By Daniel M. Kohn
Marketing Manager, Teledesic Corporation

The most important change in the development of Global Mobile Personal Communication Systems (GMPCS) is not the increased mobility of the terminals, but the mobility of the non-geostationary-orbit (NGSO) satellites providing the service. The development of NGSO systems creates fundamentally new regulatory challenges and dramatic new telecommunications opportunities that will have to be met both by individual nations and by those countries working together through the International Telecommunications Union. The nature of these systems will allow countries to address one of the most serious telecommunications issues today how to ensure cost-effective access to advanced telecommunications for all the world's people. NGSO systems provide unique solutions to improve the world's telecommunications infrastructure, in terms of both the scope of services and their geographic reach. But to be truly effective, these systems must be compatible with national and international regulatory policies. Systems like Teledesic can do that by respecting national sovereignty and offering services customized to a country's needs. The Teledesic Network will allow countries to provide local service through a global network.


Access to information is becoming increasingly essential to all those things we associate with quality of life: Economic opportunity, education, health care, public services. Yet, most people and places in the world do not now have access even to basic telephone service. Even those who do have access to basic phone service get it through 100-year-old technology analog copper wire networks that for the overwhelming part will never be upgraded to an advanced digital capability.

While many places in the world are connected by fiber and the number of places is growing it is used primarily to connect countries and telephone company central offices. A distinction needs to be drawn between these "trunking" applications and local access to individual offices and homes. Today, even in the most economically advanced countries, there is almost no switched broadband capability in the local access network. In most parts of the world, fiber deployment in the "last kilometer" likely never will happen.

This lack of broadband local access is a major problem for all of the world's societies. If these powerful technologies are available only in advanced urban areas, people will be forced to migrate to those areas in search of economic opportunity and to fulfill other needs and desires. It is no longer sound economically or environmentally to force people to migrate to increasingly congested urban areas in search of opportunity. The real potential of the information age is to find a means of allowing people to choose where they live and work based on things like family, community and quality of life rather than access to infrastructure.

The one-way information dissemination made possible through broadcast technologies has created a means for nearly all of the world to view the benefits of advanced technology. But having created a means for everyone to see all the benefits of our societies we have also created expectations legitimate expectations that will seek fulfillment. Increasingly, even a sole proprietor in the developing world will need the same kind of connection to the "Global Village" available now only to the biggest, richest corporations. Through schools, community centers and home access, individuals are beginning to use broadband connections for services such as Internet access, telemedicine, distance learning, videoconferencing, telecommuting and many other applications. We need to create the two-way network links that allow people to participate economically and culturally with the world at large without requiring that they pick up and move to places with modern telecommunications infrastructure.


For more than three decades, geostationary satellites have been virtually the exclusive means of providing commercial space-based communications. Geostationary satellites will continue to play an important role, particularly for broadcast applications. But these systems have a number of limitations for two-way communications, such as requiring high power terminals and the large signal delay inherent in their high orbital altitude. This delay means that a large number of applications, including essential Internet technologies such as the World Wide Web, are adversely affected over geostationary satellites. Geostationary satellites can never provide the fiber-like delays required for seamlessly compatibility with fiber-based networks on the ground. For natural economic reasons, these systems also tend to focus their capacity on the more economically developed areas. Via Satellite recently reported, for instance, that of the over 200 geostationary commercial communications satellites, one is on order to provide service to Africa.

New options are becoming available, however, with the development of NGSO communication systems, which primarily use low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites. Since both LEO and traditional geostationary satellites can provide service to mobile terminals, the key distinction between the system types is not between fixed and mobile service. The difference is that in LEO systems, the satellites themselves are mobile. This has profound policy and regulatory implications.

Just as networks on the ground have evolved from centralized systems built around a single mainframe computer to distributed networks of interconnected PCs, space-based networks are evolving from centralized networks relying on a single geostationary satellite to distributed networks of interconnected low-Earth-orbit satellites.

The evolution from geostationary to low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites has resulted in a number of proposed global satellite systems, which can be grouped into three distinct types. These LEO systems can best be distinguished by reference to their terrestrial counterparts: paging, cellular, and fiber.

System Type

Little LEO


Broadband LEO

Example ORBCOMM Iridium, Globalstar, ICO Teledesic
Terrestrial Counterpart Paging Cellular Fiber

The Teledesic Network emulates the most famous distributed network, the Internet, while adding the benefits of real-time connections, location-insensitive access and broadband-on-demand capability.

No one satellite system architecture is ideal for all applications. Different types of services can best be provided through different types of systems, with orbital altitude and frequency band among the major factors that might vary with the target market. Overall, the demand for the services that can be provided through these different global systems is as large as the areas of need to which they will extend. Specifically, the market for real-time broadband network access is vast, and growing.

With the enormous potential of these new satellite systems to open up the world of telecommunications, Teledesic and the other LEO systems proposed to date will certainly not be the last iteration of non-geostationary technology. And because LEO satellites move in relation to the Earth, they all share a characteristic with profound implications: Continuous coverage of any point on Earth requires, in effect, global coverage. In order to provide service to the advanced markets, the same quality and quantity of capacity has to be provided to the developing markets, including those areas to which it would not be economically feasible to provide that kind of capacity for its own sake. In this sense, LEO satellite systems represent an inherently egalitarian technology that promises to radically transform the economics of telecommunications infrastructure to enable universal access to the Information Age.


The Teledesic Network is designed to be a seamless extension of, not a replacement for, terrestrial networks. The "last-kilometer" access link constitutes the vast majority of network cost. That is where the largest unmet demand lies, and that is where these systems can provide the greatest value.

A global system inherently provides capability to countries with a wide range of market needs. Global networks need to have the flexibility to adapt to each country's individual circumstances. These global systems must also have the flexibility in their business plans to meet these local needs. As an access technology, a network like Teledesic must be robustly interconnected with the local networks. The local Service Provider is in the best position for providing these interconnections, and for determining the optimal structure of services and prices.

Teledesic does not intend to market its services directly to end-users. Rather, the Teledesic Network will enable local Service Providers to extend their networks in terms of both geographic reach and scope of services. Ground-based gateways will allow local Service Providers to offer seamless links to other wireline and wireless networks, such as the Public Switched Telephone Network and the Internet. Additionally, Teledesic's use of Earth-fixed cells will allow service to be tailored to national boundaries.

Global systems like Teledesic can realize their potential only if their proponents and national administrations work together to define how they can best meet each country's specific telecommunications needs in the 21st Century. For the past 30 years of commercial satellite communications, geostationary satellites have constituted essentially the entire relevant universe. The corresponding regulatory structures, at both the ITU and the national level, reflect that fact. The emergence of LEO systems over the past several years has presented some policy challenges for those regulatory structures. The ITU and member administrations have shown a truly remarkable ability to adapt to the opportunities and challenges presented by these LEO systems. The ITU can continue to play an essential role in helping to develop consensus behind a common policy framework that articulates principles of fair market access for these systems as well as their obligations to host countries. Teledesic believes that this work will prove to be well worth the considerable effort involved for all concerned.

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