In November 1998 we saw the debut of the world’s first digital satellite phone service, and the top two companies that will compete in this new market are giving their best guess as to how many customers they expect to enroll for their products.
Iridium, which begins revenue-generating commercial service on November 1 is sticking to conservative estimates of around 100,000 subscribers for 1998. Those estimates are based on solid customer leads from its advertising campaign initiated in late June 1998.
Analysts Merril Lynch predict that Iridium could have 2.5 million users in 2002 and 3.2 million in 2003.
Parent Motorola is expected to have approximately 5,000 commercial grade handsets available for Iridium’s debut, and plans on producing 70,000 by the end of the year. Its partner, Kyocera, plans on producing 30,000 units by year’s end, and will have 14,000 units available for commercial service in November.
Iridium’s paging service has taken a back seat, and is expected to see a further delay of 15 to 30 days.
Iridium has negotiated more than 270 distribution agreements with service providers and cellular partners serving more than 105 million wireless telephone subscribers in 125 countries and territories.
Meanwhile, Iridium’s main competitor, Loral-backed Globalstar Telecommunications, expects subscribers for its service to reach 2.2 million worldwide by 2002 and 3 million by 2003.
The number of subscribers in China alone is forecast to reach 200,000 in 2002 and grow by 20% annually, according to Ming Louie, Globalstar’s vice-president of Asia Pacific Business Development.
Globalstar’s US$3 billion system is expected to begin operations in the Americas and Europe by September 1999 and will start in China, South Korea and South Africa by October. The company has been troubled by mishaps during its development, including an explosion last month of a rocket carrying 12 satellites, which is reported to have set the company’s plans back by three months.
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