Terrestar Genus Hybrid Satellite/Cell Phone Coming to AT&T

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There are still some people in this work who get by with a single handset connected to a landline—and then there are people who’s lives and careers take them almost anywhere, often infuriatingly out of range of any sort of cell phone coverage. For these highly mobile types, early next year AT&T plans to offer the Terrestar Genus, a Windows Mobile device that combines a traditional cell phone with a satellite phone, offering communications in places off the beaten track—sometimes way off the beaten track.

“TerreStar is pleased to announce AT&T as a distribution channel,” said Terrestar president Jeffrey Epstein, 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 the critical communications and business continuity challenges faced by government, emergency responders, enterprises and rural communities.”

The Genus device combines a Windows Mobile 3G-enabled device with a satellite phone—and unlike most satphones, the Genus retains the form factor of a traditional smartphone: the device features an integrated QWERTY keypad, along with a three megapixel camera, microSD card slot, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking, an integrated GPS receiver, and a touchscreen interface. Terrestar says the Genus can offer up to 1.3 hours of satellite communications on a single battery charge; that also translates to about 5 hours of GSM talk time.

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At least initially, satellite backup will only be available in the United States, along with Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and offshore coastal waters.

Neither Terrestar nor AT&T have announced pricing for either the Genus or the satellite service…but don’t expect it to be cheap. AT&T seems intent on making Genus buyers sign up for two years of voice and data service, plus a satellite package on top of that—and when using the satellite service, expect to pay roaming charges. Initially the device will be pitched to business, enterprise, and first responders in early 2010, although a consumer offering seems to be in the works.