The first two companies that have had hard times in the handheld satellite phone market are Globalstar and Iridium. Both providing voice and data service from virtually anywhere on the planet, but they will certainly not replace your cell phone. The handset and service is much higher than cellular service, but they do provide service outside of cellular range. Iridium went bankrupt and the current owners picked up the pieces of a billion dollar infrastructure for $25 million. Globalstar has a number of its 48 satellites that are having voice transmission problems, but not messaging problems. Globalstar has recently received financing for its 2nd generation constellation that is said to start being launched at the end of 2009.
Even with the rocky road of the handheld satellite phone industry the largest commercial satellite will be launched in June into space. It will orbit 22,000 miles above the planet. The antenna will be 60 feet across providing satellite phone service for North America. The satellite will be launched by TerreStar Corp and will be followed by larger ones from SkyTerra Communications Inc. in 2010.
Jumping into a small market would make you wonder their reasoning? Analysts say the business model for both companies seem to indicate they are lining themselves up as acquisition targets for wireless carriers.
TerreStar and SkyTerra believe the advances in their technology will take satellite phones into the mainstream where you can buy them at your local AT&T store. They want to market the peace of mind feature where if you are outside of cellular range your phone could have the option of switching over to satellite service.
The first phones from TerreStar will be around $700 and will look very similar to a BlackBerry style phone that is email oriented, but thicker. There will be no large “hot-dog” size antenna that the Globalstar and Iridium phones use.
Both companies say the cost of the service will be around $1 per minute. TerreStar has an agreement with AT&T for calls outside of cellular range. They expect the combined satellite and cellular system to be working before the end of 2009.
One drawback with the two systems it that they will only work in North America, they will not provide worldwide coverage like Iridium. Like the Globalstar and Iridium systems they will need a clear view of the sky to function.