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TerreStar Betting Heavily into Pan-European Wireless Network

By | October 10, 2008
      [Satellite News 10-10-08] TerreStar is leveraging its research, chipset development efforts, base stations and financing from its U.S. subsidiary into European programs as part of a push to create a pan-European integrated satellite and complementary ground component network.
          Ben Gore, a director at TerreStar Europe, told Satellite News that the current wireless environment in Europe presents several opportunities that his company hopes to take advantage of. “The European wireless user base is somewhat more sophisticated than North America, with penetration rates that run as high as about 120 percent,” he said. “There are four or five wireless carriers in every European country, and there is still a very sharp divide when you cross a national border. That is when customers get into roaming charges and different pricing.”
          TerraStar is approaching the European market with a widespread pan-continental coverage strategy aimed at lowering overall costs and increasing its user base through providing a wider variety of handset models.
          “Typically, there are two dominating wireless services in each European market with a 60 percent share between the two of them,” said Gore. “This is not a great environment to be fourth, fifth or sixth retail operator. So our European strategy is based on cooperation with one of the existing wireless operators in the market.”
          Gore said that when it comes to building network infrastructure, his company is looking at examples in the United Kingdom. “There are a couple of companies that have sprung up to build the infrastructure for all of the wireless companies,” he said. “That provides an opportunity for us to cut costs — becoming part of the service offering of this infrastructure company laid on top of everyone else’s infrastructure. We then become a capability and a value-added service layer that is available to all the retail distribution channels available in the market.”
          TerreStar Europe’s use of the Pan-European 2GHz MSS S-band spectrum must be authorized by the European Commission (EC) before it can start implementing strategy. The company recently submitted an application.
          “Right now, we are acutely focused on this process,” said Gore. “Over the next 40 working days from the time of our submission, the EC will review our applications. The initial focus is to ensure we make the list of qualified applicants by providing whatever additional information the commission may require.”
          The next step in the milestone review process is to have to have a critical design review (CDR) completed by February. “Our technical teams are working with Space Systems/Loral right now on the CDR,” said Gore. “The satellite for the network is based on the North American system design. It is being adapted for some of the European requirements. The plan is, we will identify the moves and changes required to the basic design as we work up to CDR and then firm interim schedules will be set leading up to the service in 2011.
          TerreStar Europe is not alone in its pan-European wireless network aspirations. ICO Communications, Solaris Mobile and the Eutelsat-SES Astra joint venture have all made similar bids, but Gore believes TerreStar is well ahead race. “This is not a start from scratch for us,” he said. “We already have developed and tested most of the hardware that other companies have just started working on.”
          In terms of market strategy, TerreStar Europe would only have to make adjustments to the framework of its North American strategy. “Some of the common areas are still focused on emergency response and public protection,” said Gore. “That focus is still there. It is still a clearly identified need in Europe.”

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