AT&T and TerreStar today announced the consumer availability of the TerreStar GENUS, the first smartphone with the integrated capability of accessing a satellite network when a terrestrial network is out of range or otherwise unavailable.

AT&T has made GENUS available to enterprises since September, but today marks the beginning of commercial availability to all consumers, TerreStar CTO Dennis Matheson said. Unlike traditional satellite-enabled devices, there is no need for a separate phone number or special satellite dialing codes, he said.

"We have a single phone number, whether you're in satellite or terrestrial mode," Matheson said. "It makes it your day-in, day-out device, so you don't have units sitting on the shelf with the battery going dead and not being able to remember how to use it when you really need it.

"It make it so that it's your day-to-day device — you've got one address book, one voicemail box, one device and one bill."

About the size of a deck of cards, the GENUS smartphone is significantly smaller than traditional satellite handsets, which required large antennas to communicate with smaller satellites. However, the GENUS does not need a large antenna to connect with TerreStar-1, the company's next-generation satellite that is the world's largest commercial communications satellite.

When turned on, the GENUS initially is in cellular mode, seeking a signal from AT&T's wireless network, according to a video on TerreStar's Web site. Users who are unable to establish a cellular connection can switch the phone to satellite mode, which requires them to have a clear view of the southern sky and can take about a minute to establish a connection.

Whether connected to a cellular or satellite network, GENUS is designed to let users access e-mail and send text messages. Internet access is possible but can be "challenging" for users that are accustomed to high-speed connectivity, Matheson said. The GENUS device also includes smartphone features such as a 2.0-megapixel camera, a QWERTY keyboard and 100 MB of memory, as well as integrated Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS connectivity.

Online wireless retailer Simplexity is marketing and distributing the GENUS and accessories through its partner and marketing network. The current advertised price for the GENUS device — not set by TerreStar — is $1,150, Matheson said.

In terms of service arrangements, GENUS users choose a cellular voice and data plan with AT&T and pay $25 per month to activate satellite roaming capability, Matheson said. Actual usage would determine the rest of the satellite portion of the bill, he said.

"When you start comparing this offering to existing satellite offerings out in the marketplace today, this is actually much cheaper," Matheson said.

Matheson said TerreStar believes the GENUS will appeal to enterprise users that require connectivity throughout North America, as well as consumers that live in areas that need basic wireless communication.

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