AT&T’s wireless coverage is growing in a big way – skyward. Pretty soon, the carrier can brag about offering service in remote areas where it doesn’t pay to put up cell towers.
That’s because the carrier plans to roll out a smartphone solution that will combine cellular connectivity with the ability to use a satellite network – TerreStar Networks’ system, to be exact – using one phone.
Today’s announcement isn’t a huge surprise given that AT&T and TerreStar announced a reciprocal roaming agreement back in August 2008. But it’s the first time the companies are releasing details about what they’re doing. “Now we have that solution that can go anywhere in North America,” says Chris Hill, vice president of Mobility Product Management at AT&T.
The solution initially is geared for government, first responders, public safety, energy, utility, transportation and maritime users – some of the same segments that existing satellite-only service providers serve. The difference, according to AT&T, is more users will actually be able to afford the service – and use their phones rather than storing them in a desk drawer.
Pricing of the handsets has not been announced and will depend on the distribution channel, but they’re likely to be as low as $800 to $900. The service will cost at least 50 percent less than prevailing satellite rates today, Hill says.
Users will need to get a voice and data plan, and then add $24.99 per month for satellite access; fees for satellite roaming in the U.S. will be 65 cents per minute, and satellite data usage in the U.S. will be $5 per megabyte.
The solution will roll out in the first quarter for the government/enterprise sector, and AT&T is working on a solution for the consumer segment.
Devices for the commercial services are still going through the certification process in AT&T’s lab and will need Federal Communications Commission approval, but devices are already working, says TerreStar President Jeff Epstein. In fact, they’ll be on display next week at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) annual conference in Denver.
Dubbed the TerreStar Genus dual-mode cellular/satellite smartphone, the device runs on the Windows Mobile operating system and includes a 2.6-inch touchscreen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. The reference design house for the device is Elektrobit, but TerreStar has not yet announced the hardware manufacturer.
The service is the culmination of what TerreStar and some other satellite players set out to do – use spectrum for a terrestrial/satellite service. TerreStar launched its satellite – the world’s largest for advanced commercial communications – this past summer from French Guiana. The all-IP network operates in two 10 MHz blocks on contiguous MSS spectrum in the 2 GHz band throughout the United States and Canada.
The deal between AT&T and TerreStar is mutually non-exclusive.
At one point this morning, TerreStar shares, at $2.59, were up more than 20 percent.