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Iridium rival ICO plans Teledesic makeover

Forget satellite-based mobile telephony, high bandwidth Net links are where we're at now

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ICO Global Communications, the other satellite mobile phone company stuck in bankruptcy hell, may have found a way to get itself unstuck. According to the Dow Jones newswire, ICO will next month announce its plan to recast itself not as an alternative to Iridium but as a rival to Teledesic, the 'Internet in the sky' satellite-based broadband network company owned, in part, by Bill Gates. ICO's scheme calls for $60 million to be spent on modifications to its as et unlaunched satellites to allow them to handle high bandwidth data traffic. ICO will then sell access to its network to companies keen to provide mobile data services. Formed in 1995, ICO's history neatly parallels that of fellow bankrupt mobile phone company, Iridium. Both went bankrupt in August after defaulting on bond interest payments. ICO owed $43 million; Iridium, $90 million. But while Iridium is still struggling to persuade its shareholders to put up some more cash for a restructure, ICO has managed to win a further $225 million from its backers. They may offer more. ICO's new plan is based on the assumptions that business will demand ever more data bandwidth, and that users will increasingly require mobile data solutions. Whether it can provide a useful solution to the latter is open to question -- the vast expansion in cellular communications that did it for ICO and Iridium are just as likely to clean up in the mobile date arena. However, providing high capacity links to an ever more bandwidth-hungry world does make sense. And since ICO can adapt its 12-odd satellites this way -- unlike Iridium's network, ICO's devices are still on the ground -- it's just as able to switch its business model around. Iridium can't, which is probably why it's having such a tough time with its backers. ®

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