[Satellite News 11-11-10] Iridium Communications won three U.S. defense contracts to upgrade military ground systems. While Iridium said the deal paves the way for a variety of service optimizations and partnerships in the defense sector, Iridium’s Vice President of Government Programs Scott Scheimreif added the enhancements would support mutual migration towards its next-generation constellation, Iridium Next. The new contracts, issued by the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and valued at a combined $12.2 million, will see Iridium upgrade the Enhanced Mobile Satellite Service (EMSS) gateway in Hawaii, which serves as a dedicated portal for the uplink and downlink of voice and data traffic through Iridium satellites for military and other U.S. government users throughout the world. “This illustrates Iridium’s importance as a part of the Pentagon’s communications infrastructure and is a continuation of a long and valuable partnership,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Campbell (Ret.), Iridium’s executive vice president for government affairs, said in a statement. Campbell added that the scope of work under the contract includes replacement of key switching systems, upgrades to critical components of EMSS’ message origination center and replacement of antenna radomes at the gateway. According to Scheimreif, the upgrade work is focused on enhancing U.S. military opportunities to use the Iridium network as it expands its Iridium-based satellite communications applications. “Our global network of cross-linked satellites and supporting ground infrastructure provides vital communication links for U.S. military forces and civilian government agencies deployed anywhere in the world. In addition, we are dedicated to delivering the industry-leading, reliable performance that is certified for our U.S. government customers.” However, Scheimreif listed Iridium Next specifically when mentioning what expanded services would be supported, signaling that the mobile operator is placing ground system support architecture on the ground. The company expects to launch the first Iridium Next satellites in early 2015. Analysts have noticed Iridium’s gains in the government sector, as it races with competitor Inmarsat for a share of the military market. Raymond James Analyst Chris Quilty told Satellite News that the company’s progress in netted service distribution during its most recent quarter was significant. “Iridium’s Netted service showed solid improvement, growing from under 200 devices in service at the start of the year to over 5,000 in-service units by the end of the third quarter. The demand for netted service has been somewhat understated, as the military is still using the service in limited cases in order to establish familiarity with the relevant handsets and to gain confidence in the product itself. We believe netted shipments have the potential to grow into tens of thousands of units over the next several years.” Quilty added that Iridium’s government machine-to-machine business also made notable progress and now accounts for 14 percent of the company’s total government subscribers. “This is a 9 percent, year-over-year increase. The growth was supported by the U.S. military’s accelerated adoption of Iridium devices for asset tracking, unattended ground sensors and other applications. Iridium is proving that, despite increased competition, it can sufficiently maintain its customer base,” he said.