Vodafone launched its Globalstar global mobile network last week that will provide coverage of the entire continent through low-orbiting satellites.
The new network will be a combination of Vodafone's existing digital (GSM) network and 48 satellites owned by Globalstar, said Vodafone's Globalstar director, Peter Bolger.
Bolger said service would not be available until around this time next year, to coincide with the closure of the analogue mobile network.
Globalstar's main competitor will be the existing Iridium network.
Globalstar is targeted at users in mining, farming, emergency services, and remote health and community services.
Bolger said Vodafone research suggested there would be an equal number of potential users in urban areas as well.
From the middle of next year, data transfer rates of 9600bit/sec would be available, a speed that should improve with time, Bolger said.
Vodafone is spending "between $10 and $100 million" on the network, including three Globalstar "gateways" or switching stations in Dubbo (NSW), Meekatharra (WA) and Mt Isa (Qld), Bolger said.
The gateways will switch calls received via the Satellites onto other networks in Australia and internationally, in an identical fashion to GSM base stations.
Globalstar-compliant handsets are expected to retail for under $2000, and Bolger estimated satellite airtime would cost around $1 for 30 seconds. Regular tariff fees would apply for digital airtime, he said.
Bolger did not rule out the possibility of Vodafone reselling the network to other telcos such as Telstra.
Meanwhile, the European Commission is likely to approve Vodafone's takeover of AirTouch Communications, according to a Commission official.
"I confirm but have nothing to add to what the Commissioner has said," Stephan Rating, spokesman for Competition Commissioner Karel Van Miert said.
The clearance is, however, conditional on Vodafone going through with its plans to sell its 17 per cent stake in E-Plus GmbH, a German mobile operator, the official said.
Without the divestment, the acquisition would give Vodafone a dominant position in the German mobile phone market because AirTouch owns 35 per cent of one of Germany's other mobile operators, Mannesmann Mobilfunk.
If the acquisition goes ahead, the combined Vodafone/Airtouch company would provide the Globalstar network in major countries, including Canada and the US.