MSV Satellite-Cellular Deal Aims to Answer Criticism

By | September 26, 2008 | Feature, Telecom

[Satellite News 09-25-08] Two important moves have happened recently in the realm of satellite cellular communications – TerreStar Corp. sold its remaining shares in SkyTerra Communications to private equity firm Harbinger Capital Management and other parties on Sept. 19 and Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) along with ICO Global Communications and Qualcomm signed a technology agreement enabling integration of satellite communications into mass market cellular handsets and devices.
    While this may be a deal that boosts prospects for mobile satellite service providers looking to breach the mass terrestrial market, many questions and issues remain for long-time critics.
    MSV Vice President of strategy, Christian Gates, spoke with Satellite News News Editor Jeffrey Hill about the agreement that has brought satellite-cellular communications one step closer to reality for his company.

Satellite News: What factors brought MSV, ICO and Qualcomm together on this deal?

Gates: Our interests are mutually aligned. The parties involved share a similar vision when it comes to integrating satellite communications capability into a mass terrestrial cellular chipset market and bringing scale to an ecosystem that we think is very powerful. Our vision is to bring satellite into the umbrella of mass communication.

Satellite News: How will the end result of this partnership control costs and bring scale to the handset?

Gates: What we have done is taken a terrestrial device that is primarily terrestrial in terms of price and capability and added satellite onto it as an application or augmentation. We leveraged the terrestrial scale associated with the chipsets that we are going to be on, both on the RF side and the baseband processor side to completely eliminate any difference in cost between a device that would built with our technology compared to any of the traditional terrestrial technologies.
    Instead of having a multiple chipset solution and a customized satellite interface produced by someone in the satellite industry we went to Qualcomm and audaciously asked them to incorporate a satellite communications capability into their EVDO specification. They agreed to do so under the rubric of our 15-year agreement. What that means is – the chip that goes into the phone is not a special satellite chip and it is not something that was created to work with a specific satellite system. It is a terrestrial cellular chip that has a satellite communications area interface as an added feature attached or embedded into it as a modification of a terrestrial interface.
    In addition to that, Qualcomm is adding L- and S-band capability to their multi-band RFIC. This provides us with immediate scale on the RF side.
To address scale, we have to make one minor modification – incorporate analog front-end components. The components we are using are not qualitatively different than the same components that would have to be added to incorporate any other band, whether it is AWS or 700Mhz. They are tuned to L-band as opposed to those other bands.    Someone who wants to make a device today for 700Mhz has to have an RF chip and then they have to have different analog front end components than those associated with PCS or cellular spectrum at 850Mhz and 1,900Mhz, respectively. So what we are doing is adding front end components associated with 1.5, 1.6 Ghz spectrum and tuning the antenna. We anticipate, at scale, that the cost of these modifications for our band or any other band is approximately $3.

Satellite News: How will the new handset deal with line-of-sight issues?

Gates: The chipset technology that we are going to have represents access via a likely partnership – although the specific scenario would depend on a commercial agreement – with an existing terrestrial network. We will be on a multi-band RFIC. We will be on chips that are multi-mode chips that are compatible with both the 3GPP or GSM strain and 3GPP2 or CDMA strain networks via roaming or strategic partnership and we will theoretically have access to a terrestrial network through that partnership.      
Our extremely high sensitivity satellites combined with the fact that we have two satellites, which are able to receive combining signals and the fact that we have a relatively robust uplink will help with line-of-sight issues.
    At the end of the day, however, a satellite service is a satellite service and will be governed by many of the restrictions it faces in terms of the laws of physics.

Satellite News: What role will the ATC spectrum play in these developments?

Gates: While ATC certainly remains an exciting opportunity for us as well as an augmentation our service, we do not want to ignore the possibility of partnering with a terrestrial service.

Satellite News: Will the new handsets be able to provide more than just voice services?

Gates: We actually provide data services today and with our next generation satellites, we will be able to provide an even better data service with better throughput. We currently provide packet data, voice and push-to-talk services as well.
    Our satellites have an enormous flexibility via ground based beam forming in terms of their ability to allocate power and satellite resources to specific areas or more broadly, we can offer a variety of beam patterns.
    I believe our network is going to be an all IP-core network so we are focused on attaching to packet switch as opposed to legacy circuit switch technologies that provide creative service capabilities that we think are going to allow us to offer a lot of innovative applications.

Satellite News: Who do you view as your competitors?

Gates: I have never viewed Satellite as a terrestrial competitor. I view satellite as an augmentation to terrestrial systems. I think satellite works best when it is combined with terrestrial access capability. I think everybody is well aware of the benefits of satellite in terms of coverage and the potential limitations because your assets are in space and not on the ground.
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