It doesn't come cheap, but the TerreStar Genus gives boaters something they've not had before in mobile communications - a cell phone and a satellite phone bundled into a single smart package just a tad bigger than a BlackBerry.
Cellular service provider AT&T and satellite communications company TerreStar Networks Inc. began marketing the phone Nov. 22 to pleasure boaters, skiers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts who may want to call from remote places.
Users call on the cell phone within the AT&T cellular network and switch to the satellite phone outside cellular range. Satellite coverage encompasses the continental United States, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and parts of Alaska up to 200 miles offshore. An external antenna is recommended in the territories and Hawaii, and is required for Alaska, according to TerreStar. The satellite phone doesn't work indoors or from underground, and it has to have a clear line of sight to TerreStar's geostationary satellite in the southern skies.
The 4.6-ounce Genus has one phone number for cellular and satellite calls and a menu of other features: voice, data and text messaging; touch screen; QWERTY keyboard; Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and USB connectivity; 100 megabytes of memory; Windows Mobile Media Player; 2.0 megapixel camera; camcorder; video and audio playback; and digital voice recording.
Measuring 4.7 by 2.5 by 0.8 inches, the phone runs on the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. Apps include Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook, PowerPoint and PDF. AT&T is marketing it through Bex Voice and Data Inc., SatPhoneStore, SatWest and Spirit Wireless, all accessible at www.terrestar.com /genus.php. The phone is not waterproof, but waterproof cases for it are available.
Genus is available to consumers who sign up for a new AT&T account for $1,149 and to existing AT&T customers for $1,500. AT&T launched an identical phone in September for government, energy, utility, transportation and commercial maritime users, as well as public-safety agencies, first responders and disaster recovery groups. The cost of the hardware for them was $800.
In addition to the fee for regular AT&T cellular service - typically $60 a month for 900 rollover minutes - satellite service through AT&T costs $24.99 a month, plus 65 cents a minute for phone calls, 40 cents for each text message up to 160 characters, and $5 per megabyte for data, according to Chris Fallon of Ruder Finn, the New York public relations agency that represents TerreStar.
TerreStar filed Oct. 19 for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, saying it hoped to reduce its debt obligations so it could move forward with Genus. The company says EchoStar Corp., its largest secured creditor, had loaned it $75 million for business as usual during the restructuring.
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This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue.