“I remember a customer who said he had just arrived at the North Pole and said, ‘I’m standing around with some other people here and we’re all wishing we could use our BlackBerrys,’” Chief Executive Matt Desch said in an interview.
“The Iridium device will let you do just that,” said Desch, who is a member of President Barack Obama’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.
That’s not to say it’s bound to be clear sailing for Iridium, which was bought by a group of investors for a paltry $25 million in 2000. One big concern is whether the company’s satellites can last until its new ones take over.
“The one thing about Iridium that is somewhat surprising to me is that we designed the original satellite system to last five years. It’s going on 15 years now,” said Bary Bertiger, a former Motorola employee who designed Iridium’s original satellite system.
Iridium plans to completely replace its aging satellites by 2017 at a cost of $3 billion, Chief Financial Officer Tom Fitzpatrick told Reuters.
U.S. lawmakers have delayed approving technology export licenses to Thales Alenia Space, a France-based company making hardware for the new satellites, raising the prospect of launch delays - a common industry problem.
Some industry experts also note the potential for cost overruns. Iridium, which said it was not concerned about delays or overruns, has already raised about $2 billion for the new satellites, which will increase data speeds to 1 Mbps from the current 128 kbps and help bring in more customers.
The new satellites will also allow Iridium to offer new services such as hosted payloads, giving customers the opportunity to have their own dedicated space on a satellite.