TerreStar leverages mass-market handhelds with satellite launch

TerreStar Networks Inc. planned to launch on Wednesday a satellite, part of an all IP-enabled and integrated satellite and terrestrial network designed to bring connectivity to commercially-available handsets.

The TerreStar-1, a hybrid satellite with Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) integration, will provide the flexibility to customize mass market commercial wireless devices and applications that run on them, said Steve Nichols, executive vice-president of operations with TerreStar Canada.

Basically, the setup allows providers to maximize scarce and increasingly costly spectrum, optimize and make available capacity as needed, “and most importantly, fuses satellite and the existing cellular paradigm that we know today into one handset that becomes an everyday device,” said Nichols.

The hybrid nature of the network is designed such that when in an urban environment, users can communicate via terrestrial towers, and via satellite in rural areas where the signal is not so robust. “The big advantage of this service is to be able to use essentially a cellular phone or Blackberry-sized handset and communicate directly with the satellite or directly with terrestrial communications towers to be able to get your signal,” said Robert Power, senior advisor with regulatory affairs with TerreStar Canada.

Hoping to “leverage” the ample investment that device manufacturers already put into R&D, TerreStar will offer the chipset to be built into these devices. Future devices envisioned to offer these capabilities include smart phones, land mobile radio handsets, data modules, and vehicle mounted modules.

Target markets for TerreStar are public safety and security, monitoring and surveillance, information service providers and communications carriers.

An all-IP environment, according to Nichols, will offer authentication, robust security and prioritization in a variety of circumstances like disaster recovery and quality of service.

The strength of the network lies not only in extending the terrestrial network, said Nichols, but offering innovative ways to apply it, in terms of configuring software and designing applications. “It is an integrated part of the ground network in ways that people have never envisioned using it before,” he said.

According to Ron Gherman, consultant with Frost & Sullivan, satellite phones like those of Iridium Satellite LLC have always had the advantage of working anywhere in the world, but the market has often been limited by handset availability and price for devices and service.

While At&T is the first to make a commitment to resell the service in a hybrid offering, aimed initially at various levels of government, Gherman wrote in an e-mail that he foresees that a “compelling advantage of the handsets switching between satellite and 3G coverage, as users roam in and out of cellular coverage areas, will attract the consumer as well.”

Analysis by Frost & Sullivan of the machine-to-machine market in 2008, reveals an installed base of roughly 3.5 million active units in 2012, contributing roughly to $896 million in revenues across the globe. “This opportunity could contribute to a good reason to use hybrid cellular/satellite services like TerreStar for pipeline monitoring, remote connections, etc.,” wrote Gherman.

According to Michael Rozender, principal of Grimsby, Ont.-based Rozender Consultants International, the combination of satellite and terrestrial is interesting in that it offers an alternative method of communications for backup and redundancy.

But the fact that satellites are located a great distance from the ground, said Rozender, introduces latency to any streaming media type applications.

That said, the manner in which the technology is ultimately deployed will decide to what degree these become actual issues, said Rozender.

“The combination of terrestrial to satellite does make a lot more sense but the proof will be in how they price it, what their service level agreements will be, and if there are any issues with quality of service which is the latency issue,” he said.

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