Reinhold Grether on 8 Dec 2000 17:07:45 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Department of Defense Takes Over Iridium

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DoD Gets ‘Global’ With Satellite-Phone System

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2000 -- DoD awarded a two-year, $72 
million contract Dec. 6 to a Maryland firm for unlimited 
use of its global, satellite-based, secure telephone 
The contract was awarded through the Defense Information 
Systems Agency to Iridium Satellite LLC (IS) of Arnold, 
Md., which will contract with the Boeing Co. to operate and 
maintain the system’s 73 satellites. 
According to Dave Oliver, principal deputy undersecretary 
of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, the 
contract will give DoD increased communications ability 
around the globe and a conduit to private-sector 
Under the contract, DoD will pay a $3 million monthly 
service fee for unlimited airtime for 20,000 government 
users over the Iridium satellite network. Contract options, 
if exercised, could increase the contract value to $252 
million and extend the contract period to 2007.
“Iridium will not only add to our existing capability, it 
will provide a commercial alternative to our purely 
military systems,” he said. “This may enable real civil-
military dual use, keep us closer to the leading edge of 
technologically, and provide a real alternative for the 
The system offers state-of-the-art satellite communications 
service to any open area in the world. It provides mobile, 
cryptographically secure telephone services to small 
handsets anywhere in the world, North Pole to South Pole, 
24 hours a day, officials said. They noted the system and 
its DoD-specified enhancements will provide handheld phone 
service not currently available.
Officials said the system can improve the capabilities of 
special forces operations, combat search and rescue 
activities, and polar communications. It also can enhance 
DoD's mobile satellite communications requirements, they 
Motorola designed, built and operated the $5.5 billion 
Iridium system. The system went into operation in November 
1998, and DoD used some 800 of its first-generation phones. 
The Motorola-owned unit, Iridium LLC, was charging some of 
its 60,000 customers up to $5 a minute for calls when it 
went bankrupt in August 1999. Iridium Satellite LLC 
recently bought the bankrupt company's assets.
Oliver remarked that subsequent advances in technology, an 
expanded customer base, and savings in start-up costs 
enables the new owner to provide commercial service for 
about 80 cents a minute, while the Pentagon will pay 10 to 
30 cents a minute. He said company officials estimate they 
will “break even” with 40,000 more customers and expect to 
service 250,000 within five years.
The original Iridium handset is boxy and bulky, Oliver 
said. An improved model by Motorola, he continued, is about 
twice the size of a typical cell phone and has a call-
reliability rate of 95 percent. Its special encryption 
sleeve ensures secure communications, he added.
Motorola will continue to supply DoD with handsets and 
parts for the time being.
The U.S. military will use its Enhanced Mobile Satellite 
Services Gateway system at Wahiawa, Hawaii, to provide DoD 
Iridium users with direct-dial connection to the Defense 
Information Services Network and to public-switched 
telephone networks, officials said.

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