Japan's Softbank partners with satellite provider for earthquake coverage

The Japanese operator has tied with Thuraya Telecommunications to create a new satellite handset to launch next year

Japan's Softbank will soon offer a new satellite phone for use in earthquakes and other natural disasters.

The Japanese carrier said Monday it has teamed with Thuraya, a Dubai-based provider of satellite operator services and phones, to offer services. The companies said they will launch a new handset designed specifically for the Japanese market from February, sold through Softbank's retail outlets across the country.

Softbank said the deal with Thuraya will allow it to provide better services during natural disasters like the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northeast Japan last year. In the power and services outages that followed, Softbank was often slower to restart services than its local competitors.

The company said it will specifically target local media, energy companies and government customers, although private individuals will also be able to buy the new satellite phone.

Softbank, which announced a US$20 billion deal to acquire U.S. mobile operator Sprint Nextel in October, has been under pressure at home to improve its reception. The Japanese operator has added subscribers with cheap plans and aggressive advertising in recent years, but has been unable to shake its reputation for poor performance.

The company has also invested heavily in new towers nationwide and moved to acquire a controlling stake in Japanese operator eAccess to expand its data networks.

While Softbank has continued to lead rivals in terms of overall new subscriptions, it has lagged rival KDDI in terms of transfers under Japan's number portability system that allows user to change carriers and keep their numbers, according to news reports. KDDI began offering Apple's iPhones last year, ending Softbank's monopoly.

In order to use satellite services, a clean line of sight is necessary, so services tend to work best on rooftops, in rural areas or at sea.

Thuraya is a global operator based that uses its satellite network and deals with local GSM networks to provide global coverage. They company said its provides reception over two-thirds of the globe.

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