NBAA Convention News

Iridium CEO says future liesin low-cost data transmission

 - November 14, 2006, 7:59 AM

Just three weeks into his new job as CEO of Iridium Satellite, Matthew Desch is here in Orlando with a message. “Yes, Iridium is still around, and not only around but enjoying strong growth.”

Interestingly, he told NBAA Convention News that many people are still unaware of Iridium’s resurgence after its turn-of-the-century problems and subsequent reorganization. “Iridium has gained over 8,000 installed aircraft since 2002,” he pointed out, citing the satcom system’s advantages of very low installation and operating costs, lower weight of airborne equipment, smaller antennas, and the Iridium constellation’s complete global coverage.

Drawing upon his extensive background in the telecommunications industry, Desch is already immersed in planning and designing the next generation Iridium satellite network. “The present constellation of 66 low-earth orbiting satellites will reach the end of its full capacity by 2014 as those in orbit stop operating and we finally run out of spares,” he noted. Desch said they will be replaced by spacecraft featuring higher data rates, greater flexibility and more efficient bandwidth allocation, better maintainability with lower support costs “which we can pass on to our subscribers.”

He observed that many continue to perceive Iridium as just a low-cost mobile telephone operation. “We still see ourselves as mobile satcom, but that today is a niche market that is getting larger and larger. We’ll target specific markets like aircraft and vehicle tracking, aviation and maritime. The real growth is going to be in the real-time data area. There are now embedded modules the size of a pack of cards that we can place in our equipment to collect and transmit all kinds of data. For example, there is AirDat, a program where a plane takes off and every couple of hundred feet it transmits air temperature, pressure, humidity, wind direction and velocity data to a central collection site where it joins hundreds of other such inputs to assemble a highly detailed and accurate real-time weather report.”

Desch said the process is akin to a myriad of Pireps in packet data form which, transmitted via Iridium links, could revolutionize weather reporting and dissemination.

He also said the same packet data technology is about to gain wide use for automatic condition monitoring of aircraft.