Sunday, July 15, 2007

Followup on New ICO

SiriusBuzz covered the FCC filing of New ICO in the XM/Sirius merger comments that seemed to indicate that ICO might be competition to satellite radio. We have taken an initial look into ICO to see what they are about.

In 2001, the International Bureau of the FCC authorized eight entities for mobile satellite services: "The Boeing Company; Celsat America, Inc.; Constellation Communications Holdings, Inc.; Globalstar, L.P.; ICO Services Ltd.; Iridium LLC; Mobile Communications Holding, Inc.; and TMI Communications and Company, Limited Partnership." Each was authorized to operate in an equal, 3.5 megahertz segment of spectrum in each of the 1990-2025 MHz and 2165-2200 MHz bands. Two of the entities were foreign: ICO Services (UK) and TMI Communications (Canada). The later two are the only remaining entities for MSS.

ICO Services has gone through bankruptcy and reorganization. TMI Communications is now controlled by TerreStar, which is majority owned by Motient of XM fame and has ties to Mobile Satellite Ventures (where Gary Parsons is Chairman of the Board) and SkyTerra.

In 2005, after the others surrendered their authorization for bandwidth, both ICO and TMI were assign 20 MHz of bandwidth: 10 MHz for upload; 10 MHz for download.

ICO originally intended to implement a complex constellation of 12 non-geostationary satellites and planned to compete with Iridium and Globalstar. Its first satellite blew up on the launch vehicle. Its second satellite was successfully launched in June, 2001, meeting an important deadline for having launched two Boeing satellites. It came down to the meaning of the word "launch". After that, ICO scaled back its system to one Loral geostationary satellite and terrestrial repeaters. ICO was supposed to have this satellite in operation this month, but recently received authority to delay the launch to December of this year. The satellite will initially provide ubiquitous coverage to all 50 states, with capability of providing coverage outside the US. Its MSS/ATC systems "is being designed to provide wireless voice, data, video, and/or Internet service throughout the United States on mobile and portable devices." It has a November launch slot. Here is a description of its planned infrastructure:

Our MSS/ATC System infrastructure is expected to include the following:
  • One orbiting GEO satellite, which will utilize a "bent pipe" architecture, where the satellite "reflects" the signals between the end-user equipment and the gateway ground station.
  • Ground-based beam forming ("GBBF") equipment that is expected to be located at the gateway ground station.
  • A land-based transmitting/receiving station utilizing large gateway feederlink antennas, with the gateway ground station connecting to our network through high-speed interconnection links and providing the interface between the satellite and the network.
  • A core switching/routing segment, consisting of equipment used to route voice, video, and data traffic between our network and the public data, telephone, Internet and mobile network, and integrated with the satellite and ATC segments.
  • An ATC terrestrial network that will provide terrestrial wireless communications services that will be fully integrated with the satellite segment to provide ubiquitous national coverage to end users.
  • End-user equipment capable of supporting satellite-only and dual-mode (satellite/terrestrial) services.
It appears that Sirius COULD have competition for its backseat video and could provide competition to both XM and Sirius for data services. Its biggest advantage is that it is a two way service.

TMI, now TerreStar, plans one Loral geostationary satellite employing hundreds of spot beams covering the US (including Hawaii and Alaska) and Canada. Terrestar recently ran into a delay in the delivery of the satellite. It hopes to take delivery next year. It plans to provide 4G cellular services.

MSS have had a troubled past. Be careful with this one.

Other information:
2006 ICO Investor Presentation
August 10, 2006 FCC Filing (good back ground info)
ICO Report

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