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Date: Mon, 6 Dec 1999 16:38:17 -0800 (PST)

[MODERATOR'S NOTE: submissions like this are a dillema; the source is available only to subscribers, hence, without paying you can't see it. For our purposes here this bothers me. Oh well.

It surprises me that there has been no other submissions that I can detect on this monstrously expensive, short-lived still-born medium. HINT HINT --tomj]

From: "the terminal of Geoff Goodfellow" , via Dave Farber
Dead medium: Iridium
Source(s): Wall Street Journal,

The WSJ had an excellent article today on Iridium:

Motorola Outlines Grim Options For Struggling Iridium Venture By G. CHRISTIAN HILL and DAVID P. HAMILTON Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL available at

Some additional background IP readers might find instructional on the Iridium situation and LEO's in general: the resulting financial mayhem and that more of which will come is not surprising if you look at the history of two other satellite networks that offer "like-services", the length of time they have been in operation and their service prices.

Inmarsat ( and its 86 members who are generally Big Telcos and communications providers around the world started offering its "spot beam" Mini-M sub-notebook sized mobile satellite service in 4Q96 on the Inmarsat-3 GEO's. As of Jan '99 Mini-M had around ~40K subs worldwide and is being marketed by 185 service providers around the world ( A little history: the first provider of Mini-M service was Comsat (CQ:NYSE) with its Planet-1 terminal. The Mini-M terminals generally retail for around 3K USD via the web sites (or $1.7K USD according to the WSJ 04/27/1999 article "Glitches Surface as Iridium Phones Go to War in Kosovo) and service costs around $1.6-3/min USD (with a monthly subscription fee of $0-75 USD) for fully terminated calls (irregardless of where you are calling FROM to where you are calling TO). You can see more detail on this service from a number of Mini-M web sites such as (Glocall), (BT and Telenor), (NL Telecom), (Comsat) or equipment dealers such as the folks at (Satellite Warehouse).

The other satellite provider to offer like-services would be American Mobile Satellite Corp (AMSC) (SKYC:NASDAQ) with a service area covering most of North America (CA, US, MX, et al + surrounding coast lines). As of their FY98 results announced on March 4 ( they have signed up a total of 13K subs since they initiated their SkyCell service a number of years ago (i don't have the exact one, but i think its around 3). AMSC SkyCell service costs around $1-2.50/min USD (with a monthly subscription fee of $0-175 USD with between 0 and 175 minutes included). You can check out the details from

With this history, and the fact that the Inmarsat Planet-One/Mini-M service costs $1.6-3 USD a minute i suspect Iridium will be *lucky*, very very lucky to sign up maybe 50K (fifty-thousand) subs this year. What i predict happening is that Iridium's advertising will raise the awareness level, but i predict drive sales of the cheaper Inmarsat Planet-One/Mini-M service.

You should also check out the Bosch Worldphone and Ericsson I888 available for $200-$300 USD from GSM operators like Omnipoint in the US ( or the two GSM network operators here in Prague ( & that will allow you to roam worldwide on the US GSM networks at 1900 Mhz and "everywhere else" (except Japan) at 900 Mhz frequencies. You can also see a list of countries where GSM is operating by visiting the offical GSM assoication web site at So, as you can see I have a lot of trouble understanding why someone is going to buy a bulky and costly Iridium phone and even then spent yet more for the various cellular cassettes (each of which alone costs 2 to 3 times of a standlone cellular phone itself). Instead, you can get one of nifty multi-frequency band handhelds from Bosch, Ericsson or Motorola which are the same size of today's cellular phones with much cheaper usage prices. These GSM phones also don't burden your callers with a phone # in country code 8816 or 8817 that costs people $6.50 per min USD to call you (yes, did you know it costs that much to recieve a call on an Iridium phone -- paid for by whomever is calling you??)? A real world example of this would be in June i was on the phone with my Palo Alto California based stock broker was coming to Europe for a 2 week vacation. He is currently a Cellular One customer and wanted to "stay intouch" during his vacation, so his office could still reach him while he was over here. What i ended up recommending to him (which was the same solution i used when i visited over here in '97) was to signup for Cellular One's TransGlobal service ( that will allow you to use an existing Cellular One Phone number anywhere in the world on a GSM network! When people call you, they will pay nothing more than if you are still in the Bay Area, and it will cost you $2.50/min to receive the call. You get a GSM chip for $50/yr and rent a GSM phone for $70 for the two weeks. Alternatively, you can take your GSM TransGlobal SIM chip with you and rent a phone at your destination, such as here at Prague's airport there are two companies which will rent your phones. Or, you can get a phone and a local phone # on a pre-paid SIM chip account with airtime that costs from 8 to 40 cents USD per minute to use them -- check out their web sites for details ( & To me, this is the real

{note the AT&T Sim card offering does the same as Cell One and for $40 per year djf]

competition for Iridium -- the existing and ever expanding terrestrial cellular networks and their ability to do things like this TransGlobal offering that Cellular One or pre-paid SIM chips. Things of course will get even easier as GSM spreads more through out the US and people can then use the new MOT tri-band Leap L7089 phone, the Bosch/Ericcsson Worldphones, etc.

There is also a question of how ICO and Globalstar (ICOGF, GSTRF) will be any more successfull? They will tout marketing or targeting other segments of users, such as the WSJ profiled in the 06/25/99 article "It Takes a Cell Phone--Nokia Phone Transforms A Village in Bangladesh", but the real question IMHO is the real DEMAND and DEMOGRAPHICS of these services. Given the history of AMSC and Inmarsat, as you might imagine at this point, i'm a little bit dubious of the business case in spite of my passion for the grand vision and technology aspects.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- To: X-URL:

>There is also a question of how ICO and Globalstar (ICOGF, GSTRF) will be any > >more successfull? > > >Having worked on both the Iridium and the ICO projects, I can tell you that the ICO system design is very different when it comes to the network infrastructure and the ai r interface link budgets. Likewise, the ICO user model is not the Iridium model. > >My money is on... >..the ICO design for global LEO systems. >..ACeS and the nascent Thuraya designs for regional mobile satellite systems. >...Teledesic and Astrolink are a toss up for fixed-point, broadband designs. Teldesi c gets the nod for being first. > >But, being first often means your entry ends up prototyping a market for another ent rant to win. The Iridium system fits that paradigm completely. Lesson learned: good te chnology and bad strategy will never beat bad technology and good strategy. > >... >Patrick L. Reilly - >IsoQuantic Technologies - >Cellular-GSM-MSS Telecom Network Architecture, Design & Analysis >Astonishing Our Customers Since 1994

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