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New Satellite-Terrestrial Phone Network Planned

April 10, 2009

SkyTerra and TerreStar Networks have announced plans to develop a mobile phone network that will fill in the gaps with cell phone coverage by developing a mobile network that will connect via satellite.

In June, the largest commercial satellite is expected to be launched into space at an orbit of 22,000 miles above Earth. The satellite, owned by TerreStar, will consist of 60 feet of gold mesh, which will be aimed at the US to offer seamless cellular communication even in spots where towers can’t reach.

Following the launch of TerreStar’s massive satellite, SkyTerra intends to invest $1.2 billion to launch two even larger satellites next year.

“For the first time, satellite communications will be able to achieve economies of scale traditionally enjoyed in the cellular marketplace,” said Brian Deobald, SkyTerra Vice President of Technology and Product Development.

Based on the agreement, Alcatel-Lucent will develop satellite-adapted base stations that will become the support system for the new integrated satellite-terrestrial networks.

“These base stations will support seamless connectivity between satellite and terrestrial networks for users of next-generation, satellite-capable devices,” Alcatel-Lucent said in a statement.

Experts may look at the companies’ new plans with thoughts of the previous failed attempts made by Iridium and Globalstar, which filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of the decade, according to the AP.

TerreStar looks at the new mobile satellite system as a game changer that “will enable users across North America to be connected to TerreStar’s network through a “Ëœvirtual handshake’ between the next-generation mobile satellite and a next generation terrestrial network.”

Elektrobit Corporation was in charge of developing the new satellite-terrestrial smartphone, which features a sleek design and is the first satellite-terrestrial phone to feature a touch screen and a full QWERTY keyboard. It is also the first satellite-terrestrial phone to offer services such as SMS, MMS, IM, Email, Push to Talk and Location Based Services (LBS), the company said.

Hughes Network Systems announced an agreement to develop and implement software that will power the satellite capability in SkyTerra’s and TerreStar’s integrated device chipsets.

“This software will enable the GMR1-3G satellite air interface standard to run side-by-side with cellular standards in a commercially available, software-defined radio (SDR) chipset being developed for SkyTerra and TerreStar Networks by Infineon Technologies AG,” Hughes said in a statement.

SkyTerra spokesman Tom Surface told the Associated Press that the phones’ ability to use terrestrial and satellite connectivity will be marketed as “an insurance policy or peace-of-mind feature.”

The first handsets for TerreStar’s satellite would cost about $700, said TerreStar chief executive Jeff Epstein.

But satellite analyst and consultant Tim Farrar at TMF Associates told the AP that the new satellite service may be playing to a small audience.

“They need hundreds of thousands and more likely millions of users of these handsets to make it into the mainstream,” he said. “You have to gain an awful lot of momentum before manufacturers will consider it worthwhile to build this into their handsets.”

“Last time around, people tried out Iridium phones, and thought `What use is this to me if I have to go out and stand in the middle of a field to make a call?’” he said.

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