AT&T today confirmed that it will sell the first dual-mode cellular and satellite smartphone that will offer satellite connectivity from TerreStar’s network when in remote areas. The Genus phone will be out in the first quarter of next year for business and government clients, although AT&T said it is working on such a device for consumers as well. However, before you get too excited, the idea of a satellite-powered smartphone sounds sweeter in theory than in practice.
First off, this is an expensive device at $799 for the phone, plus $24.99 a month for satellite connectivity. (TerreStar CEO Jeff Epstein calls it “a $24-a-month insurance policy.”) On top of that charge, voice costs 65 cents per minute, and data is $5 a megabyte.
Plus, data rates on the satellite network will be much slower than even current 2G speeds. Epstein says speeds have improved and the Genus will get 160kbps down and 30kbps up. Download speeds will become faster with new iterations of the phones, he said. Battery life on the satellite portion of the phone will be about 90 minutes of talk time (five hours of talk time for GSM connectivity) and 35-40 hours of standby time for the satellite network.
This is the first dual-mode satellite and GSM smartphone, and undoubtedly some people will be excited to own it (probably mostly in the public service sector where satellite connectivity is important for redundancy and service in remote areas). However, after spending millions to launch new birds and with hopes of launching an expansive satellite and terrestrial-based voice and data network, TerreStar will need to take its phones and service beyond niche markets. With faster speeds and lower prices, this may one day be the phone to do that. Today it’s expensive and too slow for widespread use. However, on the plus side, after you experience the slow satellite speeds, even the AT&T network will look good.