ATandT, TerreStar Developing Genus Satellite, Cellular Smartphone

AT&T and TerreStar are working on Genus, a smartphone with dual satellite and cellular connectivity. The smartphone may put AT&T in position to best take advantage of forthcoming LTE 4G technology.

TerreStar Networks, a company currently developing a satellite terrestrial mobile broadband network, announced Sept. 30 that it has entered into an agreement with AT&T "to bring to market the first fully integrated satellite cellular smartphone."
Called the TerreStar Genus, the dual-mode smartphone, which resembles a BlackBerry Curve, will run on the Windows Mobile operating system and feature a touch screen, QWERTY keyboard and track ball navigation, and include Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth functionality. Intended as an everyday smartphone, it will give users the option of voice and data services over either AT&T's cellular network or the TerreStar satellite network.
"TerreStar is pleased to announce AT&T as a distribution channel," Jeffrey Epstein, president of TerreStar Networks, said in a statement. "TerreStar remains focused on offering an integrated satellite and terrestrial communications solution to enable true ubiquity and reliability virtually anywhere in the United States to help solve critical communications and business continuity challenges faced by government, emergency responders, enterprises and rural communities."
TerreStar said the Genus will be "smaller and more feature-rich than previous satellite devices." On July 1, the company launched TerreStar-1, which it calls the "world's largest, most powerful commercial satellite," and on July 20 completed its first end-to-end call over it.
The announcement follows a July prediction by ABI Research that TerreStar and other satellite communications operators would team with mobile operators to take advantage of the FCC Ancillary Terrestrial Component Order of 2003, which allows satellite operators to offer both satellite and cellular services over licensed satellite spectrum. The spectrum happens to also support 4G cellular services, which will put the duo in an advantageous position once 4G technology becomes more ubiquitous.
"We believe that the green-field satellite companies' plan is to forge short-term roaming partnerships with AT&T and other cellular operators and then, when LTE services are deployed, position themselves to be acquired by these major players, including their prized spectrum," Kevin Burden, an ABI analyst, said in a statement July 21.
The one kink in the plan is that the ATC order requires the satellite operators to offer both satellite and cellular services. The inconvenience, however-what Burden refers to as a "satellite tax"-is well worth the ability to squat on the spectrum, which is meant for offering connectivity in regions where cellular service is scarce.
TerreStar and AT&T will be demonstrating the Genus smartphone on Oct. 5 at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Denver.