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Iridium Pushes Ahead Satellite Project

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the space-business dept.

Space 80

oxide7 writes "Iridium (IRDM) continues its push into the market for satellite data and telemetry services, as it announced the company that would build its second generation of satellites. Iridium's old network of 66 satellites was designed for voice calls; the new satellites will also be able to handle data more efficiently, and include cameras as well. The company also plans to share the satellite platforms with some scientists for use in studying the Earth."

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80 comments

Skynet (4, Funny)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441574)

This is it, once google connects to this network, we will never be able to turn it off once it becomes sentient...

Whose to say it hasn't and slyly guided the engineers to push this technology as part of its plan...

Re:Skynet (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441626)

What the hell are you talking about? They've just wheeled out and dusted off the good old White Elephant catapult.

Re:Skynet (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32443470)

How to game the slashbots:

1) Make a vacuous post about any new technology leading to Skynet
2) Reap moderations

Seriously, we see this shit every god damn thread. It's not funny, it's not original. Go to hell.

Re:Skynet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32444632)

Posting something "funny" gains you only recognition, not karma.

Get off your computer, and get a life. And I'm not talking about levelling up your mage. Go to a coffee shop and talk to a stranger or go out and take a walk. PLEASE.

Re:Skynet (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#32445140)

Get off your computer, and get a life. And I'm not talking about levelling up your mage. Go to a coffee shop and talk to a stranger or go out and take a walk. PLEASE.

But but I'm only about 72 hours or so away from reaching level 87 and maybe even winning the game although nobody really knows for sure.

Re:Skynet (1)

aqk (844307) | more than 4 years ago | (#32460714)

Get off your computer, and get a life. And I'm not talking about levelling up your mage. Go to a coffee shop and talk to a stranger or go out and take a walk. PLEASE.

I did. And I met you.
That's why I'm back here.

Re:Skynet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32444944)

How to game the slashbots:

1) Find a post that's got a vaguely common theme.
2) Point it out.
3) Click "Post anonymously" and do not reap any moderations.

Seriously, whatever.

Re:Skynet (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32446646)

It wasn't funny, I'm being serious here. Be prepared because the end is near.

Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (-1, Troll)

SheeEttin (899897) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441598)

Really, samzenpus? Could it be any more obvious this is basically an advertisement? The part where they include their ticker symbol didn't tip you off?!

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32441646)

It's copypastaed from a business site, not a press release; most of the details are financial details. Maybe you could just read the part about the number of satellites and LEO vs geosynchronous orbits?

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (5, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441648)

Many business magazines include ticker symbols for the companies they mention in articles, even if the article is a serious piece that is critical of the company. So I think this assumption of yours that a ticker symbol is some sort of flag that something is an advertisement is plainly wrong.

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (3, Insightful)

Alioth (221270) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442622)

...and it's really annoying. If people really want to look at the stock price it's not hard to look it up. The worst articles are the ones that are written like:

"Steve Ballmer of Microsoft (MSFT, people, news) today challenged Novell (NOVL, people news) to a duel today after Novell announced it was to use Solaris (SUNW, people, news) to power its new IBM (IBM, people, news) Intel (INTL, people, news) based servers"

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444684)

Business people identify companies to a large degree on their stock ticker. It is a handy 4 letter shortcut that they stare at a lot when making decisions. There is a wealth of information and reports about potential business partners which lives with that shortcut.

I might list out a server with IP address, like "PrinterElrond(127.0.0.1)" That IP address is so common to me as a techie that it's just how I think about servers.

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (2, Informative)

rakslice (90330) | more than 4 years ago | (#32447172)

"Insightful"? Here's some insight: For instance, Google Finance lets me easily find three companies with names starting with Iridium, and since the article doesn't give the full name of the company, Iridium Communications Inc., the ticker symbol easily tells me which one they're talking about.

Aside: When the original Iridium went bankrupt, Iridium Satellite LLC bought them out for $25 million, and it's that latter company that's now called Iridium Communications Inc. Getting all that?

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (4, Interesting)

Rusty KB (1778458) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441670)

A slashvertisement for *who*? Raise you hand if you can afford a satellite!

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32441786)

[frantically waving] Here! I can afford one! [/frantically waving]

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32441964)

The first OSCAR ham radio satellite was paid for by collecting spare change from thousands ham radio operators around the planet, so there are small groups who have flown satellites.

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (1)

Rusty KB (1778458) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442112)

That's pretty cool to know, cheers. Maybe you and I can get some cash from the guy above and send up one of our own, would also be pretty cool. Then it would also be a slashvertisement proper, I guess.

Re:Can Slashvertisements get any more obvious?! (2, Informative)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444086)

Porn-Sat 1?

Cameras?? (5, Insightful)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441618)

Just one little sentence. They will include cameras as well. WTF?? Privatised spying? Own your own weather-sat? Delivering Google-earth quality pictures (or better) is not only going to take one hell of a lens, but also a hefty infrastructure on the ground. They must have a solid business case. This isn't like putting a "camera" on a 50€ cellphone.

Re:Cameras?? (3, Insightful)

f3rret (1776822) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441656)

This is Iridium we're talking about, they don't worry about details like "buisiness plans". When they first rolled out their service their business plan depended on the fact it would eventualy be as pervasive as cellular phones and that sure worked out fine.

Re:Cameras?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32441688)

Ever heard of technology being ahead of its time?

Re:Cameras?? (1)

iroll (717924) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441738)

Ever heard of a billion dollar buggy-whip company?

Because if there ever has been one, it is Iridium.

Not true. (3, Interesting)

Aldric (642394) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442526)

Iridium are the best duplex LEO network (better for low power applications than GEO) and the only serious competition to Inmarsat. Inmarsat would not have made nearly as much progress if they had no decent competition - GlobalStar are simplex and Orbcomm are as abysmally useless are always.

Re:Not true. (2, Informative)

jandrese (485) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444366)

The problem is that Iridium data is a joke. 2400bps raw symbol rate, and you get even less than that, plus the handoffs can be touchy as one satellite passes over the horizon and another eeks into view. Inmarsat3 does 56kbps, and BGAN can go up into the hundreds of kbps.

Iridium does have a latency advantage though, especially in mobile-to-mobile applications. It is, as you noted, suitable for low power or small form factor solutions as well, since Inmarsat needs an antenna the size of a large dinner plate while Iridium can get by with a slightly oversized cell phone aerial. Additionally, unless you buy a bulky mobile antenna, Inmarsat requires you to carefully point the antenna before you can use it, Iridium is happy as long as it is pointed vaguely up.

If you need to transmit very small amounts of data in a small form factor, then Iridium is for you, but that is a decidedly niche market, especially when you start to consider the per-bit costs.

Re:Not true. (1)

bsane (148894) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444926)

when you start to consider the per-bit costs.

Is it more or less expensive than SMS?

Re:Not true. (1)

cfoushee (803584) | more than 4 years ago | (#32447026)

Iridium now offers SMS actually that uses a cost less than using the actual data connection.

Re:Not true. (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#32446270)

This article is about Iridium changing the situation for data on it's network. Even so, 2400bps is fast enough for a lot of telemetry applications where data is gathered daily or hourly.

Re:Not true. (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 4 years ago | (#32445188)

Iridium are the best duplex LEO network (better for low power applications than GEO) and the only serious competition to Inmarsat. Inmarsat would not have made nearly as much progress if they had no decent competition - GlobalStar are simplex and Orbcomm are as abysmally useless are always.

Also, Iridium has better coverage (as in, full globe). GlobalStar actually has deadspots in their coverage because of their design. Also, one of Iridium's biggest customers is the US military - because of this global coverage. Inmarsat's great for fixed operations, but if you want an emergency telephone, the Iridium ones tend to be easier with their "see sky, point antenna at sky, make call" operation (i.e., no aiming). Dead spots is an issue - even if it's only 1% of the world that's not covered, you'll be the one needing to make a emergency call in that 1%.

(FYI - an Iridium satellite is an orbiting cell tower capable of switching calls between satellite to ground, ground to satellite, and satellite to satellite. GlobalStar's architecture is "antenna up high" - you uplink to GlobalStar satellite which relays it to a ground station where the actual switching occurs. It's cheaper, but there are dead spots because a satellite might not be able to see a ground station - Iridium passes the call to another satellite in this case that might be able to see the ground, or routes the call onward again).

Also, those SPOT devices use GlobalStar to relay your GPS coordinates to the ground station - very popular amongst hikers, pilots and other people where they may have issues getting continuous cell coverage.

Re:Not true. (1)

Fredde87 (946371) | more than 4 years ago | (#32452394)

Have you used a Iridium phone? With their call dropping I wouldn't want to trust on them in a Emergency (with the exception of if I was going to the North or South Pole where Inmarsat is not available). No, get a IsatPhone if you want something reliable http://www.inmarsat.com/Services/Land/IsatPhone/default.aspx [inmarsat.com] which you just have a "see the sky, point antenna at sky, make call" operation.

Re:Cameras?? (3, Funny)

Barsamin (1534423) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442914)

Sure they couldn't recoup their costs... but they made it up in volume!

Re:Cameras?? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444166)

Iridium Satellite LLC is actually profitable, unlike the original Iridium LLC which went bankrupt promptly after launching the system and sold it to Iridium Satellite for pennies on the dollar.

That said, I don't know to what extent the actual management personnel changed. Maybe the bankruptcy and sale was just a big shell game to screw over the first wave of creditors and investors.

Re:Cameras?? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#32448436)

Note that even at pennies on the dollar for their infrastructure they still had to charge big bux for the service and depended on a military contract.

Re:Cameras?? (2, Insightful)

default luser (529332) | more than 4 years ago | (#32450504)

Iridium Satellite LLC is actually profitable, unlike the original Iridium LLC which went bankrupt promptly after launching the system and sold it to Iridium Satellite for pennies on the dollar.

Yeah, funny how it gets a lot easier to run the business when Motorola assumes the 5 billion of debt and sells it to you for $25 million. The success of Iridium Satellite LLC is subsidized by the ashes of the original company.

Proper management made the difference after the sale removed the debt, but even if the company had been properly managed from the beginning, it still would have folded. Even 300k subscribers is not going to pay off that 5 billion monster, not when they're only netting about 14 million a year [iridium.com] (when they turn a profit, which they did not for 2010).

I wish them well milking what they can from their cheap windfall. But I laugh at the thought that they might build another multi-billion dollar constellation based off such a pitiful business plan. Yes, their subscribers are GROWING, but only because they can offer such insanely cheap rates without having to pay-off the painful debt.

As soon as they invest in their own new constellation, they will either have to conjure millions of new customers out of thin air, or they will have to raise prices (this will send customers running, so I'm going to go with option one). But since the DoD contracts are already pretty saturated (seriously, does the military need a contract for more than 20k users?), the customer growth would have to come from the commercial or consumer sector. Either way, they are doomed in this approach, and once again, investors are going to sat the losses and subsidize a successful network.

20/20 hindsight (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444622)

When they first rolled out their service their business plan depended on the fact it would eventualy be as pervasive as cellular phones and that sure worked out fine.

You have to keep in mind that when planning started for these services (and Iridium wasn't the only one) in the mid 1990's, it wasn't at all clear that cell phone services would expand as fast and penetrate as deeply as they ended up doing. Back then, cell phones were high tech toys with coverage largely limited to major urban areas.
 
As an aside, one thing few people realize is that the roots of the current commercial space 'boom' lie in that era. It was widely believed that there would be multiple satellite providers, and that with each satellite network requiring between fifty and a hundred birds, that there would be a large number of launches both for initial provisioning and ongoing replacement. In the eyes of the alt.space community that meant an opportunity for a large market and a big chance to undercut the 'big boys'. They believed that by purchasing launches the satellite providers would end up underwriting the development of the boosters, providing a shortcut to commercial manned space.

Re:20/20 hindsight (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32449896)

Iridium was planned in the late 80s, when cell phones were exotic and rare. It expected to cover the 90% of the world that didn't have cell service, to act as a pay-telephone in remote villages, etc.

It took 10 years to get the system up to a marketable state (it wasn't late; that was the schedule to design, build, test, and deploy the dozens of satellites, multiple ground stations, and multiple brands of handsets). By that time a vast majority of the anticipated market was served by cellphones and by higher-data rate satellite services, but Iridium's technical specs and market anticipation barely moved.

Except for that 2.4kbps data rate, the system was technologically wondrous when it went live. But hardly anyone needed it any more, especially at the prices it had to charge to break even. It nearly killed Motorola, leading to the closure or sale of many of its businesses, including Iridium.

So a $5 billion project was sold for $50 or $150 million, or whatever it was. A much easier break-even point to reach, for sure.

And Motorola went on to launch the Razor, resurrect itself, and change cell phones anyway.

Re:20/20 hindsight (1)

NJRoadfan (1254248) | more than 4 years ago | (#32457060)

Yeah, just ask Bill Gates how his Teledesic [wikipedia.org] investment is coming along.

The best camera is the one youve got with you. (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442520)

Just to pipe up in support of camera-phones, how many news reports have you seen illustrated with photos or even video taken on a phone. In good light some of these cameras can actually be half decent for your joe blogs, not great, but who really carried a DSLR everywhere they go.

Im not sure how this translates to satellites, but i just wanted to put some support for cameraphones out there.

Privatised spying.. (2, Interesting)

wiredog (43288) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442554)

Ever heard of GeoEye? [geoeye.com]

Re:Cameras?? (3, Informative)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442660)

The answer: For commercial, government and scientific organizations, Iridium NEXT will also offer new business and earth observation opportunities through hosted secondary payloads [iridium.com] on the 66 Iridium NEXT satellite network.

Re:Cameras?? (2, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444130)

Actually You may be surprised. Yes it will not be you average point and shoot but these are in a pretty low orbit. You get a professional medium format body with a good 40 MP CCD for around$10,000 combine sensor that with good optics and space rate it and the entire package would probably run under $100,000. Of course you may want IR as well as visual range but the overall cost will still be manageable.
How good can you get? I am not sure. Probably not as good as the best Google earth pictures but maybe two zoom levels higher. To be honest yes they are all guesses because I am not an expert on photography.

Is to the business case. Yes military already use commercial imaging all the time. With this system the delay between and event and getting imagery would be extremely short.
Think about Haiti or the other natural disasters. Pretty good high resolution imagery could be available in under an hour in almost any case.
Weather monitoring is another option. We could bet much better coverage of the polar regions with these.

So yea I can see some real use

Re:Cameras?? (2, Interesting)

tyldis (712367) | more than 4 years ago | (#32445474)

You probably do not realize that the images Google Earth uses are largely collected by private satellites?
GeoEye is one of them, for instance. DigitalGlobe operates several as well.

As for hefty infrastructure on the ground; there are companies selling ground station services. I work for one of them and it doesn't cost you much to buy a time slot to communicate with your satellite. Heck, we offer the complete process, you only need TCP/IP (or ISDN if you are conservative). The launch does not have to be too expensive if you piggyback on the Indian launchers. But of course, you have to build it first :)

And Iridium has a decent ground network for something like this (we actually happen to host some of it too).

Business Plan? (3, Interesting)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441704)

I really hope they solved the 3 issues with their previous attempt: 1. Cost per minute of usage 2. Need for huge antennas (adds to bulk/weight) 3. Massive battery required (makes the phone bulky/heavier).

Re:Business Plan? (5, Insightful)

Biogenesis (670772) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441882)

As a suburban inhabitant who's used to small mobile phones it's natural for you to assume that satellite phone size is a major issue, but for people who would regularly require satellite phones they only need to have a better cost:performance* ratio than remote communication alternatives, such as HF radio.

*performance in this context would be a subjective measure which includes factors such as reliability, size, weight etc.

Re:Business Plan? (2, Informative)

15Bit (940730) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442346)

This is true, but they still need a large user-base to pay for launching a constellation of satellites into space. This was the problem with Iridium v1 - it cost a fortune to setup and not enough people used it because microwave mobile networks were cheaper.

The same problem still exists - the mobiles we all have and love are a better solution for the majority of the market, and that won't change with Iridium v2. Iridium appeals to users who need connectivity everywhere on the planet, and maybe those wanting extra privacy arising from not going via conventional networks. But thats not a lot of people in the overall scheme of things, especially when you are talking about putting up a load of satellites. It surprises me that they have enough users to be able to afford this upgrade.

Re:Business Plan? (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442446)

Iridium appeals to users who need connectivity everywhere on the planet,

And needs it in a fairly mobile and battery-efficient matter in between cell phones and a big fixed installation. Part of Iridium's problem was from what I understood that you need quite many satellites for coverage, the wikipedia page says 66, and being in LEO they also need a lot of boosting to stay in orbit. If you're doing something like setting up a remote science station, my impression was that you'd rather throw up a huge dish and talk directly to a GEO satellite because in total it's cheaper. Around the base you can have your own wifi/(femto-)cell/walkie-talkie setup with small handsets. Ultimately Iridium is for a very small market of mobilse users in very remote areas.

Re:Business Plan? (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442732)

On the plus side, they should be able to absolutely cash in on the heavily subsidized "US puppet warlords in dusty hellholes with dubious cell coverage who need to chat with their CIA handlers" market...

Re:Business Plan? (4, Informative)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442932)

On the plus side, they should be able to absolutely cash in on the heavily subsidized "US puppet warlords in dusty hellholes with dubious cell coverage who need to chat with their CIA handlers" market...

Iridium satellites were about to be de-orbited, because no one stepped up to buy it even at the fire-sale price. Suddenly, a previously unknown company came out of nowhere to buy Iridium, and it already had a long-term contract with the US government that effectively guaranteed their long-term operating expenses.

When Globalstar protested because the contract was held, the GAO put a hold on the contract. The Pentagon had the hold removed, citing national security. The GAO investigation apparently ended after the 100-day limit with no action.

http://www.spaceandtech.com/digest/sd2001-01/sd2001-01-009.shtml [spaceandtech.com]

Re:Business Plan? (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32443170)

Not to mention, of course, that said previously unknown company set up shop in the fine town of McLean, Virginia, which is within spitting distance of Langley, and a classic location for those who have business in Washington; but don't want to deal with actually having to live there. Neighbors include SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton.

They do have civilian customers of course; but you don't get the sense that the place was set up primarily for their benefit.

Re:Business Plan? (3, Interesting)

zulux (112259) | more than 4 years ago | (#32445324)

A friend borrowed my Iridium phone and had to use their emergency services (911) - the call center that they were hooked up to was in his words "frighteningly competent." ...

Rambling Iridium thoughts:

I've enjoyed the service myself - with the phone and and a Psion Revo (It has a native serial port), I can telnet to any of my severs while in the woods. Strangely, it let's me relax knowing that I can help out my users.

At around 2400 baud - don't use SSH. Oh... Screen is your friend as it does cut out enough.

If you use a PC - it come with some proxy software and a proxy server that will remove/compress images, but any computer with a serial port can use it as a modem. Sadly, modern pdas lack serial ports, but old Posion Revos/5-series are cheap, last a long time, and have awesome keyboards and work well.

I have an older Motorola Iridium phone, so I don't know if this setup would work with the more modern phones.

Re:Business Plan? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32449948)

>At around 2400 baud - don't use SSH.

interesting. I never thought about the overhead SSH adds to the data. I would expect it would have some setup and teardown handshaking and then put the effort on the endpoints to do the encryption, but wouldn't add much to the data stream. Lower data rates would mean the terminals would have all the time in the world to encrypt and decrypt, meaning lower is easier, not harder.

How much more data is transmitted in a packet than would be for non-SSH traffic?

Re:Business Plan? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444808)

being in LEO they also need a lot of boosting to stay in orbit

The Iridium constellation is up around 500 miles. They need very little reboosting, especially as compared to things much lower like the ISS.
 

If you're doing something like setting up a remote science station, my impression was that you'd rather throw up a huge dish and talk directly to a GEO satellite because in total it's cheaper.

In the higher latitudes that becomes problematical. In Antarctica it's essentially impossible.
 

Ultimately Iridium is for a very small market of mobilse users in very remote areas.

That's obvious today with cell phones being very nearly ubiquitous and the equipment to set up wifi/femtocell/digital repeater networks being cheap and available off the shelf. That wasn't the case back in the mid 1990's when the various satellite provider networks (yes, there was more than one planned/started, Iridium is the sole survivor) were getting started. Even today they're useful in places where cell phones aren't. (Like the middle of the ocean.)

Re:Business Plan? (1)

MarkGriz (520778) | more than 4 years ago | (#32443878)

It surprises me that they have enough users to be able to afford this upgrade.

They probably don't, much like their previous incarnation. The vendors they screw over in Chapter 11 will likely foot the bill, and we'll see the emergence of Iridium v3.

Re:Business Plan? (5, Informative)

eudean (966608) | more than 4 years ago | (#32441904)

Satellite communications is expensive (and naturally the market is smaller than terrestrial phones so even at the same cost the price per subscriber would need to be greater). Higher data rates require greater SNR and therefore larger antennas. Receivers also need to consume more power to acquire and process a low SNR signal. Perhaps they can improve these things incrementally, but they're kind of fundamental to the nature of their service.

Re:Business Plan? (2, Informative)

Alioth (221270) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442654)

Indeed, the market is minuscule. According to the BBC, Iridium only has around 360K subscribers. With an investment of close to $3bn when all is said and done for a system to last until 2030 (at best 20 years if they launched the satellites today) means each subscriber is going to have to pay around $420 a year just to cover the cost of the infrastructure - this is before any of the ongoing costs of running the system, staffing the company, profits, etc. Would any Iridium subscriber be paying less than $3000 per year for their service, with probably very little actual talk time or data transferred - certainly orders of magnitude less than, say, someone's iPhone contract. (Anyone here have an Iridium phone? How much does it cost?)

While this is expensive compared to normal mobile phones, it's probably a good deal if you're in the middle of nowhere all the time.

Re:Business Plan? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442724)

Indeed, the market is minuscule. According to the BBC, Iridium only has around 360K subscribers. With an investment of close to $3bn when all is said and done for a system to last until 2030 (at best 20 years if they launched the satellites today) means each subscriber is going to have to pay around $420 a year just to cover the cost of the infrastructure

If they halved the price, they could possibly quadruple the number of subscribers. There's a number of people who would like to have a satellite phone but have NOTHING that suits their needs because they can't afford anything that works where they need a phone. We'll never know, though, unless they cut prices sharply.

While this is expensive compared to normal mobile phones, it's probably a good deal if you're in the middle of nowhere all the time.

Data plans regularly cost people $1200 a year; I think just being able to make phone calls from anywhere is probably worth that much to many people. It's certainly more important for many people (especially on boats) to be able to make a phone call than to play web sudoku.

Re:Business Plan? (1)

asc99c (938635) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444316)

> If they halved the price, they could possibly quadruple the number of subscribers

I don't believe that at all. The market is miniscule because it's a niche product. As others have said, for most purposes a standard mobile network will suffice. For fixed but remote installations, its easier to put up a dish and use that. Typically for stuff like cruise ships, they just stick a cell tower on the boat. So Iridium is only ever going to be used by small groups of people wandering about in the wilderness. I don't think reducing the price would cause more people to want to do that.

Re:Business Plan? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444642)

So Iridium is only ever going to be used by small groups of people wandering about in the wilderness. I don't think reducing the price would cause more people to want to do that.

There's already a shitload of people who are doing that, many of whom cannot afford a satellite phone at current prices. Some of them would surely buy a satellite phone if it were cheaper. We could argue about what the numbers are like all day. Also, a lot of people would USE their satellite phone more if it were cheaper; I've run into a number of people who buy a phone (or at least SIM, but usually a whole phone costs little or even no more and you can lose it without caring much) when they visit a foreign country even though they have a satellite phone.

We'll probably never know, because history will probably repeat itself, and Iridium will probably go under again rather than attempting such a thing anyway.

Capacity constraints (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 4 years ago | (#32449102)

If they halved the price, they could possibly quadruple the number of subscribers.

That assumes there are no capacity restrictions. While I can't say for certain I suspect their pricing is due to technical limitations of the satellites. They probably can only handle a certain number of subscribers and if they tried to get more they couldn't adequately serve them. If they are capacity limited (and I'm just hypothesizing that they are) almost the worst thing that could happen to them would be to get too many customers. Too much business too quickly can kill a company almost as effectively as not enough business.

Re:Business Plan? (1)

markxz (669696) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444170)

The terrestrial mobile phone networks are reducing their roaming costs (In the EU they are being forced to) so this is likely to reduce the cost benefit of satellite phones for global businesspeople.

Re:Business Plan? (1)

zulux (112259) | more than 4 years ago | (#32445388)

Iridium airtime generally costs around $1.50 per min if you shop around. you can get prepaid service at around $2.00 per min, or with a big enough pool of minutes you can get it down to $1.0 or so.

The airtime is cheap enough that I brought mine to Japan and Europe so I didn't have to pay crazy roaming costs. Oddly it was a great conversation starter in Japan - people assumed I was some sort of awesome dude to have a sat phone.

Really oddly, I have an original Motorola Iridium phone and it's value has gone up ever science I bought it.

Re:Business Plan? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32446620)

Iridium phones cost about $1.50 a minute, you can get them as prepaid if you dont mind paying over a grand for the phone upfront.

Compared to the international roaming rates many US cell providers charge, you're paying about the same price for better coverage with an iridium phone. If you're on a cruise ship where they can charge up to $5 a minute for cell roaming, your definitely better off with an iridium phone.

Mind you this is voice only, iridium phones are only capable of about 9600bps data, yeah i think ill pass on iridium data

Re:Business Plan? (1)

fpitech (1559147) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442376)

I don't think they can solve the first problem you described. Launching satellites is still expensive, and there's only a small market for satellite phones. Cell coverage is even better than during the first Iridium, except maybe uninhabited areas or outside of cities in some third world countries.

Re:Business Plan? (2, Informative)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442676)

A lot of the traffic on the new network (and current one) is from remote transceiver units rather than satellite phones. of course the new phones will be a lot smaller. there are satellite phones out there now that don't look a whole lot dissimilar to a normal smartphone but of course if it improves the performance I would rather carry around one that has a large antenna.

The antenna isn't really an issue for me or anyone who really needs these phones. If it meant it would be more reliable, send faster data or better quality calls they could put a 3ft antenna on it and I wouldnt care

Re:Business Plan? (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 4 years ago | (#32450226)

1. You didn't list a price. I'm pretty sure they aren't going to "solve" that one (by making it free).

2. If I could get better sound quality, fewer drop-outs, etc., I'd love to have a large (lightweight) antenna on my cell phone, provided it would work (as well as it does currently) if I happen to leave it retracted...

3. Li-Ion batteries are getting better all the time.

Planning for bankruptcy? (4, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442318)

I could have sworn launching the first set of satellites bankrupted the original Iridium owner. Not that that's ever stopped anyone.

Re:Planning for bankruptcy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32445992)

I could have sworn launching the first set of satellites bankrupted the original Iridium owner. Not that that's ever stopped anyone.

I worked on the original Iridium project for Motorola which was the major investor in the project. It was in the government engineering division and compared to other projects that Motorola was working on it was run like money was no object (as long as that money could be spent in 6 minute increments). It does not surprise me that the company they spun it off into was unsuccessful with the amount of money they most have owed Motorola for it's development.

Re:Planning for bankruptcy? (1)

colinnwn (677715) | more than 4 years ago | (#32450310)

Of course I mused about this when I read the headline.

But there are some important differences. When Iridium was starting, it was basically a "If we build it, they will come" business plan. There were some vague competitors with significant disadvantages like Inmarsat with almost global and very expensive coverage, and world phones that worked in most metro areas internationally and were much cheaper, but Iridium was the first into this new market segment. So Iridium didn't know what their end cost, revenue, and pricing power would be. Today these are largely knowns. If they didn't have a solid business case and contingencies in the event of cost overruns, they are stupid. So they have a much better chance of being successful today.

New Iridium satellites ? (5, Interesting)

ctrl-alt-canc (977108) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442448)

I hope they will be less reflective [wikipedia.org] . Their flares cause troubles to astronomers.

Re:New Iridium satellites ? (1, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442754)

I hope they will be less reflective. Their flares cause troubles to astronomers.

If astronomy is disturbed by satellites, then astronomy is what needs to change. We need more of them, and such problems will only become more commonplace.

nice troll mod (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32444076)

Slashdot would be better off without moderation and with superior relationship controls so that you could use a web of trust in lieu of moderation. The above is clearly not a troll. We need more orbital astronomy equipment, and hopefully, a large complex on the moon which would be far superior to anything on earth due to avoidance of atmospheric interference. Maybe the Japanese can build one with robots.

Re:nice troll mod (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32445996)

Both idiots, I dare GP to back up his claim. The moon causes problems for astronomy, too - let's blow it up. And how about a sun shield? Daylight is overrated, right? And what about airplanes? Light pollution?
The Iridium satellites do not cause a noticeable problem for astronomers. They are a tiny portion of all satellites (and not significantly worse than any others), all of which together do not pose a problem. Do satellites occasionally show up in images? Sure. We deal with it - pretty easily, too. The lights in your driveway are a bigger concern.
And sure, more space observatories would be nice (and yes, lunar would be great), but (for now, at least) they are prohibitively expensive, and often unnecessary - if you can get your data from a ground based telescope, why tack on a billion dollars and a new set of limitations? AO does wonderful things.

Re:New Iridium satellites ? (2, Insightful)

Trogre (513942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442756)

Are you kidding? Iridium flares are one of the coolest and most predictable transient events in the night sky that can be seen with the naked eye.

Re:New Iridium satellites ? (5, Interesting)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 4 years ago | (#32442776)

I was wondering the same, as well as if they would be a predictive as the current ones. My 6 YO enjoys seeing them so we check the schedule at heavens-above.com [heavens-above.com] regularly for bright ones at "reasonable" times.

Re:New Iridium satellites ? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32450028)

my two favorites:

1. A double flare within a few seconds of each other.

2. A meteor crossing just behind an Iridium flare. It was a bit dimmer and about the same arc-length as the iridum flare, but was much quicker; tenths of a second rather than a second or two; clearly not another satellite.

This is BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32443520)

Thales pushes Chinese launchers. If Iridium is going to use these, then the feds should stop the contract with them.

Re:This is BS (1)

Cochonou (576531) | more than 4 years ago | (#32450948)

Thales pushes Chinese launchers for ITAR-free satellites. Or said in another way, as they can build ITAR-free satellites, their satellites are among the few which can be launched on a Long March without any ITAR hassle. As far as I know, the Iridium NEXT satellites are not going to be ITAR-free, therefore Chinese launchers are basically ruled out.

To hell with Iridium! (1)

aqk (844307) | more than 4 years ago | (#32460640)

My preferred network has only 3 satellites-

It's called Lithium.
(and please- no jokes about your 5-satellite system)
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