One thing that did work during Hurricane Katrina and its immediate aftermath were satellite phones. Now, satellite communication provider Inmarsat said it has filed a petition with the FCC asking for authorization to provide Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) by 2010. The service will use a spacecraft operating in the 2 GHz band. Globalstar and Iridium already provide satellite phone service in the US, but they do not have terrestrial repeaters so their service is expensive and the coverage limited to the outdoors.
Some history: The FCC reallocated part of the 2 GHz MSS spectrum (15+15 MHz) to terrestrial fixed and mobile services and retained the bands 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz for mobile satellite services. Four years ago the FCC authorized eight companies to use the 2 GHz band for MSS with the provision that certain satellite construction milestones be met. Six of these eight companies have since forfeited and gone out of business. Inmarsat has applied for the unused spectrum so it could meet increased demand for new multimedia and emerging broadband satellite services. Inmarsat is near completion of its $1.5 billion Inmarsat-4 satellite project, and the company is working on a next generation MSS system and multimedia services across a hybrid satellite-terrestrial architecture.