GSA prepares for shutdown of Iridium service

GSA prepares for shutdown of Iridium service

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

MARCH 15—The General Services Administration is lining up alternative service providers to replace the financially troubled Iridium LLC, which this Saturday will likely pull the plug on its global satellite telephone service.

"Customers are being notified and informed of alternative providers," said April Ramey, director of the Innovation Center of GSA's Federal Technology Service.

Iridium service is offered under FTS contracts held by Motorola Inc., Hughes Global Services Inc. of El Segundo, Calif., and John Tidrow and Associates Inc. of Fayetteville, N.C. Iridium provides global voice and paging services via handheld telephones through a constellation of 66 low-Earth-orbit satellites.

The company in August sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after defaulting on $800 million in debt. It began notifying customers last week that it had enough money to continue operations only through this week.

"Unless a qualified buyer comes forward and provides additional funding by Wednesday, March 15, we do not expect Iridium service to be available after 11:59 p.m. (EST) on Friday, March 17," the company statement said.

No buyer had come forward as of midday today.

FTS offers a number of satellite communications services, although none is an exact match to Iridium.

"They're all a little different," Ramey said. Inmarsat provides voice communication through a notebook-computer-sized terminal. OrbComm Global LP of Herndon, Va., provides short text messages.

"Globalstar LP [of San Jose, Calif.] is the most comparable" to Iridium, Ramey said. "We're trying to get them under a contract vehicle."

The Defense Department also is an Iridium customer, having reserved a complete satellite gateway complex to handle DOD traffic. DOD has not commented on its plans for replacing the service.

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