A Chandler company is offering free satellite telephones to members of the military so they can connect with friends and family during the holidays.
World Communication Center says it will give soldiers reconditioned Iridium satellite phones to phone home from remote areas of the world where there is no cellular phone service.
The firm, which leases telephones and pagers and offers satellite Internet service, hopes users will purchase time on the phones. Calls cost between $1 and $1.40 a minute on average, said CEO Weldon Knape.
WCC’s only request is military members return the phones when they’re done using them.
"If a phone gets redeployed a few times over the long haul, it could be profitable for us," he said. "But the real thing here is just to get a lot of phones out to the soldiers as quickly as possible."
Utilizing the phones, military members can receive unlimited text messages up to 120 characters from a computer or cell phone.
The company’s first taker was Lori Gilmore whose husband, Maj. Martin Gilmore, is a foreign military adviser in Iraq. Gilmore said her U.S. Army Reserve husband was called up just two weeks ago.
"He was going into one of the hot spots over there so I went for about four days without hearing from him," she said. "During his training, we had been in touch everyday."
To ensure the two could continue communicating, Gilmore, who lives in upstate New Yo rk , began doing research about phones.
She was just about ready to buy a satellite phone when Iridium told her about the free ones.
"I called the company and it was legit," she said. "They’ve been absolutely wonderful. It’s like it fell in my lap. He should get it in 2 1/2 weeks so hopefully we won’t go through this agony anymore. He gets sent out to where they don’t have any power, electric or phones or anything. The capabilities just weren’t where he was to able to call home."
WCC was founded in 1999 and has 20 employees. The idea to give free phones is not its first crack at donating products. In 2002, the company donated up to $100,000 in equipment and airtime to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska.
The satellite phones were used on airplanes for race control and to respond to reports of sick or injured dogs.
The exposure paid off.
This year WCC inked a contract to supply all the satellite phones for Alaska.
"That’s a pretty big deal for a small company in Arizona," Knape said. "Alaska is one of the biggest markets for satellite phones because they have so much wilderness."
The company also supplied all of the back-up satellite telephones for the New York Transit Authority during the Republican National Convention this year.
"They rented 200 phones from us in case there was some disaster and they wouldn’t have a repeat of 9/11 when all of the infrastructure went down and the only thing that was working then was satellite phones," Knape said.
Soldiers and their family members can contact WCC at (800) 211-2575 for details on the free satellite phones for military personnel.