Device Links iPhone Into Satellite System

By Valerie Insinna
A United Arab Emirates-based satellite company is pitching a device to the U.S. military that can transform an iPhone 4 into a satellite phone.

The SatSleeve fits onto an iPhone like a protective case and uses an application to link the smartphone to a satellite system owned by Thuraya, a satcom provider that covers most of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Middle East.

The device is not an option for the nation’s first responder community because of lack of service in North America, but company executives are scheduled to demonstrate the SatSleeve this spring for officials at overseas combatant commands in the Eastern Hemisphere, said Bob Demers, the company’s vice president of government services.

Thuraya officials also plan to meet with the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Information Systems Agency — which would ultimately decide whether to procure the device for the military, Demers told National Defense.

The company is looking at developing versions of the SatSleeve for Android and BlackBerry devices, which are more commonly used by the U.S. military and government. Doing so would require creating different software and applications for each operating system, said Sanford Jewett, vice president of marketing.

Another challenge is that the Android operating system runs on several different models of phones, meaning that Thuraya would have to construct a different sleeve to fit each design.

Most commercial satellite communications are purchased through Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition contracts sponsored by DISA or the General Services Administration, Demers said. DISA already has contracts with several Thuraya service partners, including Boeing and US21 Inc., so “this would be a modification of the contract that they already have,” he said.

“It’s a fairly easy process,” he added.

Because Thuraya acts as a wholeseller, prices will be set by their service partners, with the phone’s hardware starting at about $500 and satellite service costing anywhere from $1 to $1.25 a minute.

Current devices can be used to make phone calls or send text messages. The company is also releasing a “SatSleeve Data” version later this year that will allow users to connect to the Internet, send email and upload photos to social media sites.

Both versions are equipped with a backup battery that can help extend the life of  the iPhone.
“We initially bought 5,000 of these just to get our first batch,” Jewett said. “We sold out the entire first batch within the first two days.”

The next batch of about 30,000 devices will be available in August, he said.

Photo Credit: Thuraya

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology, Space

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