Directing Traffic

Calls In Space

With satellite phones, the sky's the limit.

Late last year, Vice President Al Gore placed the world's first call on a satellite phone handset. From the White House, Gore dialed up Dr. Robert Ballard, the research scientist and deep-sea explorer who discovered the sunken Titanic in 1983. After nearly a decade of hype, and plenty of failed experiments, satellite telephones have finally arrived.

Just what are satellite phones? In look, feel and operability, they're nearly identical to conventional cellular phones. But as any heavy cell phone user can attest, conventional cellular phones and even sophisticated digital wireless phones have limited capabilities. You can use them only in prescribed areas, and if your cellular phone carrier doesn't offer service in that area, you're out of luck.

Satellite phones provide service anywhere, any time to any user. They send their telephone signals to satellites orbiting the earth, which then transmit them to other satellites that beam them down to their final destination. They allow you to make a call from a mountaintop, your car, or even from the Oval Office, if you have that kind of access.

Costs are about 10 percent more than conventional cellular service--but for entrepreneurs who always have to be in touch, the expense may be worth it. Currently, American Mobile Satellite Corp. and Motorola are among the companies that offer satellite services.

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This article was originally published in the April 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Directing Traffic.

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