Things Are Looking Up
Comment by Jeffrey R. Harrow
Just about everything.
According to an early-1997 study by Ovum, a London-based consultancy,
there will be 8 million people using $8.5 billion per year worth of
mobile satellite voice and data services by 2002. Motorola's Iridium
system will be first to put global coverage at your fingertips next
year. In fact, the system already has 16 of its 66 birds in the air and
has demonstrated paging and telephony to handheld satphones.
Next up will be Globalstar in 1999, ICO and Odyssey in 2000, and,
perhaps of most interest from a data perspective, both Motorola's
Celestri and Teledesic in 2002.
In fact, there may well be more satellite systems to choose from --
check out the comprehensive information and links provided by Lloyd
Wood, who's working on a Ph.D. in the satellite arena in England.
It's interesting to note how Ovum expects the usage of these satellite
systems to break down: 40 percent from Asia-Pacific, 27 percent from
the United States, and 13 percent from Western Europe, with the
remainder scattered across the globe. Initially, according to Ovum, the
systems will provide mobile phone coverage beyond the bounds of
earth-based cellular systems, which now cover only 15 percent of the
globe, and telecommunications service where current infrastructure just
These satellite systems will go a long way toward ensuring interesting
Indeed, though it's hard for those of us reading this via E-mail or the
Web to appreciate, "half the Earth's people are two hours from the
nearest phone" (see "Planes, Trains, And Automobiles," TechWire, Aug.
8). When Iridium becomes operational next year, it'll offer data at
only 2.4 kilobits per second. But by the time Teledesic and Celestri
come online in five years, you'll be able to get data at 2 megabits per
second --from anywhere -- paying by the byte. How much? Celestri is
estimating $1 per minute for a 2-Mbps, high-quality, two-way
videoconference link, according to the TechWire article.
But even if you live in the heart of a city and expect to avail
yourself of some of the less high-flying, high-speed data alternatives
(such as Local Multipoint Distribution Service and the various Digital
Subscriber Line technologies), it's nice to know that if you really
need true mobility or want to telecommute from a remote hideaway,
you'll be able to do so.
These satellite systems will also go a long way toward ensuring
interesting competition. Just look at the impact that Direct Broadcast
Satellite TV has had on cable.
Jeffrey Harrow is a senior consulting engineer for the corporate
strategy and technology group at Digital Equipment. A more extensive
version of this discussion, as well as other discussions about the
innovations and trends of contemporary computing -- The Rapidly
Changing Face of Computing -- can be found at
His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Digital.
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