A wireless telephone system (10) capable of servicing a roaming wireless telephone user (30) includes a satellite (22) communications system consisting of at least one orbiting satellite (22); at least one terrestrial-based gateway (12, 14, 16, 18) having access to a database (20) of users, destination codes (telephone numbers); at least one network coordinating gateway (28) within at least one satellite service area (24); a single network control center (25); and a plurality of terrestrial communications links (e.g. 101). The system (10) operates by effecting communication between a terrestrial wireless telephone end user transceiver apparatus (e.g. 501) and a terrestrial communications link (e.g. 101) via a single relay through a single satellite (22) or a succession of single relay satellites (22) wherein the relay station may be in motion relative to the end user transceiver apparatus (501) and the terrestrial communications link (101). The ground-based gateway (28) effects the ultimate decision on linking in cooperation with the network database to effect hand-off from a first orbiting satellite (22) to a second orbiting satellite (22). The single satellite (22) or preferably a constellation of satellites (22) orbiting near the earth need only translate signals from the gateways (12, 14, 16, 18) to the users (30) and from the users (30) to the gateways (12, 14, 16, 18), without satellite-based control. The gateways (12, 14, 16, 18) are capable of decoding the calls, switching, processing call requests from the end users (30), processing call requests to the end users (30), processing call set-ups, handing off of calls to other satellites (22), and updating databases (20) of users (30) based on information provided by network control (25) and requests from end users (30).