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9/30/2009
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Hybrid Service Overcomes Satellite Phone Complaints

AT&T and TerreStar will partner to offer a hybrid cellular-satellite service on standard-sized handsets.

AT&T and TerreStar announced a partnership Wednesday to offer a hybrid cellular-satellite service on standard-sized handsets.

Satellite phones have been around for years but the devices have generally been very large, and the service has been prohibitively expensive. AT&T and TerreStar are looking to address both of these issues to gain adoption on a wider level.

TerreStar launched the world's largest commercial communication satellite in July, and this enabled it to create a slim dual-mode smartphone that has a familiar form factor. The handset has a full QWERTY keyboard on its face, is powered by Windows Mobile, can send and receive e-mails on the go, and can be augmented with mobile applications.

The companies said the hybrid service would be appealing to homeland defense, homeland security, and public safety organizations who want a fallback when cellular service is unavailable. Beyond the public sector, the companies see a market for this service with utility and transportation companies, as well as with maritime companies. Various enterprises could also use the service as part of their disaster preparation plans, the companies said.

"Most companies have procured a satellite phone for their executives in case of an emergency, but most of those are probably sitting in a desk somewhere and you'd have to spend some time with the manual learning how to operate it," said Chris Hill, AT&T's VP of mobility product management. "The intent is to have a device that is exactly like the service you use today... plus having that capability to go into satellite mode when you need it."

Users have to sign up for standard voice and data packages from AT&T, and the satellite option will cost an additional $24.99 a month. Satellite calls will cost about 60 cents a minute, and satellite data will cost about $5 per megabyte. Hill said the pricing is roughly 50% less than current satellite calling and data offerings.

The companies are aiming to roll out the hybrid service in the first quarter of next year, and it will begin demonstrating the service at industry events over the next few weeks. Currently, the companies plan to make the service available in the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in territorial waters.


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