PARIS — Mobile satellite services provider Thuraya, in the latest demonstration that the global competition for mobile satellite telephone customers is heating up, is offering new subscribers a credit of $400 if they turn in a functioning non-Thuraya satellite telephone and purchase the new Thuraya XT model, Thuraya said.

The Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates-based company is gearing up for a direct competitive threat from London-based Inmarsat, which has been in the mobile satellite communications market for more than 30 years but has left the hand-held telephone end of the market to competitors including Iridium Communications of McLean, Va., and Globalstar of Milpitas, Calif., in addition to Thuraya.

That will change in June, when Inmarsat is scheduled to introduce its IsatPhone Pro hand-held device. Inmarsat has said it expects to gain a 10 percent share of the global market for hand-held satellite phones within two years, mainly by offering lower handset prices and lower user charges to take customers away from the existing providers.

Thuraya announced April 26 that it has already sold 8,000 XT telephones this year and expects that figure to reach 20,000 by year’s end. The XT, which retails for between $1,000 and $1,300, is billed as the most rugged on the market. Thuraya said the XT offers five to six hours of call time between battery charges and is both splash- and dust-proof.

Inmarsat’s IsatPhone Pro is expected to have a suggested retail price of $699 before promotions, with calls to retail for $1 per minute. Inmarsat says its product will offer up to eight hours of conversation between battery charges.

Inmarsat, like Thuraya, delivers its service through satellites in a few geostationary satellites over the equator. Iridium and Globalstar operate constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit.

In addition to Inmarsat and the continued global presence of Iridium, Thuraya can expect heightened competition from Globalstar, whose first-generation constellation of satellites has suffered failures that reduce the service’s two-way communications capacity.

Iridium has attempted to lure frustrated Globalstar customers, and Thuraya’s move is similar. Globalstar is planning to start launches of its more-durable second-generation constellation of satellites with the launch of six spacecraft this year, and 18 more in 2011.

Inmarsat’s satellites offer global coverage except for the poles, which are beyond the reach of geostationary satellites. Thuraya’s coverage area, which also excludes the polar regions, extends over some 140 nations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia.


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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.