A new satellite mobile phone network is due to be launched this year, using the largest and most powerful commercial satellite ever launched.
TerreStar hopes to launch its first satellite, TerreStar-I, in June, to provide an IP-based mobile phone service to users in North America using phones that are no bigger than conventional mobiles.
The satellite will have a gold mesh antenna nearly 60 feet across and use 500 dynamically-configurable spot beams, giving coverage of all of the USA, Alaska, Canada, Puerto Rico and even Hawaii, on the 2.2GHz band.
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The phones, a prototype of which was unveiled at the CTIA show in Vegas recently, will have a combination satellite/terrestrial design that enables "seamless" use on either terrestrial networks (WCDMA, GSM) or the TerreStar service when cellular coverage is missing - a common problem in remote parts of America.
The prototype Elektrobit handset is a 2.6-inch touchscreen Windows Mobile 6 PDA with Qwerty keyboard and Wi-Fi. It measures just 120x65x16mm and has a talktime of up to 5 hours with GSM, 3 hours with WCDMA and 1.5 hours with satellite.
TerreStar hopes to keep the handset cost to under $700 (£477) and calling costs below $1 (68p) a minute.
Satellite phone networks have not had the best track record. Both Iridium and GlobalStar went bankrupt at the turn of the millennium, and survive on a rump of hardcore users. An Iridium satellite was also recently knocked out of the sky by a Russian satellite in the first ever recorded crash between spacecraft in orbit.