FCC Approves Globalstar’s ATC Plan; Rollout Based On Commitments

By | January 30, 2006 | Feature, Telecom

Globalstar LLC will use its planned system of terrestrial repeaters to boost the availability of its Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) in urban areas and within buildings, but the company also envisions multiple business possibilities growing out of the system.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved Globalstar’s petition to offer ancillary terrestrial component services (ATC) in the United States, the company announced Jan. 23. ATC systems allow satellite operators to use their authorized satellite radio frequencies to integrate into their satellite service offerings a terrestrial wireless service that is similar to, but more limited than, cellular or PCS.

"If you first consider ATC to be predominantly a voice and data service, what it really allows an MSS operator like us to do is to offer a seamless service," Jay Monroe, CEO and chairman of Globalstar, told Satellite News. "So if you have our device, wherever you are, you will have access to your voice and data. That is unique to the MSS world. A regular cellular user cannot go to the middle of Montana and access the system. We will be able to do that as well as operate in downtown New York City, which will feel exactly like a cellular phone call, and from the customer perspective, this will be completely seamless."

New Business Opportunities

The ATC authority allows Globalstar to use part of its satellite radio frequencies for the complementary terrestrial wireless service. Globalstar is developing a system that will work with its existing satellite constellation, using small portable lightweight, fully featured, dual mode handsets.

The primary ATC applications will be the enhancement of wireless service in urban areas and the provisioning of self-contained, transportable local area networks for remote locations or where communications are disrupted during disasters and emergencies.

Globalstar demonstrated the feasibility of ATC service in New York and Washington in July 2002, pairing a modification of its dual mode satellite/cellular phone with a small, transportable base station, though Monroe could not specify how much of that demonstration would be applicable to the planned ATC system. "We modified a few phones, but there was not a production quantity," he said. "But production quantities of ATC phones are something we could bring to the market fairly promptly. We are working with Qualcomm on a new generation of satellite phones and they can be made to accommodate the service with some changes."

But the use of terrestrial repeaters will open up many potential avenues of business for Globalstar, Monroe said.

"There are lots of other uses [for ATC] being contemplated," Monroe said. "There are direct broadcast uses for those who want to have channels which allow them to distribute content where there is no land line. All of the [direct broadcast satellite] guys want to have a way for you to order additional services from them wirelessly. Right now that is done by a connection to a landline. There are opportunities to utilize ATC in the direct access radio market, such as with XM and Sirius, who also want to have that channel which allows you to order additional services. All of these are opportunities which we are having discussions with companies about. They are nascent, so it will be a little while before they mature."

The customers that commit to using Globalstar’s ATC services will influence the rollout of the system and the funding requirements, Monroe said. "We are not actually going to build an ATC system until we precisely know what and who it will be used with. This is not a system you can build generically then layer on all those uses. You have to build it with careful thought to what the ultimate application is."

Dawning Of ATC Age

Globalstar joins Virginia-based Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) in offering ATC services in the United States, though the two companies may not be direct competitors with their planned services. MSV plans to provide voice and data communications across North and South America using handsets the size of cellular phones.

"Nobody else has even applied for authorization to the best of my knowledge," Monroe said. "Any competition depends on which way they go. They are not making any public statements on precisely what their system will look like, nor are we, so I don’t know if we would compete or not."

MSV currently operates a satellite communications network using two MSAT satellites but is developing a new trio of spacecraft to work with its ATC system. Globalstar does not have to worry about launching satellites, as the company provides its services in 120 countries via a constellation of 48 satellites already in low-earth orbit.

Both Globalstar and MSV are pursuing the deployment of ATC systems around the globe. MSV received a patent in December from the European Patent Office covering ATC technology in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.

Globalstar also is seeking similar regulatory authority to provide ATC-type services in other countries. "How long it will take to have that opportunity around the world as it exists in the United States is unknown at the moment," Monroe said. "We know some regulations are in planning bodies in Europe, and after [the Federal Communications Commission] has decided an issue, it makes it easier for other regulatory authorities to made those decisions. So I expect we will see ATC roll out in some other places in the near term."

–Jason Bates

Contact, Dean Hirasawa, Globalstar, (408) 933-4006

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