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Globalstar Launches Satellites for Planned Broadband Service

CEO Dalton targets over 200 rural communities, following FCC's efforts to stimulate mobile satellite services.

W. David Gardner

November 2, 2010

4 Min Read

After some lost satellites, nearly 20 years, and a few billion dollars up in smoke, satellite service provider Globalstar appears ready to ride a new constellation of satellites to its goal of delivering mobile voice and data services to businesses, governments and consumers.

With the first six satellites successfully launched days ago and 18 more scheduled to follow soon, Globalstar CEO Peter Dalton believes the company is on track to deliver on its long-awaited promises.

“Once we get the constellation up, we will begin to modify earth stations,” he said in an interview. “We’ll be able to provide data speeds of up to 256 kbps.” He expects the low-orbit constellation to be ready to begin delivering the updated and improved service in several months. Much of the new enthusiasm for emerging satellite services in the U.S. can be traced to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent effort to make new spectrum available for mobile satellite services by removing older regulatory barriers and promoting new investment in the mobile satellite services (MSS) field. The FCC has targeted three frequency bands, including Big LEO Band used by Globalstar for MSS use.

Globalstar, which began nearly 20 years ago as a joint venture of Loral Corp. and Qualcomm, already provides MSS services to 400,000 subscribers over the Big LEO band.

“We are well positioned to help fulfill the FCC’s goal of ensuring that the MSS industry remains robust while looking for ways to utilize Globalstar’s spectrum to advance the goals of the (FCC’s) Broadband Plan,” said Dalton, who noted also that Globalstar has an agreement with Open Range Communications to partner in the delivery of broadband services in some rural U.S. states. Open Range began to offer wireless broadband Internet services a year ago and plans to provide service to more than 200 rural communities by the end of the year. Dalton sees several opportunities emerging after the constellation reaches full service status. An older first-generation constellation of eight satellites will be combined with the new satellites to form a 32-satellite configuration. The company, after it emerged from bankruptcy a few years ago, has continued to add global MSS services to users in 120 countries. Globalstar, he said, will also be positioned to provide service in two areas currently in dire need of advanced mobile service: public safety agencies and hard-to-reach isolated rural areas.

In addition, Globalstar has as much as 19 MHz of valuable spectrum that Dalton believes could be put to good use and monetized, assuming the FCC paves the way for those services. Loral and Qualcomm are no longer involved in Globalstar, although Qualcomm will be providing a service handset that Dalton figures will be available to end users for about $600. Dalton also noted that Qualcomm’s CDMA technology also provides robust infrastructure for its service.

“There’s no distortion in CDMA,” said Dalton, noting also that he expects the FCC to permit Globalstar to monetize its spectrum. Terrestrial carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless are expected to run out of spectrum as the number of smartphones explodes, and Dalton sees a potential market opportunity providing some of its extra spectrum to carriers. “We’d like to fill that need,” said Dalton, adding that Globalstar’s spectrum “is an ideal fit for spectrum-short carriers.”

Pricing of Globalstar’s services, already competitive with many terrestrial mobile plans, are expected to drop with time. A monthly plan that includes calls throughout North America is priced at $20 and includes free U.S. and Canadian calls, as well as a free incoming short messaging service.

All Globalstar pieces haven’t fallen into place, although most have. The company is now looking to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the next scheduled launch of six satellites, slated to take place in several weeks.

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