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Businesses Communications The Almighty Buck Wireless Networking Technology

SatPhones — Why Can't They Make It Work? 337

RedEaredSlider writes "Satellite phones aren't as clunky as they once were, and technology has made them more powerful. Gone are the days when satellite phones had to be accompanied by a suitcase. Yet to date, the field is littered with bold attempts at a phone that could be used anywhere, without depending on earthbound cell phone networks. Billions have been invested, with relatively little to show for it. Part of the answer is debt. TerreStar is only the latest casualty of a crushing $1.2 billion debt load. The company introduced its Genus phone last month, but is in the middle of Chapter 11 proceedings. It's unclear that the phone will sell enough to help TerreStar stay in business, especially when it carries a $799 price tag."
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SatPhones — Why Can't They Make It Work?

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  • by troylanes ( 883822 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @05:13PM (#34539094)
    I've worked in the industry for the past 7 years or so -- most of the support calls that came in were related to the fact that the phone would not work indoors or in a car. People were really confused and often angry when you told them they need to be outside to make a call. This is small fact is one of the reasons, not to mention the cost, that satphone adoption has been stagnant.
  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @05:16PM (#34539156)

    Iridium satellites are at 475 miles, not geo sync

  • by fpp ( 614761 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @05:25PM (#34539300)
    I second this. I also work in the industry and people generally don't know that not only do you have to be outside, but you have to have a clear line of sight to the sky and not be near obstructions like buildings. Also, the higher off the ground you are, or the higher the elevation, the better. Even in the best conditions, the call quality can vary as a satellite goes over the horizon and passes your call to another satellite. Also, satellite calls are very expensive, and the hand held units, although getting smaller (like the Iridium 9555 handset), are still bigger than a large cell phone.
  • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @06:03PM (#34539876)

    Few satellites use an RTG. Too high a risk of the radioactive material being released into the atmosphere if something goes wrong. Really hard for private companies to get the clearance to use them. It looks to me like most satellites using RTGs are government-backed.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @06:29PM (#34540152) Homepage

    What I'd like to see is a LEO network with satellites as cheap as possible that provide store and forward text/data messages only.

    That's what the Iridum pager [] does.

  • by braindrainbahrain ( 874202 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @06:30PM (#34540160)

    TerreStar, Sky Terra (Lightsquared), and Inmarsat use geostationary satellites. Iridium and GlobalStar use low earth orbits (below 1000 km ), while ICO Global initially opted for satellites in a medium earth orbit, at about 10,000 km. ICO's latest bird, however, will be geosynchronous.

  • by bertok ( 226922 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @06:32PM (#34540194)

    It's not a direct comparison, AT&T-s network has a much higher aggregate capacity.

    The Iridium satellites can only handle 1100 concurrent phone calls each. While there are 66 active satellites, most of the coverage is over the poles because of their orbits, so the capacity over occupied land is much lower than one would think, probably below 10,000 concurrent calls. Each of those channels in turn is very narrow bandwidth, about 2400 bits per second, and uses heavy audio compression to make speech intelligible. This explains why Iridium plans are so expensive. They're not for "chatting", they're for professionals that need emergency communication in the middle of nowhere.

    The iPhone in my pocket has a higher bandwidth for a single connection than an entire Iridium satellite!

  • by snowraver1 ( 1052510 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @06:41PM (#34540304)
    I sometimes talk to people that use these phones up in Northern Alberta. The quality is actually far better than you would expect, and the delay isn't too noticable. I think the phone the other guy was using was on the Iridium network.

    I think that the problem with these phones and why they will never take off is that they will never be cheap enough for mere mortals to use. They just don't have enough bandwidth to have the unwashed masses using it to talk about the latest celeb gossip. With a space based solution, it would be hard to break geographic areas into cells like what is currently done with cell phone tech. The result is that everyone is on the same tower, and there is only so much signal to go around. Because supply is so tight, price has to remain high.
  • by Bitmanhome ( 254112 ) <bitman.pobox@com> on Monday December 13, 2010 @10:39PM (#34542430)

    For us armchair rocket scientists, an RTG [] is also known as a nuclear battery.

"Everyone's head is a cheap movie show." -- Jeff G. Bone