Company wants to integrate cellular, satellite services

A satellite telecom provider has plans to broaden its market by incorporating cellular access into its satellite service.

Mobile Satellite Ventures LP of Reston, Va., is a joint effort of the satellite division of Motient Corp. of Reston and TMI Communications and Co. LP of Ottawa. Its market for traditional satellite services includes the transportation industry, field services, maritime and telemetry services as well as emergency management and security.

The company has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to link a cellular grid with a new generation of high-powered satellites, vice president and chief financial officer Eric Swank said at the Comnet trade show in Washington.

Swank said the company believes there is a market for taking satellite phone service out of its specialty niche.

'We're not trying to jump on the homeland security bandwagon,' he said. 'We serve homeland security today in the Coast Guard and other agencies. But they aren't buying hundreds of thousands of our phones. They buy just what they need. We're trying to overcome that.'

Cellular service is not available everywhere, and people who work in remote areas often rely on satellite phones. But satellite phones traditionally are bulky and expensive, often the size of a notebook computer, and they do not work well where line-of-sight links to satellites cannot be established.

'We believe we can incorporate satellite capability into a handset that is virtually indistinguishable from your traditional phone,' Swank said.

MSV's plans call for integrating cellular and satellite services, using traditional wireless phone technology such as the Global System for Mobile Communications and Code Division Multiple Access. It applied in 2000 for FCC permission to establish a cellular system of base stations. The small phones also could link to geosynchronous satellites. MSV would launch a pair of high-powered satellites with 200 spot beams covering North America to replace its current lower-powered satellites providing traditional services. The new satellites also could support additional offerings such as broadcast messaging and location-based services.

Swank said he expects FCC approval will come soon and that it would be three to five years before full service could be launched.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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