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Jack Bauer's Cell Phone

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

October 08, 2009

Jack Bauer's Cell Phone

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Ever wonder how popular television show “24’s” Jack Bauer nearly always managed to get a phone call through, regardless of location? He might have had access to technology similar to AT&T's (News - Alert) latest offering, a smart phone that incorporates satellite broadband technology.

AT&T has teamed up with TerreStar Networks to offer an integrated service that combines cellular wireless coverage with the ability to connect to TerreStar's (News - Alert) satellite network as a backup when AT&T's – and presumably GSM-roaming – isn't available.
Users will have a single phone number and a single smartphone device: the TerreStar Genus dual-mode phone. Genus includes both voice and data networking under both networks, running the Windows Mobile operating system and incorporating all the other features you expect out of a smart phone these days, including a 2.6 inch touch screen, WiFi (News - Alert), Bluetooth and GPS; HD voice junkies will note that the device has some support for AMR-WB built in, but one shouldn’t assume you can make HD phone calls with it.
AT&T said this device is “well-suited” for government, energy, utility, transport and maritime users, with a special pitch to public safety/first responders and disaster recovery organizations. The service should be available for business and government customers in the first quarter of 2010, with a similar solution in the works for consumers.  This might be a great phone for truckers and other cross-country /wilderness travelers who might find themselves in remote locations without a convenient cell tower around.
Jack Baurer wanna-bes should be aware that TerreStar's satellite coverage map officially covers North America, including Canada and Alaska, with Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Virgin Islands thrown in through spot beam coverage; coverage beyond the most northern parts of Mexico is unlikely.
Under the plan, AT&T will be the single point of contact for all billing, incorporating satellite network charges on a customer's regular wireless bill. An invoice will include the customer's AT&T cellular voice and data service charges, satellite network “subscription feature” charge and satellite voice and data roaming charges.
Hardcore world travelers and the professionally paranoid traveling far far outside of North America will likely bypass the new AT&T/TerreStar offering and reach for the Iridium (News - Alert) 9555 satellite phone. Iridium doesn't have GSM access built into its phones yet, but its satellite network truly encompasses the globe. 
Users can make a voice call and do simple data  such as SMS, email anywhere in the world from Washington D.C. to Antarctica Iridium has a global network of 66 low-orbiting satellites, so there's no single point of satellite failure to knock everything out should a single satellite go bad.

Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Kelly McGuire

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