AT&T will support TerreStar Networks’ $800 dual-mode cellular/satellite smartphone, which provides access to both cellular and satellite networks using a small form-factor. The partnership lets users access the TerreStar satellite network when AT&T’s cellular wireless network is unavailable and changes the paradigm of satellite communication, said Dennis Matheson, TerraStar’s chief technology officer.

Public-safety personnel no longer will need bulky handsets in remote, rugged environments, Matheson said. Now, the company can provide satellite communication down to consumer level handsets in a dual-mode phone used for every day communications, not only for disasters.

“That means we needed a smaller device that needed to be functionally equivalent — meaning performance to existing products,” Matheson said. “Therefore, a terrestrial component made logical sense so the consumer didn’t see this as a replacement but an augmentation to their service.”

Matheson said public safety is the target market for the dual-mode smartphone. He said the smartphone combines GSM/GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA terrestrial wireless capability with satellite voice and data capability. In addition, it runs Windows Mobile and includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.

“[Public-safety] will be able to be more effective because they can stay in touch no matter where they are or what they are doing,” Matheson said. “When they are inside buildings they have the terrestrial network. If that network doesn’t work, they are going to have access to satellite and as we saw in situations such as wildfires.”

Because communications are over TerraStar’s all IP-network, users can “take their applications with them so even though they are remote or in a situation that is challenging that they are not limited to voice communications,” Matheson said. “They still can get all the data that allows them to do their job effectively.

Matheson said the next step for the company is to use its satellite spectrum for an LTE network.

“Adding LTE would be just a natural extension by providing a robust terrestrial and satellite play,” he said.