Déjà vu all over again….

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Déjà vu all over again….

Technical Issues — 

One of the odd things about the wireless telecommunications business is that the industry is frequently behind the technology curve in terms of handset/frequency matches. When there were three frequencies (900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz) many companies had dual frequency handsets for international use (900 MHz and 1900 MHz). When there were four frequencies (850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz) many companies offered only tri-band handsets, with a choice between 900/1800/1900 and 850/1800/1900. This meant you had to decide between lame coverage in the Americas or lame coverage in the rest of the world.

We recently needed a satellite phone for use in the Middle East, the circumstances of which required a handheld device, which precluded the use of one of our collection of Inmarsat terminals. For a number of reasons, the best choice for our needs was a handset on the Thuraya satellite system. As often happens in handheld satellite terminals, Thuraya’s handsets also include GSM, so that they can use a local terrestrial signal if available.

Now, you might expect that, since the satellite communications industry really does involve actual rocket scientists, the people that specified Thuraya’s handsets would have included both GSM 900 and GSM 1800, since these are the two GSM frequencies used in their area of coverage. In fact, following in the footsteps of GSM manufacturers, the Hughes 7100 and 7101 only include GSM 900 1.

We asked Thuraya about this, and were told that “Thuraya will be introducing the 2nd generation phone: SG-2520, which will include the GSM triband (900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz) feature. This phone will be on sale between April and June 2006.”

This is somewhat befuddling, as the only GSM coverage in the area covered by their satellite is 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. Unless they expand coverage with a second satellite in the Western Hemisphere, there is no benefit to the inclusion of GSM 1900. On the other hand, let us assume that they plan to go global, and add coverage in the Western Hemisphere. In that case the choice is equally befuddling, since GSM 850 is used in thirteen countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 850 MHz being the only frequency available in five of these.

While the outdated-before-release-in-terms-of-GSM SG-2520 will, with both GSM 900 and GSM 1800, represent an important step forward for dual- mode users, we certainly hope that Thuraya will quickly replace the GSM- challenged SG-2520 with a current-GSM-technology quad-band version.

1 Thuraya is not unique in this lunacy: Globalstar’s excellent GSP-1600 includes AMPS and 800 – but not 1900MHz – CDMA, reducing its non-satellite utility in the U.S.

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