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FIFO workers keep connected with Optus satellite phones

Optus has launched a Thuraya satellite case for the iPhone 4 and 4S, aimed at keeping people in regional or remote areas of Australia connected when outside of the network footprint.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Optus has launched the Thuraya SatSleeve for the iPhone 4 and 4S, targeting fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers in the mining and agriculture sector of Australia to allow them to stay connected on their own iPhones even outside of network coverage areas.

The device, which connects to the iPhone as a normal case, but has its own SIM card and acts as a satellite phone that is able to make voice calls and send texts, was launched yesterday with a retail price of AU$690. The device can access the iPhone contacts through Bluetooth, and allows customers to move in and out of network coverage areas and maintain connection. Optus' vice president of Satellite Paul Sheridan told ZDNet that it is aimed at taking out the hassle of switching between two phones for people who are frequently going in and out of 3G mobile network coverage areas.

"It's basically two phones in one. The primary driver is that you don't have to have two separate phones," he said.

"It's the fly-in, fly-out type people. The ones who in their normal daily business would go outside the normal 3G coverage and still need to make contact."

The case has its own battery with four hours of talk time and 48 hours of standby time.The phone uses Thuraya's satellite network, rather than Optus' own satellite network, which the company recently decided against selling because Thuraya's satellites have been purpose built for satellite communications, whereas Optus' network has historically been more focused on broadcast and data.

"Via their network, there's capability to connect to all the different countries around the world," Sheridan said.

Thuraya is looking at developing an Android-compatible device, depending on the handset, and iPhone 5 and 5s covers will be ready in the near future, according to Sheridan. Optus is also currently assessing whether enabling data use on the satellite phones is also an option.

"Data is something that will happen down the track. We're looking into it now. In a stay-in-contact point of view, the voice and SMS is deemed to be the primary driver," he said.

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