Docomo Widestar

NTT Japan’s Docomo subsidiary is now offering a satellite based phone service called “Widestar,” offering both voice calls and data transmision.
According to the service’s web site the primary customers are people isolated in mountainous areas or remote islands, or for emergency services like ambulances, for whom reliability is paramount.

One of the more intersting uses they mention is providing data links to electronic signs on highways, to which it would be impractical to run cable. Since the signs are also solar powered (obviously with batteries for night) the system is completely wireless. Some other remote locations they mention are: weather sensors, remote seismic activity sensors (essential in earthquake-prone Japan), dam and river water-level sensors and tectonic movement sensors.
Satellite network map

Some of the stats they supply for the network are:
Two N-Star satellites in a geosynchronous orbit 36,000 KM above the equator, covering all of Japan.
Satellite expected lifespan:At least 10 years.
Daterate: 5.6kbps voice mode, 4.8 kbps data mode (perhaps the discrepancy is for extra
error checking for pure data?)
Signal strength: 2 Watts
Date, voice, fax.

I won’t get into all the details of various pricing plans, but for basic voice service it costs 13,000 yen (over $115) to start, and then depending on the time of the call and what kind of phone it’s to calls are anywhere from about $1 to $3 per minutes. As for data, billing is based on 128 byte packets. They have different plans for high and low volume users. The one for high volume costs 25,000 yen to start and includes 110,000 packets. If you exceed 110,000 then each additional packet costs 0.6 Yen, but if you then go over 200,000 packets the price for additional packets (after number 200,000) drops to 0.4 yen apiece.