To all: NewsAlert article|
NEW DELHI, INDIA, 1998 JAN 16 (NB) -- By C. T. Mahabharat. Beginning in the latter half of
this year, the 66 satellites of the Iridium network will enable communication with pocket-sized
handheld wireless telephones worldwide, to deliver high quality voice, data, facsimile, and paging
services to handheld units located virtually anywhere on the surface of the earth. India will be one of
the few worldwide sites where operational trials will begin shortly.
Jaydev Raja, managing director, Iridium India Telecom Ltd., said, "At a time when we are set to
enter a new dimension in the world of global mobile satellite communication service, naturally, India
is proud to be associated with the Iridium phenomenon that will take communications to a new
dimension. More importantly, it will direct the course rather that being a mere spectator."
With dual mode capability, the Iridium telephone will is expected to provide communications and
global roaming through satellite or cellular networks. And by investing US$70 million in the project,
the consortium of Indian Financial Institutions (FIIs) has acquired the rights to an Iridium gateway
for South Asia.
According to Raja, the franchise for Iridium India Telecom Ltd. gateway covers Bangladesh,
Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Iridium India Telecom has also acquired rights to
manufacture and distribute Solar Powered Phone Booths (SPPB) in India and also the rights to
export. This would enable communication services to reach even remote areas. For example, in
sparsely populated regions, portable phone booths can be installed easily, providing instant
"So, the Iridium phones will complement the Government's efforts of ensuring at least one phone
per village by the turn of the century." The South Asian gateway coming up at Dighi near Pune will
be operated and maintained by VSNL.
Commenting on whether the Indian market is really geared up for such a service, he said, "Telecom
in India is undergoing a major transformation. With the basic services in a stalemate and the pagers
and mobile phones already becoming part of the Indian corporate lifestyle, mobile satellite service is
expected to be one of the fastest growing segments of Indian telecom in the next couple of years."
By the end of the year 2001, more than 50,000 subscribers are expected to use the services. About
one-third of them will use them for fixed-point applications.
The Indian market for mobile satellite services is potentially very rewarding, he said, adding that
would-be entrants face at least challenges. First, they must obtain the right to offer service in Indian
territory -- India currently bars domestic private companies from owning and operating satellite
systems. Second, once in the market, the competition is stiff -- international mobile personal
communication companies are already vying for a share of the same potential user-base.
But the biggest challenge is affordability and local prices will dictate the cost of the providers'
services in India, their success depending on innovative pricing and financing options for the
handsets and call charges.
Elaborating on the company's plans, Raja said that Iridium has the superior service offering as well
as the commercial flexibility to win an acceptable share of the Indian market. The services will be
offered through cellular operators on a non-exclusive basis. In fact, the cellular operators will be the
service providers of Iridium India Telecom and will be the single point of interface for both
customer care and billing.
Iridium India will also independently market the service for specific segments such as travel and
transport sectors. It has obtained as in-principle clearance for using frequency in the L band from
the Wireless Planning Commission, pending issue of licence. A licence can be acquired as soon as
the personal communications services policy is in place.
The Iridium service will operate in the band 1616.5-1626.5 MHz. The tariffs are likely to be
finalized only two months prior to the launch date, that is, tentatively around September 23, 1998.
The tariffs are expected to vary across countries where Iridium would operate given the varying
costs of the interconnect charges and national extension.
In India, Iridium will operate at three levels. It already has an agreement with VSNL for
maintenance of gateways and manpower; Iridium India Telecom will carry out marketing
operations while cellular operators will be the customer-end interface.