UK customers may have to wait until after Christmas before they can use the Iridium global mobile phone service.
Iridium launched its 66-satellite network on 1 November, claiming to offer a mobile phone service anywhere in the world. Earlier this week it added a pager service to its portfolio.
But while customers in the US have had access to the special satellite phones required to use Iridium since the network's launch, the handsets are nowhere to be seen in Europe. More than 800 calls have been made using the system since its launch.
Iridium's two distributors in the UK - Orange and Unique Air - have not yet set a date for rolling out Iridium handsets and service, and have so far received just a handful of phones for testing.
"The service is available now on a global basis - what's not available right now are the phones," said Sabina Hague a spokeswoman at Iridium's European headquarters in Germany.
Manufacturers of the Iridium phones and pagers - Motorola and Kyocera - say the phones will be shipped to Europe in the next couple of weeks. But the chances of products hitting the streets ahead of Christmas look slim, according to Iridium.
"I expect real availability towards the end of December, into the beginning of January," said Iridium's Hague. "But I don't expect many partners to offer phones at the end of December because of their Christmas campaigns," she said.
Satellite phone analyst Gareth Owen, at Dataquest in France, said January is a more realistic target for handset availability in the UK. "The situation is the same with most service providers - basically if you don't have handsets you don't have a product," said Owen.
Operators have received a small number of phones and say they are testing the service quality, training sales staff and putting billing information together. Orange says it is testing the technical and commercial aspects of the service and will roll the service as soon as possible. Unique Air says its plans are at a standstill.
"As of last week, we weren't very far forward. We were still waiting for [tariff] data from Iridium," said a spokeswoman for Unique Air.
Calls made using Iridium's satellites costs around #2 per minute for national calls and #4 per minute for international calls. Calls can also be made via local cellular operators in many countries.
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