Mired by complaints about its mobile phone coverage in the US, AT&T has announced the TerreStar Genus, a phone that can get reception absolutely anywhere in the country as long as the user has a clear view of the sky. Many people first became aware of satellite phones in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when virtually all cell phone reception was completely cut off for weeks in the New Orleans area. News reporters relied on satellite phones to communicate with one another but it was an extreme rarity for the average hurricane victim to actually have one. They're not exactly known for personal use.
And for that very reason, AT&T will begin selling the Genus only to business customers. The phone will indeed be available for everyone at its retail stores later this year.
There's no carrier subsidy which means no contract to buy the phone, but also that customers will have to fork over the full sticker price of $799. It will run on standard AT&T service, but to get the added satellite coverage will cost $25 more per month, and on top of that users will still be charged 65 cents per minute.
It comes equipped with the now-outdated Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system, with a full keyboard and a more ergonomic form factor than most bulky satellite phones.
Satellite phones have historically been used mainly for voice calls. But for customers who are so inclined, texts can be sent through satellite reception on the Genus for 40 cents each. And to browse the Web costs $5 per megabyte. Those rates are astronomically higher than a standard smartphone using regular wireless signals.
It's not cheap. That's why not a lot of people have satellite phones. Yet AT&T sees a market for it - particularly because it is the first one designed for mainstream consumers. It doesn't have to be connected to satellite reception. So users can have it in the back pocket, in a pinch.
Regardless of if it proves to be successful or not, it's a move in the right direction. At least consumers now have an easy way to get the peace-of-mind from a satellite phone if they really want it.