Inmarsat outlines new mobile data service

The international satellite communications co-operative Inmarsat has announced a new mobile communications service that will be aimed at the growing number of travelling business people who need high-speed data connections from remote locations.

Inmarsat's announcement at CeBIT includes hardware that extends its line of products to include new portable satellite terminals weighing about 4kg (9 pounds), including a folding antenna, that work with 64Kbit/sec ISDN drivers and modems in notebooks and other portable PCs.

Inmarsat, a 20-year-old cooperative based in London, has traditionally marketed its mobile satellite communications products and services to the shipping and oil industries, government, air lines and news-gathering operations. But the new mobile ISDN offering opens mobile satellite communications to a new category of customers, Inmarsat officials said.

"There are communication requirements that have not been and are not being met today," said Andrew Ivey, marketing manager of projects at Inmarsat.

The number of mobile professionals in North America and western Europe who will spend an average of 20 per cent of their time on the road is expected to grow to about 55 million by the end of next year, Ivey said. These include business people representing the pharmaceutical, chemical, food and beverage and finance industries sent to remote parts of the world. Those who currently rely on GSM for mobile data transfers are limited by geographic coverage restrictions and slow rates of transmission.

Ivey said the new 4kg-briefcase-sized mobile units are being manufactured by Nera ASA of Norway, Thrane & Thrane of Denmark and STN Atlas Elektronik of Germany. They will give the new ranks of mobile business people access to desktop applications such as Lotus Notes and Oracle databases at the top ISDN speed of 64Kbit/sec over satellite, Ivey said.

"The real revelation here is you get units that are much smaller, with standard interface and lower-priced than similar equipment on the market today," said Steen Klint Pedersen, manager of personal communication systems for Thrane & Thrane.

Pedersen said Inmarsat's current 64Kbit/sec satellite terminal is much larger, requiring a pickup truck to transport it.

The price of the new satellite terminals will be announced in the second half of this year when the units ship, Ivey said. They are expected to be priced similarly to current Inmarsat 64Kbit/sec satellite terminals, which cost between $US11,000 and $15,000.

The cost of delivering data through a land earth stations also hasn't yet been determined, Ivey said. Customers will have the option of signing contracts for those services will a number of providers, including British Telecom, France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobil business unit, Station 12 of the Netherlands and the US signatory of Inmarsat, Comsat which owns 22 per cent of the co-operative.

The Inmarsat cooperative comprises 86 countries and most of the signatories are public telecommunications companies. Inmarsat's assembly of member governments agreed last year to privatise the company as of April 1.

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