day another, rather informal, mail arrived:

Good day Arthur,

upon further investigation the Thurya simcard is not an Astrium/Vizada stock. I am not sure who your card and phone belong to. Best you contact Thuraya at link below.

Of course, my SIM card wasn’t from “Astrium/Vizada stock”! It was from Därr Expeditionstechnik, and the phone was purchased without a SIM card from M-Cramer Satellitenservices. The note “I am not sure who your card and phone belong to.” was particularly irritating. I mailed back that I cannot understand that reply. They reacted:

Dear Sir,

sorry for the possible misunderstanding but we won’t be able to repair the Hardware if it doesn’t come from us.
We only provide repair for terminals sold by us.

Please contact DAERR or whoever Provider where you bought the Hardware.

Then I wrote to Thuraya again and they replied with a new idea:

Dear Arthur,

Please be inform that we don’t have any repair center in Germany, if you would like to send your handset to our repair center below are contact details, we recommend before sending the handset please replace the battery if it worked. …

Even I had been already suspecting that there was no repair centre in Germany, but why Thuraya folks realised it so late? Why didn’t they know that Atrium… GmbH they sent me to was a wrong address?

If not that chaos, if Thuraya were better organised and their support staff were better informed, the repair could be quicker and less expensive. The repair service they finally referred to was in Dubai, and I had to send the phone there. I was in Dubai myself just 10 days before that. I had the Thuraya XT with me and could leave it there for inspection and repair. Now, I had to pay DHL freight without any certainty that the device will be fixed.

There are dozens of “rare” brands being sold in Germany and throughout Europe. They all have at least 12 months warranty, i.e. the manufacturer is obligated to repair it if it is broken within this period of time. This means that there should be service centres within the reach of the customers. Why Thuraya (and apparently other satellite phone manufacturers – Iridium, Inmarsat) are such an exception? Their phones are electronic devices consisting of replaceable parts. So why there is no company on the whole European continent that does a simple procedure of testing for broken parts and replacing them? In Germany alone there are several companies that sell or offer satellite phones for rental. I simply don’t believe that their hardware never needs to be repaired. If in every case of malfunction the phone needs to be sent to UAE or USA, repair costs may be too high to make sense. However, all satellite phones are too expensive to be disposable after a short use.