With apologies to the Eagles…its a lovely place, for MSS consumers at least. However, for MSS operators it seems to be somewhere you can check out [or go bankrupt] anytime you like, but you can never leave.
Today we’ve seen confirmation that Globalstar is now fully funded to complete the construction and launch of its first 24 second generation satellites by the end of 2010, while TerreStar has launched its new S-band satellite from Kourou, French Guiana and intends to initiate commercial services at the end of this year. Iridium also looks increasingly likely to complete its deal with GHL, since GHL’s shares and warrants are now trading well above the $10 value that would be refunded to investors if they voted down the deal. While there has been much speculation about potential mergers in the last two years, these now look less, rather than more, likely to occur in the near future (with the sole exception of SkyTerra’s Harbinger-backed bid for Inmarsat, which should be decided one way or another later this year).
Thus by early 2011, it looks like we will have at least four and more likely six voice and data MSS systems providing service in North America (Inmarsat, Iridium, Globalstar and TerreStar plus ICO and SkyTerra) and four systems (Inmarsat, Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya) providing service in most of the rest of the world. With new advanced satellites, consumers will benefit from improved data capabilities and smaller, cheaper handheld satellite phones.
However, the development of at least three new systems (ICO, TerreStar and SkyTerra) and to some extent Globalstar as well (based on financial analysts’ comments at the time of its IPO in November 2006) has been justified largely by the value of MSS spectrum, due to the FCC’s rules enabling deployment of Ancillary Terrestrial Components (ATC), rather than by the intrinsic potential of the market for mobile satellite services itself. Thus, unless and until demand for MSS spectrum and ATC materializes, we run the risk of overcapacity for land-based MSS services, particularly in North America. This will certainly benefit end users, and price reductions (especially in conjunction with cheaper, more attractive terminals) may help to stimulate significant market growth, but it remains to be seen whether this will enable all the MSS operators to deliver a return for their investors or whether we’ll see more of them “checking out” with a bankruptcy filing as ICO North America did in May this year.