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TerreStar Completes 1st Hybrid Call

Reston, Va. – Startup TerreStar completed the first phone call by a hybrid satellite/cellular phone over its recently launched communications satellite. The company expects to offer commercial service later this year.

TerreStar will offer phones and its IP-based satellite service on a wholesale basis to companies that will resell service to vertical markets, including the government, public safety and maritime markets. The company will also target business users, people in rural communities where cellular coverage is spotty, and outdoor adventurer. Partner companies could include carriers as well as retailers, a spokesman said.

TerreStar’s satellite footprint covers the U.S. and Canada, and a roaming agreement with AT&T provides terrestrial cellular service.

The voice call was completed between two of TerreStar’s smartphones. “We have now certified that our network is operational and that TerreStar-1 [the company’s recently launched satellite], our handset and our core network are all performing well,” said TerreStar CTO Dennis Matheson.

The Windows Mobile Professional 6.5 smartphone, based on an Elektrobit reference design, is the first satellite/cellular smartphone and first satellite phone with an internal antenna, the company 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 satellite. 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 company contends it will be more successful than other satellite-phone companies because it is building an IP-based 4G network whose “flexible architecture” will provide significant advantages. TerreStar’s devices, for example, will have the same size, weight and functionality as current smartphones.