Device transforms iPhones into satellite phones

By Rizal Raoul Reyes

Posted at Feb 22 2014 01:16 PM | Updated as of Feb 22 2014 09:16 PM

(From left) Thuraya vice president for distribution Bilal El Hamoui, Smart Global Access Group head Tina Z. Mariano and Smart Public Affairs Group head Ramon Isberto pose with the new devices during the press launch. Photo: Handout.

MANILA -- Smart Communications Inc. on Thursday launched the SatSleeve under its SmartSAT program, a satellite-powered communication service that’s accessible to more Filipinos.

SatSleeve is a case that transforms a smartphone into an instant satellite device. The offering comes in three versions − one works with an iPhone 5 and iPhone 5 handsets, while the other one is compatible with Samsung Galaxy S4 units.

Smart also launched the XT model, a stand-alone satellite phone that is designed for the rugged environment such as the mountains, mining areas and forests.

In his remarks, Smart chief wireless advisor Orlando Vea said the formal launch of the Smart’s satellite services is very timely as the Philippines needs a strong and stable communication system. especially in times of natural disasters and calamities.

“Being a disaster-prone country, the Philippines will need an all-weather form of communication. The satellite phone service is the perfect service in such scenario,” Vea said.

Bhilal El Hamoui, vice president for distribution of United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Thuraya Telecommunications Company, said the introduction of satellite phone services is quite important in countries like the Philippines.

Thuraya is the partner of Smart in providing combined voice services and handset offers under the SmartSAT brand. The package includes either the SatSleeve (iPhone or Android) or XT handset bundled with price plans aimed at providing connections to quick reaction teams, relief workers and government agencies during disaster recovery operations. SmartSAT can also be utilized as an emergency preparedness device for citizens for disaster response and recovery and as a communications backup different customers.

The SmartSAT service covers more than 160 countries, including major sea lanes in Asia, New Zealand, Australia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. The package is worth P38,500, inclusive of a special satellite SIM with an initial airtime credit load of about $225 (around P10,000), valid for one year.

A voice call from a remote area costs about $0.97 per minute to Smart, Sun and PLDT numbers, and $0.80 per minute to other networks. International calls range from $0.57 to $5.75, depending on the location.

On the other hand, subscribers will pay $0.23 per message in the SMS service, while $0.015 will be charged in data service for every 10- kilobits. Contacting the customer care hotline on satellite is free of charge. Prepaid load cards will be available to subscribers to maintain the satellite services.

Tina Mariano, head of Smart’s global access group, said the rapid development of compact satellite devices has pushed the demand for satellite phones.

“The SatSleeve, which acts like an adaptor, integrates global system for mobile communication (GSM) and satellite connectivity on your smartphone. It is suitable for personal use as it complements the existing functions of your handset. It synchs your contacts, email and calendar, offers WIFI capability and doubles as a phone charger,” Mariano explained.