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AT&T Plans Hybrid Satellite/Cellular Phone

9/30/2009 12:52:59 PM Eastern

Dallas - AT&T will market a hybrid satellite/cellular smartphone beginning in the first quarter of 2010 to corporations, government agencies and small businesses, followed sometime later by a hybrid phone for consumers, the carrier announced.

An early version of TerreStar’s hybrid satellite/cellular smartphone

The 3G smartphone will send and receive calls via TerreStar's voice-and-data communications satellite when terrestrial cellular coverage is unavailable in the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and their territorial waters. The phone will use the same phone number whether connected to AT&T's cellular network or TerreStar's satellite, which launched earlier this year.

"When cellular networks are unavailable, TerreStar's satellite will act as a cell site in the sky to provide coverage to help users stay connected," AT&T said. The phone and service are "well-suited for government, energy, utility, transportation and maritime users" because it provides "a critical communications back-up capability, important to public safety agencies, first responders, emergency services and disaster recovery groups."

The phone and service will be AT&T-branded and sold initially to AT&T's "government, enterprise and business customers via our sales team and co-sell solutions partners," a spokeswoman said. "We are actively investigating what role our indirect partners can help us play in the sales to these markets or potential future consumer offerings."

The smartphone is TerreStar's Genus smartphone, based on a reference design from engineering-design company Elektrobit. Pricing wasn't released. The Windows Mobile Professional 6.5 smartphone is the industry's first satellite/cellular smartphone and first satellite phone with an internal antenna, Elektrobit said. The phone incorporates quadband GSM and 850/1,900MHz W-CDMA/HSDPA to connect to cellular networks, and it uses 2.2GHz HSDPA to communicate via IP to TerreStar's satellite, which provides service to the U.S. and Canada. The phone also features 100MB of memory, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and USB in a 4.7-inch by 2.5-inch chassis that's 0.6 to 0.8 inches in depth. Initial satellite data speeds are 160kbps down and 40kbps up.

The AT&T integrated cellular/satellite solution will combine the satellite network-related charges on the customer's regular wireless bill. AT&T's monthly invoice will include the customer's cellular voice and data service charges, the satellite network access subscription feature charge and the satellite voice and data roaming charges.

For its part, TerreStar is pursuing additional resellers for its phone and satellite service. Early this year, the company said its business model was to sell its IP-based satellite service on a wholesale basis to companies that target vertical markets and business. TerreStar also said it would target people in rural communities where cellular coverage is spotty and outdoor adventurers. TerreStar has a roaming agreement with AT&T to offer terrestrial cellular service through its resellers.

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