Iridium Satellite LLC believes there is plenty of room for competitors Globalstar Inc. and Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) Inc. to provide satellite communications services to the Department of Defense for emergency relief efforts — a market formerly reserved exclusively for Iridium until a recent policy revision changed that.
The Department of Defense announced a policy change May 9 that will allow Globalstar and MSV to offer mobile satellite services for unclassified operations within the continental United States.
Assistant Secretary of Defense John Grimes said in a May 9 memo that the increased demand for communications services observed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina justified a change in policy to provide expanded access to mobile communications for future emergencies. Under the memo, the procurement of new handsets and leases for mobile communications services are the responsibility of the users and must be reported to the Defense Information Systems Agency.
“Real or perceived, I think there is some perception by some folks that the government did not have enough services readily available. I think probably everybody agrees that satellite worked very well in the aftermath [of Katrina], but the government wanted to make sure they had plenty available for the next go-around,” Jim Corry, vice president for government solutions for Reston, Va.-based Mobile Satellite Ventures, said in a phone interview May 25.
Liz DeCastro, a spokeswoman for Iridium, said that many of the security features on Iridium phones would not be necessary for all emergency responders.
“Currently, users who buy their phones through [the Defense Information Services Agency] have to buy [them equipped] with a secure sleeve,” DeCastro said in a phone interview May 25.
Customers who do not need encryption could use a MSV or a Globalstar phone instead, which both come with their own unique assets, according to the companies.
“This is not an MSV-instead-of-Iridium situation,” Corry said. “This is opening up other mobile satellite service providers to the homeland security arena.”
Corry said MSV is offering a new radio and phone which provides a “push-to-talk” service, which allows the phone to work like a two-way radio that allows multiple users to talk over the same channel.
Tony Navarra, president of global operations for Globalstar, said in a phone interview May 23 that the higher rate of data transfer from Globalstar devices, which can be connected to laptops, may be appealing to DoD customers, as would the company’s satellite data modems. Globalstar phones also have analog, digital and satellite capabilities all in one device, he added.
Iridium is adapting to maintain its presence in the market despite the policy change. The Bethesda, Md.-based company is working on a device especially tailored to emergency responders, which does not include such strict security measures. The new phone will be released within the next 30 days, DeCastro said. The company also is looking at the possibility of offering customers a non-secured service that can be switched over to a secured service later on.
Both Corry and Navarra declined to specify how much new business the policy change would bring their company this year.
“I think we’ll see some increase in sales, particularly because of the new release of our new … two-way radio and telephone. It’s a very unique device,” Corry said.
Navarra said the company would likely be preparing forecasts in the upcoming weeks.
Corry said MSV plans to talk to its dealers about pursuing DoD and other emergency-response clients more aggressively, and will likely do some direct mailings and other marketing efforts to increase business in the area.
Among other efforts to increase its visibility, Globalstar is planning a demonstration of its devices for DoD officials, Navarra said.
In the meantime, Iridium has not but praise for the new policy and the new competition. “We all saw how many first responders were out there without equipment, so we support anything that any organizations would do to open up the availability of communications for emergency services,” DeCastro said.