Top 5 Companies To Watch: Globalstar

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Globalstar

Headquarters: Covington, La.

Employees: 335

Revenue: $64.3 million

Mobile satellite services provider GlobalStar, which has been struggling to keep customers from hanging up on its badly degraded two-way voice service and defecting to its satellite telephony rivals, is counting on 2011 to be the year it returns to full service with a new generation of satellites.

The first six of a planned 24 second-generation satellites launched in October aboard a Soyuz rocket and are nearing the end of a six-month on-orbit evaluation period; the next six are expected to launch in May.

If everything goes according to plan, a third Russian-built Soyuz loaded with six more Globalstar satellites will lift off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome this summer, followed 60 to 90 days later by a fourth and final Soyuz carrying the constellation’s last six satellites.

All of Globalstar’s first-generation satellites, except the eight launched in 2007, have lost two-way voice capability as a result of degradation believed to have been caused by the radiation they have been exposed to during their decade in low Earth orbit.

Despite increasingly spotty service, Globalstar reported last November it had managed to hold onto 105,000 voice subscribers by offering limited-time deals on new handsets and unlimited calling promotions, and creating a website that allows customers to predict up to several days in advance when voice capability will be available in a given area.

Globalstar is counting on Soyuz to go three-for-three this year so that it can finally put such awkward workarounds and desperation pricing behind it and start luring customers away from a resurgent Iridium Communications and newly competitive Inmarsat, which introduced its first hand-held satellite phone last year.

The new Globalstar satellites, built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy with financial backing from France’s Coface export-credit agency, are designed to last 15 years — double the design life of the first generation, which began showing problems in 2007.