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Re: re: Iridium to de-orbit their satellites?


While I agree that technology for its own sake is not worth much
initially, I disagree with the notion that Iridium failed
totally because of "terrestrial cellular".  If that's the case,
Globalstar should soon go down in flames as should Orbcomm, and
when they are ready to launch,  Teledesic and Skybridge. 

The reality is that there is a market for these products and
services, just not where the average person (marketing person?)

At a meeting in Buenos Aires two weeks ago, a bunch of
colleagues from Europe showed up with their GSM phones...and
they didn't work -- Argentina is an AMPS country. Iridium and
Globalstar did. 

I did an Orbcomm demo last month in Greece for their regulatory
authority. How? By sending email from my Orbcomm handheld data
terminal to an Iridium pager. If I had a GSM phone with SMS
activated, I could have done it that way, but as all I have is a
Bell Atlantic CDMA phone -- which doesn't work in Europe -- I
couldn't.  The Iridium pager service was never fully exploited
by their marketing folks, which was a shame. It was
great...worked everywhere!

Are these systems exotic? Maybe now they are. But wasn't
cellular telephony just as exotic (or more so) ten years ago? 

You say it isn't a matter of technology scaring people. Talk to
your average radiocommunications regulatory authority, be it in
Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas...first world or third world.
I have and I do for a living. They are scared, and why? Because
all of these global wireless (satellite) systems have the
potential of eating away at the state-run or majority
state-owned telecommunications monopolies, their cash cows, and
impact their existing, fee-paying licensees.

And what use are these LEO systems?  As parts of larger
communications systems. I agree that a mistake was made when we
(as an industry) characterized ourselves as being in the
satellite communications field.  This, in my opinion, was a very
US-oriented perspective, as in the US generally do not have the
range of services that GSM offers.  In reality, we are hybrid
communications system, our part taking over when other methods
("terrestrial cellular") doesn't work...which is in far more
places than you might otherwise imagine.  For a user with a
fixed site requirement to hook up a standalone Globalstar,
Iridium or Orbcomm device and be immediately tapped into a
network infrastructure he didn't have to buy or build is a
significant step.  That's who our users are. 

About prices, yes, Iridium was initially quite expensive, and
they paid the price (forgive the pun).  On hte other hand,
Globalstar appears to have learned that lesson.  But if you were
to look at Iridium's prices of the past 6 months compared to
roaming GSM calls, you'd be surprised at the competitive
difference.  If I had a GSM phone in the US or the UK, it was
more expensive for me to call a third country from Greece,
Turkey or the Middle East with that UK-based GSM phone than
using Iridium (Globalstar was not active in those regions at the

In my view, Iridium's fatal flaw is that they called their user
terminals telephones.  When you use that term, you put in place
expectations that no wireless system can meet.  People expected
there to be no difference when turning on an Iridium phone and
when picking up the phone on their desk.  And as a result,
they've paid what appears to be the ultimate price.

Eric W3DQ

At 21:00 3/12/2000 -0600, Jon Ogden wrote:
>on 3/12/00 11:02 AM, Eric Rosenberg/Jennifer Gruber at
wd3q@erols.com wrote:
>> Whether you liked them or not, Iridium's failure will
>> undoubtedly have a massive impact on the satellite industry and
>> LEOs in particular.  We've seen it at ORBCOMM (my employer). At
>> an ITU meeting last week in South America, *all* the LEO
>> companies -- operating or proposed (Orbcomm, Globalstar, ICO,
>> Teledesic, and Skybridge at the meeting I participated in) took
>> a lot of heat, cynicism and skepticism.  It really is to
>> everyone's advantage that *all* succeed.
>Why?  What good is a technology if it isn't needed?  Sure, it's
a cool toy
>and for us hams with out little "pistol" stations and what not
we can afford
>to have lightly used, experimental toys up there.  But
commercially it
>doesn't fly.
>Iridium failed because there is this thing called "terrestrial
>Terrestrial cellular today covers the vast majority of the
earth.  In the
>US, it is rare where you do not find some 800 MHz cellular
coverage.  And if
>you don't, why do you need to be there?
>Same thing goes for the entire world.  Every major population
center has
>cellular service of some kind.  And with the merging of cellular
>technologies (3rd Generation stuff), a single phone will be
able to be used
>anywhere in the world.
>Business users were the main targets of Iridium as the cost was
just too
>high for the average Joe on the street.  So the market was
already reduced.
>However, business travelers usually travel in major population
centers.  So
>they already have phone servcie.  Why carry a big clunky phone
when I can
>rent a small one somewhere for a fraction of the cost?
>The only people who needed Iridium were folks climbing Mount
Everest, people
>in the Gobi or Sahara desserts or out in the middle of an
ocean.  I don't
>see many thriving centers of industry in any of those places.
>there are satellite phone services that are available for those
folks and
>have been for some time.
>The bottom line is there was no sustainable market for Iridium.
 The same
>goes for ALL of the other LEOS that are planning on providing a
service we
>already have on the ground.
>> Funny about all is.  The success or failure of these systems
>> seems more to be related to perceptions than reality.  Iridium's
>> phone and pagers do work. Globalstar's phones and packet service
>> do work.  Orbcomm's data service does work.  New or different
>> technology seems to scare regulators and the marketplace.
>Of course it works.  It's not a matter of new technology
scaring anyone.  We
>as the technical elite like to think that just because it's a
new technology
>that it should be embraced with open arms.  Well, in the
commercial world
>that argument just doesn't hold any water.  Technology has to
be useful to
>the masses.
>Computers are useful cause they are cheap.  So are terrestrial
cell phones.
>If neither of these technologies had a sustainable market, they
would go
>away too.  Or if something cheaper was able to replace one of
these, they
>would go away as well.
>If Iridium was the only wide area phone service available, if
we didn't have
>most of the world covered with normal cellular, then it WOULD
be a viable
>and sustainable technology.
>Satellites just won't work where a ground based system will do.
>optics can carry a ton of data bandwidth.  More than we really
need.  They
>can be installed and maintained (and repaired!) for much less than a
>satellite system.  So all these far flung dreams of a
constellation of
>satellites carrying commercial internet data are just that -
far flung
>dreams.  Unless it truly can be made cheaper and easier to the
>consumer, it won't fly.  And with a satellite based system, I
doubt it can
>be at least today.
>The reason, IMHO, that geo-synch sats work for carrying
>is because they are able to cover HUGE amounts of the earth,
large amounts
>of traffic and they can essentially broadcast to all earth stations
>simultaneously via one signal path.  However, even for
telephone traffic,
>the move has begun to be toward laying fiber optic cable on the
ocean floor.
>In fact, the US and Japan have been linked by fiber cables for
about 10
>years now.  More and more phone traffic is being moved to such
a system
>(funny how we come full circle as it used to be underwater
cable!).  You
>don't have the propagation delay and the cost is a lot less.
>Well, enough ranting.  I wish all the LEO folks luck.  Unless
they are able
>to develop a LOW cost system, their days are numbered.
>Jon Ogden
>"A life lived in fear is a life half lived."
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