With no one willing to take over the reins, Iridium is planning to blast its satellites out of the sky. It was the world’s first handheld global satellite telephone and paging network. Now it’s being called the tech world’s first major failure among promising, new-economy companies. As TechRepublic reported in March , Iridiumhas filed for bankruptcy.

Last year, Wired stated that Iridium was the “ideal satellite service for Everest.” The press isn’t so flattering anymore. A report on TechWeb.com expresses the frustration some Iridium customers may be feeling: “Each of Iridium’s 55,000 customers now has a 500-gram (1-pound ) satellite-size telephone—for which they paid an average of $1,100—that can be used for anything from fending off polar bears to anchoring a boat. So much for cutting-edge technology and revolutionizing the communications world.”

The downfall of Iridium leaves former customers looking for alternatives.

MVS to the rescue
MVS is among the companies now providing global satellite phone service and is making efforts to win over Iridium customers. New Jersey-based MVS ranks among the world’s top five major carriers of Inmarsat (International Marine Satellite). Inmarsat offers an advantage because users don’t have to set up machines differently when traveling to different countries.

If you ask MVS how it plans to stay in business when Iridium failed, company representatives point to advances in technology and emphasize the company’s history.

“Inmarsat has been around for 25 years and was established for maritime community. It’s their lifeline. It’s not a fly-by-night system and it has evolved into an even better product,” said Vickee Staehler, a manager with MVS.

MVS provides a global alliance of communication services, and it specializes in service to Russia. MVS services include:

  • Custom analysis of your telecom use and needs
  • Inmarsat
  • VSAT
  • Private lines and switched voice services
  • Equipment rental, leasing, and sales
  • Installation
  • Global Accounting Authority service
  • Multi-national billing
  • Licensing
  • Commissioning
  • Customer service

For more information about alternatives to Iridium, check out the Mobile Satellite Users Association (MSUA). This group provides updates for business users and encourages communication among users, suppliers of equipment and services, operators of the satellite systems, and government organizations that may affect the future of the industry.
MVS and TechRepublic
TechRepublic recently tested MVS service when two TechRepublic editors carried an MVS phone during a climbing expedition in Nepal.

When the editors, Mike Jackman and David Bard, were preparing to climb a 20,285-foot mountain, they searched for a system to provide daily communication. They had to keep their TechRepublic co-workers updated on their well-being, report on how their computer equipment was functioning, and send in articles about their experiences. The satellite telephone they selected would have to be portable, economical, and reliable. Jackman and Bard choose an MVS phone, and the company agreed to supply the equipment.

According to Jackman, the phone performed perfectly—even at 17,000 feet in Gorak Shep, a town in Nepal that is the last destination before the base camp to Mt. Everest.

He also noted that using the satellite telephone was much like using any phone, except that they had to adjust the antenna so that it would be in line with a satellite. A display on the phone indicated the strength of the signal to help them position the antenna.

” We used the phone daily to send updates and photos, and we used it to call home.” The equipment also provided some welcome reassurance. “There was always a chance that if someone was injured or very sick, we could organize a helicopter rescue with the phone,” Jackman said.

Fortunately, although both Jackman and Bard took turns battling illnesses during the trek, they didn’t have to use the phone to mobilize a rescue. Instead, the daily phone transmissions enabled the two editors to send articles and pictures to TechRepublic. Jackman added that the phone came in handy to make a call “when we were just lonely.”

Not planning to climb a mountain?
You don’t have to be planning to enter a dogsled race in a remote arctic region to need a satellite phone. Satellite phone coverage can be essential in a variety of situations. Less than half of the continental U.S. is covered by wireless systems. Communication is critical in today’s business world. Consider some of the current satellite phone users:

  • People who travel internationally, for business or pleasure, to third-world countries where cellular phone service isn’t available and land lines are unreliable
  • Maritime users on offshore drilling platforms, commercial vessels at sea, or leisure boating trips
  • Workers in the utility, mining, and petroleum industries, such as field scientists, civil engineers, and geologists
  • Business people who want the freedom out in the field to speak to vendors, distributors, or potential clients.

If you have used a satellite telephone, tell us about your experiences. Did the cost justify the benefit? Was it reliable? Post a comment below or send us some mail.