A new name in the satphone business?

Well, not so new… at least for the satellite industry. For the first time in its history, Inmarsat plc, a UK-based global satellite operator, announced its plans to offer a handheld satellite phone and voice calls in early 2007. For almost 30 years of its history, Inmarsat has been known mostly for its marine-based and high-speed data solutions.

In partnership with ACeS Ltd., an Asian regional mobile satellite operator, Inmarsat will offer an Ericsson-made handheld satellite phone (based on ACeS R190) and voice calls at rates from 25 cents to $1 per minute. The new system will use three new Inmarsat GEO satellites and, possibly, the older ACeS Garuda 1 satellite.

This move puts Inmarsat in direct competition with other two major players: Thuraya and Iridium and will likely result in lower prices for equipment and voice calls, which even now  rarely exceed $1 per minute.

The new venture is the next step in Inmarsat’s mobile line of products. In late 2005, the company introduced the BGAN service, featuring laptop-sized satellite modems and data transfers of up to 492 Kbps. Inmarsat is keen to use ACeS established distribution channels to market the BGAN products on the Asian markets.

As Gulfnews.com reports, the satellite phone market is a $350 million business with 600,000 subscribers.