Iridium CEO wants measured growth for service

 - December 18, 2006, 1:05 PM

Iridium’s new chief executive comes to the job following seven consecutive quarters of profitability and with plans in place to replace the communication network’s constellation of 66 satellites starting in 2013. But unlike the Motorola executives who launched the original Iridium service for more than $5 billion in the late 1990s and quickly went bankrupt, CEO Matt Desch doesn’t dream about tens of millions of subscribers hauling around portable satphones wherever they go.

“I’m content with much slower growth,” Desch said during a time-out at a recent satellite industry conference in New York. “The goal is for one-and-a-half to two million subscribers by 2015, not 20 million. If we have two million subscribers 10 years from now, we will have been very successful.”

Iridium wrapped up last year with close to 200,000 subscribers and posted revenue figures topping $159 million through last year’s first three quarters. About 10 percent of subscribers are from the aviation sector, with most of those operating satcom equipment aboard business jets and, increasingly, helicopters. Desch, who came to Iridium late last year, is himself an active private pilot and the owner of a Cessna 210.

Iridium’s biggest challenge now will be designing and deploying the new satellite constellation as the current satellites begin to lose power and drop offline in the next 10 or so years. “The new constellation will cost billions of dollars,” Desch said, “but that cost is spread out over many years.” Besides better voice quality, he said, the next generation of Iridium will likely provide broadband data access and could even serve as a backup to GPS.