Coming soon from a satellite near you: ATT's new smartphone

Telco moves to fill holes in spotty cell phone network with satellite backup

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In a bid to improve its mobile network performance (and put an end to chronic customer complaints), AT&T today unveiled a smartphone that can connect via satellite.

Called the TerreStar Genus, the new phone promises to provide coverage even in remote locations such as forests or offshore. Which would be great for people who routinely venture into unpopulated areas, such as fishermen, wilderness rescue workers and park rangers.

However, the blanket coverage offered by TerreStar Genus has some holes. From the Associated Press:

To use the phone, it has to have a clear view of the southern sky, where the satellite hovers, with no intervening trees, buildings or hills. That restricts its use to the outdoors. The satellite is aimed at the U.S. and doesn't provide global coverage in the same way Iridium Communications Inc.'s satellite constellation does.

And speaking of holes, prepare for AT&T's satellite-connected phone to put a hole in your pocket: It's priced at a hefty $799. And that's not all. While the phone can run off AT&T's terrestrial network (where available), users who want the option of switching over to satellite coverage must pay a monthly fee of $25 and another 65 cents for each minute of satellite use. Sounds like that could add up fast.

The Genus also allows users to access the web, send email and text. But the rates for those services aren't cheap: $5 per megabyte for web access and 40 cents per text message.

Chris Hill, AT&T's vice president for advanced enterprise mobility solutions, tells AP the cost of including the satellite option will drop over time, meaning AT&T could add satellite connectivity to other phones.

AT&T currently is pitching the Genus to professional customers via traditional business channels. The phone is expected to hit retail stores before the end of 2010.

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