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Thuraya, GlobalStar Look to Ride Cellular Wave

By Steve Schuster | July 22, 2013
      At first glace, Thuraya’s SatSleeve looks like a typical iPhone case, but in reality it turns an iPhone into a satellite phone.
      Image credit: Thuraya
      [Satellite TODAY 7-22-13] As the demand for satellite cellular service has the potential to increase, companies such as Dubai-based Thuraya and U.S.-based Globalstar are already working on securing some of that demand.
       “We embarked on an aggressive product development roadmap, for which we’re now seeing the results,” said Ahmed Al Shamsi, CTO, Thuraya, during a recent interview with Via Satellite. Under this roadmap, the company launched what it claims to be the world’s first satellite adaptor for the iPhone earlier this year. Although the SatSleeve looks like a simple iPhone case, it is capable of providing extended battery life and satellite connectivity anywhere in Thuraya’s global footprint, which spans from the United Kingdom to Australia, according to a written statement from the company.
           “We’ve seen tremendous demand for the SatSleeve since its launch in March, selling out our initial stock within days of its launch,” said T. Sanford Jewett, vice president of marketing at Thuraya, during an interview with “To date, Thuraya has sold over 650,000 satellite phones. There is definitely demand for mobile satellite connectivity in areas underserved and unserved by terrestrial networks. This is in addition to working with humanitarian organizations to establish vital communication channels in times of emergency.”.
           The device, now compatible with the iPhone 5, allows for SMS and phone call connectivity via a special satellite mode.
           Other companies such as Globalstar have also developed new technology for voice and data services. In May, the company released its ready-to-use satellite phone Spot Global phone, which is available for purchase in retail stores throughout the United States. “The Spot brand was born out of our awareness for what consumers are looking for in-satellite services,” said Paul Monte, vice president of engineering and operations, Globalstar, during an interview with Via Satellite.
           Also, Globalstar’s GSP 2900 phone system, provides access to satellite voice and data services, including Internet, email and voicemail by allowing up to five RJ-11 jacks, to generate a dial tone for connectivity to standard and cordless telephones. The system makes increased connectivity possible for ships, cottages, skyscrapers, oil rigs and even service vans. 
           "The logic driving the growth in demand for faster access to data from critical oil and gas services … [is created when] faster decisions can be made, thus increasing the probability of optimizing the performance of the asset which is the oil and gas well undergoing the service work,” said George Tulle, president of MRL Integration Solutions a Canadian based oil and gas data delivery service.
           Globalstar’s GSP 1700 satellite phone and GSP-2900 fixed-phone system start at $499 for mobile and $699 for fixed systems with service plans starting at $300 annually. These new services were made available in the wake of Globalstar’s launch of a second-generation constellation in February, creating applications for the oil and gas sector spanning well beyond cellular satellite technology.
           Globalstar’s GSP 1700 satellite connects remote oil and gas workers to their employers, colleagues and even family’s while working in remote locations; but its applications do not end there. “It also proves essential in emergency situations. With a handheld satellite phone, remote workers will stay safe and stay in touch during the oil and gas exploration process,” according to a written statement from Globalstar.
           For asset managers, the simplex transmitter unit (STX 2) – Globalstar’s tracking product – has a variety of applications spanning from digital data communications for remote sensing and tracking to a variety of monitoring applications.
            “We’ll continue to mine the unknown areas throughout our industry and we’ll be paying close attention to how the MSS and FSS lines continue to blur. And we’ll be ready to take advantage when necessary,” Monte said.
          But according to one industry expert, the launch of these new satellite cellular products are more hype than an overall industry trend of increased demand for satellite cellular service.
           “In actuality, if you look at the amount of voice traffic going over satellites, I wouldn’t call it a major trend. In Globalstar’s case, they are repositioning its fleet, and Thuraya, I’d call it a new product, not a trend,” said Jay Gullish, director of space and telecommunications with Futron Corporation. “The bottom line is the cost model doesn’t work if you look at a typical user. It would be expensive to use a cellular device over the Thuraya system and the service would slow down, noticeably. I think they [Thuraya and GlobalStar] are trying to catch the smartphone waive, but the amount of traffic they are going to catch is not as much as they are talking about,” he said.

            Gullish went one step further and said the demand for cellular satellites is actually decreasing, contrary to Thuraya’s claims. “In fact it’s the other way around. The need for satellite connectivity decreases as cellular moves to faster 4G technology,” he said.