Satellite communication was once a marvel of technological ingenuity - and then it wasn’t, or at least to the majority of the population that took to the ease of mobile phones and wireless broadband.
But Indigo Telecom Australia thinks satellite telephony still has a place in a vast and mostly empty continent.
The company’s backers have calculated that more than a million Australians either live outside the footprint of a conventional mobile phone network, or regularly work or play in the 72 per cent of the land mass with mobile coverage.
Key to Indigo’s pitch is that satellite comms isn’t what it used to be: a technology that was hampered by bulky handsets, echoing and stilted conversations, and hefty costs.
Rural Press spent a few days with Indigo’s standard handset, the Thuraya XT, and found that satellite telecommunications have definitely advanced, but also continue to carry some of the technology’s limitations.
The splash-, shock- and dust-resistant Thuraya XT couldn’t be described as svelte, but nor is it monstrous -about the same width as Telstra’s rugged “rural” phones, the 165i and T90, but about 10cm taller and 3-4mm deeper. Pocketable, if you have big pockets.
The body is robust, but without the tough-guy rubber design touches that some gadgets, including Telstra’s “tough” phones, use to signify toughness.
But in a sign that the Thuraya XT is indeed “toughened”, all the phone’s external ports, like the USB and battery charger connections, are covered with rubber seals.
The keyboard layout is standard-issue, and will be instantly recognisable to most mobile phone users - particularly those familiar with Nokia phones, which seem to have inspired many of the keyboard and menu conventions.
The only flaw with the keyboard is common to many of today’s mobiles: the keys are so small that big fingers will find it all too easy to hit multiple buttons.
The menu system is straightforward, and includes mobile phone basics like calendar and contact book, plus a GPS module.