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Teledesic's McCaw to pump $20m into Iridium

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Iridium looks set to receive the long-anticipated cash injection from satellite comms entrepreneur Craig McCaw this week, according to the New York Times. The investment will run to at least $20 million, the paper reckons. This first payment represents little more than the what the loss-making and creditor-protected (via Chapter 11) Iridium needs to tide itself over for a couple of months. Back in December its biggest investor, Motorola, in conjunction with others also pumped in $20 million to keep Iridium operational. Further funding is likely -- not to say vital -- since many of Iridium's original investors seem unwilling to fund the debt-ridden 'mobile phone by satellite' company further. However, according to sources close to the negotiations between McCaw and Iridium, cited by the NYT, the extra cash is unlikely to buy the entrepreneur control of the company, as his massive investment in ICO Global Communications, an erstwhile Iridium competitor, did late last year. McCaw, who already runs satellite-based broadband networking operation Teledesic, is said to have offered $600 million to take over Iridium. That plan fell through in favour of the $20 million interim financing deal. If McCaw does gain control of Iridium, that will put him in charge of the three big satellite networking ventures: Teledesic, ICO (which is now recasting itself as a Teledesic competitor rather than an Iridium-style mobile comms company) and Iridium itself. Teledesic is in the process of developing and launching its high-speed 'Internet in the sky' system. ICO has yet to launch any satellites, which are now being converted from phone systems to Net access nodes. Iridium has 66 cellphone satellites in orbit. The logic behind McCaw's moves is clear: linking the three companies either by broad coalition or merger strengthens not only the businesses themselves but the whole satellite sector, an area in which McCaw has made considerable investments. The $20 million payment will have to be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge, but since McCaw's successful investments in ICO went through judicial review the Iridium deal seems unlikely to be blocked. ®

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