AT&T launches satellite phone

Geared for people who need cell phone reception in remote areas, AT&T's new TerreStar Genus smartphone taps into satellites to provide voice, data, and IM services.

The TerreStar Genus satellite phone.
The TerreStar Genus satellite phone AT&T

AT&T has unveiled a new satellite phone that can provide phone reception in areas where there are no cell towers.

Available today, the TerreStar Genus is a dual-mode smartphone that uses AT&T's cellular service by default but kicks in with satellite reception as a backup in remote areas. The satellite service offers the standard mobile phone trio of voice, data, and messaging, so it can function as an overall smartphone.

Though the hybrid phone might be intriguing to AT&T subscribers unhappy with their cell service, the company is gearing this model more toward enterprise, government, and small business customers. Specifically, AT&T sees the TerreStar Genus as an option for people who work in government departments, utilities, and transportation companies, as well as members of public safety agencies and disaster recovery groups.

However, a story from PhoneScoop last year said that AT&T is working on a consumer version. And TerreStar's Web site does include a signup form if you want to be notified when a consumer version is available. An AT&T spokesperson told CNET that there are no details on a possible consumer version yet. But the company does believe the satellite service would be ideal for recreational boaters, outdoor enthusiasts, and rural users who want broader mobile communications coverage when it's made available to consumers in the future.

As a smartphone, the TerreStar Genus runs under Windows Mobile 6.5 and offers a touchscreen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 2.0 megapixel camera, MicroSD card slot, and a full QWERTY keyboard.

There are a few issues, however, worth noting. Coverage is available only in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and territorial waters. The phone requires a clear line of sight to the satellite in the southern skies, so you can't be surrounded by trees or other tall obstructions.

The price tag? Customers will pay $799 upfront for the phone itself. An AT&T cellular voice and data plan are required as is a monthly satellite subscription, which costs $25. But calls, data, and messages through the satellite service are charged individually, with subscribers paying 65 cents per minute for voice, 40 cents per message, and $5 per megabyte of data.

First announced almost a year ago , the TerreStar Genus was due to launch in the first quarter of the year but was delayed until now.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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