Iridium Satellite launches service

Re-created after a financially dismal attempt at a global satellite communications network in 1998, the new Iridium Satellite LLC has launched its worldwide telecommunications network for industrial users in remote locations.

Voice communications are now available to users through the company's 66-satellite, space-based network, and data services will be available by June.

Just three months ago, the original Iridium LLC was mired in bankruptcy and was about to undergo the decommissioning of its satellite network, which was built by Motorola and others. But at the last minute, it was purchased by buyers who paid $US25 million for the dormant satellite system, which cost $US5 billion when it was built in 1998.

Then in December, the first major user was signed up when the US Department of Defense agreed to a $US72 million, two-year contract to obtain secure wireless communications for some 20,000 government employees.

Now, the new company has refocused itself to provide remote telecommunications for industrial users, including oil drilling, construction, mining and maritime businesses, where normal telecommunications links are impossible.

"Through a focused approach to fully understanding the needs of our customers, Iridium is positioned strongly for commercial success," said Dan Colussy, chairman and CEO of Iridium, in a statement. "Our current operational structure enables the delivery of cost-effective, user-friendly voice and data services, and ensures a low break-even threshold for Iridium."

The company has signed agreements with 13 service providers around the globe to sell its services and provide support. The companies will sell data-ready Motorola handsets for use with the system.

Former Iridium customers who own phones can upgrade them for use with the new system.

A key for the new venture is that it isn't targeting consumer users, who rejected the original service because of its cost and bulky first-generation phones.

Iridium hired The Boeing Co. to operate and manage the 66-satellite network and its seven spare units circling the globe.

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