Based in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A., Iridium Satellite LLC, a privately held company, is the only provider of truly global satellite voice and data communications solutions with complete coverage of the entire Earth including oceans, airways and even Polar Regions. Iridium delivers reliable, secure, real-time, mission-critical communications services to and from areas where landlines and terrestrial-based wireless services are either unavailable or unreliable.
Iridium’s constellation consists of 66 low-earth orbiting (LEO), cross-linked satellites operating as a fully meshed network and supported by multiple in-orbit spares. It is the largest commercial satellite constellation in the world.
The Iridium service is ideally suited for industries such as maritime, aviation, government/military, emergency/humanitarian services, mining, forestry, oil and gas, heavy equipment, transportation and utilities. For example, tens of thousands of aircraft are currently equipped with Iridium-based systems and nearly half of the traffic on the Iridium network comes from international waters. Iridium provides service to subscribers from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), as well as other civil and government agencies around the world. The company also designs, builds and sells its products, solutions and services through a worldwide network of hundreds of partners.
Iridium manages several operations centers including those in Tempe, Arizona and Leesburg, Virginia, U.S.A. In addition, through its own gateway in Hawaii, the U.S. DoD relies on Iridium for global communications capabilities.
The company supplies both voice and data connections. Voice services are provided via dedicated handsets, or through a variety of installed communications systems onboard ships, aircraft and land-based vehicles. Increasingly incorporated into hundreds of applications, Iridium’s 9601 short burst data (SBD) transceiver provides packet data connections to every corner of the Earth, transferring location information, weather reports, email, or any other data requiring a reliable, global, two-way connection. Iridium’s most rapidly expanding business segment is the machine-to-machine sector, in which the Iridium constellation provides mobile data links for asset tracking and other monitoring applications.
Iridium is a profitable company and has been since 2004. Business is growing at an impressive rate with the constant acquisition of new customers and partners both domestically and abroad in some of the furthest reaches of the planet. These individuals recognize the value of a system that is global, secure and guaranteed to work.
Iridium is also planning for the future sustainability of its constellation, making major investments in network enhancements and launching the Iridium NEXT initiative, its next generation satellite constellation, which will be fully operational by 2016.
Iridium seeks to be the provider of mission critical voice and data communications in more places than any other provider in the world. With satellites that literally cover every inch of the planet, Iridium can connect a caller or device from any location on the Earth’s surface to any other place in the world, offering a truly unique value proposition distinguishing the Iridium service from every other satellite communications provider in existence.
While there is competition for some of the capabilities we provide in certain parts of the world, Iridium strives to go beyond every other mobile satellite service as the one provider that can be relied upon, everywhere, no matter what.
With our current constellation forecasted to provide reliable service through 2014, we are in the midst of creating Iridium NEXT – our next generation replacement constellation of satellites that will be launched starting in 2013 to provide reliable service through at least 2030. Iridium NEXT will provide a seamless transition from today’s services to new capabilities, including higher bandwidth, new user devices and technology, and new partnerships for sharing satellite capacity and payload.
How it Works
The Iridium system is a satellite-based, wireless personal communications network providing a robust suite of voice and data features all over the globe. It is comprised of three principal components — the satellite network, the ground network and the Iridium subscriber products, including phones and data modems.
The design of the Iridium network allows voice and data messages to be routed anywhere in the world. Voice and data calls are relayed from one satellite to another until they reach the satellite above the Iridium handset or terminal and the signal is relayed back to Earth. When an Iridium customer places a call from a handset or terminal, it connects to whatever satellite happens to be overhead, and is relayed among satellites around the globe to whatever satellite is above the appropriate Earth gateway, which downlinks the call and transfers it to the global public voice network or Internet so that it reaches the recipient.
The satellites are in a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 485 miles (780 km). The 66 active satellites fly in formation in six orbital planes, evenly spaced around the planet, each with 11 satellites equally spaced apart from each other in that orbital plane.
A single satellite completely circles the Earth once every 100 minutes, traveling at a rate of 16,832 miles per hour, and traveling from horizon to horizon across the sky in about ten minutes. As a satellite moves out of reach, the call is seamlessly handed over to the next satellite coming into view.
Since Iridium is a LEO satellite system, voice delays are typically unnoticeable. Other mobile satellite systems use Geostationary Earth Orbits (GEOs), which, by comparison, are about 22,300 miles above the equator. As a result, latency can be quite high, causing speakers to have to wait for each other to finish. GEOs are also largely ineffective in more northern or southern latitudes. The curvature of the Earth disrupts message transmission when attempted at the edge of a GEO satellite’s footprint.
Each Iridium satellite is cross-linked to four other satellites – two satellites in the same orbital plane and two in an adjacent plane. These links create a dynamic network in space – calls are routed among Iridium satellites without touching the ground, creating a highly secure and reliable connection. Cross-links make Iridium particularly impervious to natural disasters – such as hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes – that can damage ground-based wireless towers since cross-links are space-based.
The Iridium ground network is comprised of the system control segment and telephony gateways used to connect into the terrestrial telephone system. With centralized management of the Iridium network, the system control segment supplies global operational support and control services for the satellite constellation, delivers satellite tracking data to the gateways, and controls the termination of Iridium messaging services.
The system control segment consists of three primary components — four telemetry tracking and command/control (TTAC) stations, the operational support network, and the satellite network operation center (SNOC). Ku-Band feeder links and cross-links throughout the satellite constellation supply the connections among the system control segment, the satellites and the gateways.
Gateways are the ground-based antennas and electronics that provide voice and data services, messaging, prepaid and postpaid billing services, as well as other customer services. The gateways are responsible for the support and management of mobile subscribers and the interconnection of the Iridium network to the terrestrial phone system. Gateways also provide management functions for their own network elements and links.
Iridium owns and operates the most reliable global communications network available. Our reach is unparalleled and our service is unrivaled. And, Iridium call quality is as much as three times greater than the competition’s.
Click the link below to read about how independent testing confirms Iridium’s quality advantage. Highlights include:
More than 99 percent of calls placed through Iridium handsets were successfully connected compared to 51.3 percent of all calls from a competitor’s handset.
98.1 percent of calls on Iridium handsets were successfully connected and completed without being dropped during a three-minute period compared to 36.2 percent of calls on a competitor’s handset.
One of the reasons Iridium works so well is that our system has more satellites than any other commercial constellation, and they are constantly in view of every part of the Earth. With no service gaps, Iridium users should be able to pick up and hold a strong communications signal, allowing them to place or receive calls just about anywhere as long as there is a direct line of sight to the sky.
Iridium is often used as a backup to cellular data modems – many businesses that need a very reliable connection automatically switch over to Iridium when their GSM data service fades or is unavailable. With terrestrial mobile systems only covering about 15 percent of the Earth’s surface (and certainly not the sky, oceans or poles), Iridium is the only connection available to many parts of the world. Even in urban and suburban environments, Iridium data solutions are providing reliable backup
In December 2000, a group of private investors led by Dan Colussy organized and named our company Iridium when they acquired the operating assets of the bankrupt Iridium LLC. This included the satellite constellation, the terrestrial network, Iridium real property and intellectual capital.
Since its inception, Iridium has steadily grown in customers, markets served and partners. Only Iridium is currently used everywhere. Other key milestones include:
|The 1990s||The original Iridium LLC enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 1999.|
|December 2000||“Iridium Satellite LLC” acquires Iridium’s assets out of bankruptcy. U.S. DoD awards contract.|
|March 2001||Iridium begins offering commercial service for mobile voice; shifts company’s strategy to vertical markets.|
|June 2001||Introduces data and Internet service|
February 2002 Announces successful deployment of in-orbit spares.
June 2003 Introduces short-burst data (SBD) services.
August 2003 Announces short messaging services (SMS).
March 2004 Launches fax and enhanced messaging services.
June 2004 FCC grants access to 3.1 MHz of additional spectrum.
July 2004 Surpasses 100,000+ subscribers; achieves positive EBITDA.
September 2005 Provides critical telecommunications to first responders in Hurricane Katrina region. Regional traffic increases more than 3000%.
February 2006 Launches compact lower-cost satellite data transceiver for supply chain management, field force automation and remote asset tracking. Commences engineering studies for future satellite replenishment and replacement plan.
November 2006 Announces 169,000+ subscribers. Third quarter 2006 revenue was $54.7 million; EBITDA was $14.0 million. Participated in completion of testing of Phase One of Netted Iridium service with the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Warfighting Lab.
February 2007 Announces 183,000+ subscribers; first quarter 2007 revenue of $52.7 million and EBITDA was $13.6 million; Announced plans for new satellite constellation initiative, Iridium NEXT; Introduced the Iridium “Network Quality Guarantee” program; China Spacecom announced plans to open an Iridium gateway earth station; Iridium announces plans to open a new TTAC earth station in Norway.
July 2007 Announces 203,000+ subscribers. Second quarter 2007 revenue of $66.7 million and EBITDA was $20.2 million. Handset sales increased 56% above second quarter 2006.
In February 2007, Iridium announced a bold vision called “Iridium NEXT.” NEXT will replace the company’s current satellite constellation with an even more powerful system — before Iridium’s high quality of service is ever compromised due to constellation age. This new system is currently under development by Iridium system engineers in conjunction with a number of experienced aerospace companies. Specifications are being written, and suppliers are expected to sign up sometime in 2008. Funding for the new system will largely come from the profits of the existing system, with any additional capital raised via public and private concerns. While NEXT hasn’t been completely specified yet, there are a number of important principles Iridium is incorporating into in its design:
66 new cross-linked, secure satellites in a similar architecture to today’s system and covering 100 percent of the globe.
Seamless backward compatibility with current
handsets and devices.
End-to-end IP technology for easy integration into existing enterprises and applications.
Interface with new, powerful devices that can deliver more bandwidth as needed to customers – flexibly and cost effectively.
The NEXT vision goes beyond traditional mobile satellite systems and creates a number of powerful new business opportunities for customers and partners:
Secondary payloads – Iridium will work together with a select group of partners to launch additional payloads into space, utilizing Iridium’s cross-links to deliver sensor and other data from anywhere on the globe to any other point.
Imaging – we envision building several potential camera systems on our satellites to take advantage of our planetary coverage to provide real-time low-resolution images of the Earth to new customers.
Iridium can be used to provide a cost effective data link to other satellites in space – enabling command and control of other critical space assets regardless of the position of ground stations and gateways.
Operationally Responsive Space – Iridium can enable customers to quickly get payloads into space as needs require, given our launch schedule for the initial constellation and future replacement satellites and spares.
More information will be released about Iridium NEXT as the system is designed and manufacturing and technology partners are selected. We will be providing current customers information on the new constellation as we get closer, but are anticipating that the transition to NEXT will be seamless and unnoticeable as customers continuously use our service.
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