POLICY CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GLOBAL MOBILE PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS BY SATELLITE:
THE ODYSSEY VIEWPOINT

By Marc Leroux,
Managing Director, Odyssey Telecommunications International

Satellite-delivered mobile personal communications services will soon make wireless telephone service possible anywhere on Earth.

Systems such as Odyssey, which will operate with 12 satellites in a medium Earth orbit, will provide a space-based telecommunications infrastructure capable of reaching into and across such areas as the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos, African deserts, and the Amazon rain forest all of which pose costly obstacles to conventional wireline or cellular service. Mobile satellite services will also offer instant telecommunications infrastructure to densely populated areas of the globe where demand for service has outgrown the capacity of existing systems.

The technical feat of providing global mobile communications, while large and complex, represents only half the challenge faced by Odyssey and the other mobile systems, however. Equally important is the international coordination of licensing and regulatory policies that will govern these emerging global systems.

Odyssey believes that regulatory policies for global mobile satellite systems must achieve two major objectives:

BENEFITS FOR DEVELOPING MARKETS

Instant telecomms infrastructure. The advent of mobile satellite services will for the first time provide rural and remote areas of developing countries with the same modern, reliable telephone service enjoyed by people in developed countries. The systems can deliver the same high quality, digital voice and data communication services without discrimination to everyone in the world, whether they live in a North American city or a North China village.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and others have documented the close correlation between reliable telecommunication services and economic growth. By providing instant telecom infrastructure on a global basis, mobile systems will open new opportunities for developing countries to participate in the global economy.

In addition to the economic benefits of mobile satellite services, developing countries will also enjoy a number of social benefits, including the ability to deliver improved education and medical services to rural and remote areas through distance learning and telemedicine. Mobile services can provide vital emergency communications in the aftermath of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters. And, of course, mobile services will touch people's lives in a very personal way as well, giving family members the opportunity to stay in touch, no matter how far apart.

But, the benefits of the new services can only be realized if the service is affordable. This is especially true in developing countries, where average incomes are well below those in developed countries. The mobile satellite systems expected to be introduced in the next few years differ markedly in the markets they target as well as their expected service pricing. Some systems are expected to focus on wealthy business travelers; others, like Odyssey, are focusing on a broad spectrum of potential users, including the growing market for telecommunications in developing countries. Competition among multiple mobile systems will work to keep service prices low.

Mobile satellite systems work with PTTs and existing systems. All of the mobile systems are designed to complement existing terrestrial networks. As with cellular service today, the vast majority of mobile satellite calls are expected to be placed from the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to mobile systems or from mobile systems to PSTN destinations. As a result, mobile systems will provide the PSTNs with a new source of traffic and revenue for their networks. The need to interconnect the mobile systems with the PSTN will lead to new and profitable alliances between the mobile service providers, many of whom will be new second and third carriers as well as wireless service providers, and the traditional operators of the PSTNs.

Room for several mobile systems. Current market estimates for mobile services vary, but Odyssey's research indicates that the total market worldwide could be as large as 40 million subscribers by the year 2010. A market this big would comfortably support the four planned global systems. For example, Odyssey's system capacity is about 10 million subscribers worldwide, based on expected usage per subscriber of about 100 minutes per month. However, the demand for mobile services is highly sensitive to service pricing; the market forecast of 40 million subscribers would be substantially smaller at higher service prices.

REGULATORY PRINCIPLES FOR GLOBAL MOBILE SYSTEMS

How best to regulate the introduction of mobile systems? Odyssey recognizes that it is the prerogative of each Administration to establish regulatory policies and govern provision of mobile services within, and to and from, its own territory. At the same time, harmonization of regulatory policies, from country to country and region to region, will aid greatly in the licensing and coordination of global mobile services, saving time and regulatory effort for both national administrations and global systems operators.

Governments face a delicate task in regulating these new services. Each sovereign nation must balance the common welfare against the commercial ambitions of service providers. Aggressive companies desiring to provide services may seek competitive advantage through regulatory policies which favor one system over another. Governments must be cautious and prudent in laying the foundation for a "level playing field".

To build a framework for fair, efficient, and timely licensing of the systems, Odyssey believes that regulatory policies governing mobile services should seek to promote the following objectives:

ITU: THE PROPER FORUM FOR REGULATORY HARMONIZATION

Harmonizing the principles just listed among the world's many countries and regions requires the existence of an open and impartial policy forum. To help resolve the many complicated issues involved in implementing global mobile systems, Odyssey offers two recommendations.

The October ITU World Telecommunication Policy Forum gives global system operators and national administrations a chance to confront and discuss the major regulatory issues involved in implementing mobile services. The willingness and spirit with which the countries of the world engage these issues could lay the foundation for a successful basic telecommunications agreement at the World Trade Organization talks next February.

The ITU's Policy Forum, therefore, represents an opportunity to begin building the regulatory framework for global mobile services. Odyssey looks forward to working with all interested parties to develop policies and regulations that will benefit everyone.

TRW Inc. and the Canadian company Teleglobe Inc. are founding shareholders in Odyssey Telecommunications International Inc., which will own and implement the proposed Odyssey system. Odyssey would permit subscribers using only a pocket telephone to call any phone on Earth, from anywhere on Earth. Odyssey will also provide fixed wireless terminals for businesses and government organizations. In addition to voice, Odyssey will provide fax, data, and short message capabilities.

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