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Satellite phones shrink down to size

We were surprised to see two new satellite models that were actually pocket-size, though they still won't be winning any fashion contests anytime soon.

Crave Asia

With mobile coverage available in almost any area with a decent population size, satellite phones may seem to be heading into the annals of history (much like Call Zone phones which were available over a decade ago). But when I was traveling in the Amazon jungle where the eco-lodge was at least an hour away by speedboat from modern civilization, having a satellite phone could well have made the difference between life and death in an emergency. This could also be the case for those working on ocean-faring ships, which may be stuck in the middle of nowhere for weeks on end.

Thuraya is a satellite communication company that specializes in this niche market and has made some fundamental changes to the products. Unlike GSM or CDMA mobiles, satellite phones were huge and heavy affairs reminiscent of first-generation handsets (also known as bricks). Hence, we were surprised to see two new satellite models that were actually pocket-size, though they still won't be winning any fashion contests anytime soon.

The Thuraya SO-2510 claims to be the world's smallest and lightest satellite phone, weighing a mere 130 grams. The long and thick antenna, a necessary evil to link up with the man-made celestial bodies, is retractable, making it a lot less obscene when stored in your front pocket. The built-in GPS receiver works with SMS, allowing the unit to send location coordinates in the event of an emergency. The SO-2510 has a talktime of up to 2.4 hours and a standby of over 40 hours. The unit costs $800 and works only with the Thuraya network. There are prepaid plans which cost 90 cents a minute, though you can opt for a postpaid bundle that ranges from $20 to $400.

Its larger brother, the Thuraya SG-2520, adds a GSM radio to the mix. This allows the handset to be used with any GSM account, which offers much cheaper rates compared with satellite calls. Moreover, this $1,300 also includes a 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity as well as an SD card expansion slot. This brings the feature set almost to the same level as conventional mobile phones. On the negative side, it is significantly heavier at 180 grams, though the talktime remains the same as the SO-2510. If the handset is used with a GSM SIM card, however, the talktime increases to 4 hours and the standby to 75 hours.

Both models are now available via distributors throughout Asia. (Get more CommunicAsia 2008 coverage here.)

(Source: Crave Asia)