Sat-ND, 10.1.97

Sat-ND 97-01-10 - Satellite and Media News

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As you may have seen on television, water is used during rocket launches in
order to protect the launch pad as well as the rocket by dampening the strong
vibrations encountered during lift-off. However, the launch pad at Vandenberg
Air Force Base in California with a Delta II rocket on it stayed dry today
during the third attempt to launch the first three IRIDIUM satellites.
Reportedly, there has been a "a problem with initiation of the water
suppression system." The launch has been rescheduled for Saturday, January 11.
The launch window will open at 05:35 a.m. and close at 06:23 a.m. PST. If the
weather holds up, that is.

While the first three of Iridium's 66-satellite system are still waiting to be
launched, the operating consortium led by Motorola has quietly taken a U-turn
in its strategy. Instead of providing less developed regions with a telephone
network, Iridium will instead do the exact opposite. Services will be targeted
at wealthy businessmen and travellers in densely populated areas in
industrialised countries.
The calculation is pretty simple. Three million rich customers promise more
financial success than a million customers in developing countries. "The guy
who's going to pay for this system is the guy who doesn't look at his phone
bill," Iridium's vice chairman and chief executive Edward Staiano told the Wall
Street Journal.
The strategy shift also has some technical implications. There would be little
use in bringing cellular phone services to industrialised urban areas. In those
markets, Iridium (once designed as a global telephone network) will rather act
as a sky-based operator that combines and co-ordinates the various terrestrial
cellular systems, providing billing, routing and caller identification
Other satellite services, especially the monstrous Teledesic project, have
declared the developing world as their main target. It is not clear whether
they actually see any market there or whether they just need the support of
those nations in international bodies such as the International
Telecommunications Union. Thus, Iridium may not be the last "global network" to
shift its business strategy once it's through with international regulation.

There was another satellite launch scheduled for today -- it didn't take place,
either. The first Russian satellite for this year, another one from KOSMOS
series due to serve Russian Defence Ministry's purposes, was expected to be
lifted into its orbit today at 15:08 UTC aboard a Molniya rocket. The launch
had to be postponed for "technical reasons." No further details were given.

GE American Communications and GE Capital Services announced the acquisition of
a 17.25 percent stake in Nahuelsat, an Argentinean satellite communications
company that will have its first spacecraft launched this year (Sat-ND,
4.1.97.) The company's capital is estimated at US$100 million.
General Electric, of course, is not a newcomer to the satellite business. GE's
subsidiary GE Americom operates the SATCOM, SPACENET and GSTAR satellite fleets
as well as GE 1 (103W.) It also plans to provide service to all of Europe via
SIRIUS 2, a Swedish satellite scheduled for launch later this year. 
One year ago, GE Americom tried to get hold of twelve more satellite positions
spread all around the world. Companies can't do that on their own, of course,
so they had to find a government that was willing to co-operate. Gibraltar was
and applied for the following orbital positions: 3E, 6.5W, 10W, 15W and
23W for Europe; 37.5E, 47E and 51E for Africa; and 97E, 100.7E, 105.3E
and 108.2E for Asia and the Pacific. In return, GE promised that satellites
launched to these locations would be operated from a planned satellite control
facility on Gibraltar.

Why would Echostar be interested in a not too well-known company named Direct
Broadcasting Satellite Corporation (DBSC?) Maybe because it holds one of the
nine direct broadcast satellite licences issued by the U.S. Federal
Communications Commission (FCC.) 
Today, the merger of both companies was completed. DBSC's owner, DBSIndustries,
received 270,414 Class A Common Shares of Echostar stock in return for DBSC
which became a wholly-owned Echostar subsidiary.
Echostar launched its first DBS satellite in December 1995 and began commercial
sale of its DISH Network in March 1996 to households in the U.S. The launch of
ECHOSTAR 2 in September 1996 expanded Echostar's program offerings. ECHOSTAR 3
is slated for launch next autumn, ECHOSTAR 4 during the first quarter of 1998. 

DirecPC equipment became cheaper in Canada (Sat-ND, 8.1.97.) Today, Hughes
Network Systems, Inc. today announced new pricing for DirecPC(TM) Personal
Edition sold in the U.S. 
The DirecPC hardware/software package is available for US$499 at all of
CompUSA's Computer Superstores in the continental U.S. In addition, CompUSA is
offering a US$100 Instant Rebate until March 31, 1997, making the end-user
price US$399.
DirecPC's "Turbo Internet Service" claims to offer "the fastest Internet
download speeds available." Once again: even if that may be true in theory, do
not expect to access the Internet with that promised 400 kbps at any time. The
actual throughput when accessing an arbitrary Internet service depends on a lot
of factors that are beyond your or Hughes' control. (As a matter of fact, the
data flow that comes down an ISDN line from some German Internet provider could
as well be handled by a prehistoric 2,400-bps modem.)
But back to money. Isn't it strange that more or less the same
hardware/software package is offered for 1,150 (US$1,900) in the UK? The
billing scheme is also different from North America where several flat rates
apply, depending on the day of time the user wants to access the service. UK
users pay for the amount of data downloaded: 15 for up to 30 megabytes a
month, and 52 for up to 130 megabytes a month. Keeping European billing
practices of online services such CompuServe, AOL and MSN in mind, who charge
European customers more than those in the U.S., it is more than likely that the
rip-off will continue -- even in the age of Internet access via satellite. 
Internet access provided by DirecPC is so fast it can transmit a copy of
Microsoft Word 7.0 in 30 seconds, it is claimed. Apart from the question
whether your hard disk can cope with that, those enormous transmission rates
may let you spend a fortune just within minutes. At least, if you live in

Copyright 1997 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.

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