Inmarsat joins race to build first global satellite mobile phone system

THE RACE to build the first global pocket satellite telephone system intensified yesterday when Inmarsat, the London-based consortium, unveiled plans for the first stage of development, writes Russell Hotten.

Inmarsat, owned by 75 telecom operators, is raising dollars 150m ( pounds 96m) to launch an affiliate company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange. Inmarsat will take 15 per cent, with the other shareholders expected to be institutions, and satellite and handset manufacturers.

The consortium is one of three vying to set up a satellite mobile telephone service, which will target business travellers and areas of the world without cellular networks.

Inmarsat's planned service, using 12 satellites, is expected to cost dollars 2.6bn in total, and will provide a global hand- held telephone, fax, data and paging service. The company hoped it would be operational by the end of the century.

Members of rival consortia include Bill Gates and Craig McCaw, the US technology entrepreneurs. Iridium, a consortium led by Motorola, raised dollars 800m last year to finance its own project.

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