Tuesday, April 26, 2011

AT&T begins sales of disaster recovery 'cell tower in a suitcase' system

AT&T has announced sales of a new, portable, "cell tower in a suitcase." The device is designed to allow first responders and disaster recovery personnel to connect to cell phones, by using this device to connect to satellites and provide voice and minimal data connectivity, but at a cost that makes one wonder why they the agencies couldn't just purchase satellite phones.

The Remote Mobility Zone, as it is called, can optionally be packed into a suitcase. It comes with a satellite dish (carried separately), but requires external power, such as a generator. It can support up to 14 simultaneous calls, but does not support 3G data spees. It's unclear if it would even support EDGE, but in a disaster situation, the ability to make a call is more important than data.

[If emergency personnel need to communicate textually, they can use SMS; SMS messages piggyback on a standard cellular signal, no data service is required.]

The Remote Mobility Zone's coverage extends up to half a mile from the unit. It can also be mounted on or in a car or truck.  The cost is anywhere from $15,000 to $45,000, and also requires certain "recurring monthly fees."

However, AT&T also sells satellite phones, and one, the TerreStar Genus, only "carries" a retail price of $999. Until now, however, the devices was only available to corporations and government agencies that can acquire the device directly from OEMs. However, recently Amazon.com began currently selling it for $899, and to regular folks, as well.

The satellite service only costs $25 per month, as well, in addition to normal service. Additionally, there's no need for external power (assuming the phones are charged). Given that, one has to wonder if, considering the pricing of the Remote Mobility Zone, rescue agencies shouldn't just buy satellite phones?

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