Established as a private company in 1995, ICO Global Communications had a brief to provide global mobile personal communications services by satellite, including digital voice, data, facsimile and messaging services. ICO Global has some 60 strategic investors, comprising telecommunications and technology companies from 49 countries.
More than half the strategic investors are from developing markets. They have committed equity contributions in excess of $2 billion, raised through private placement. Following an initial public offering of shares in July 1998, the company was registered on the Nasdaq. Total funding is currently about $3 billion.
The ICO group comprises the holding company, the Cayman Islands-registered ICO Global Communications (Holdings) Ltd, and 17 wholly-owned direct and indirect subsidiaries set up in the UK, Bermuda, Singapore, the Netherlands and the US with the intent of conducting the group's business worldwide. Headquartered in London, the group has regional offices in Beijing, Beirut, Dubai, Istanbul, Pretoria, Miami, Moscow, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Singapore, and Washington DC.
ICO Global's 14-member board (elected annually from amongst the investors) is at present headed by executive chairman Klaus Hummel. The other directors are Richard Greco, Panos Tsoupides, Amitabh Kumar, Kyo Watanabe, Byung-Sup Yun, Carlos Mier Y Teran, Moulay Omar Cherkaoui, Seng Sum Ng, Ali Mohammed Rashed Al Sharid, Hugh Coble, John P Stenbit and Daryll Smith.
ICO Global foresees a potential customer base of:
- cellular users who want service in areas that are covered by incompatible systems or not covered at all by terrestrial means
- mobile communications users located in areas with no form of terrestrial coverage
- aeronautical, maritime and long-distance land transport operators, and
- people living in rural and remote areas lacking adequate telecommunications infrastructure.
ICO Global intends to set up a distribution chain of national wholesalers (service partners) and retailers. The latter will include cellular operators, value-added resellers, application developers and system integrators.
One of ICO Global's specialist application products is semi-fixed terminals. These act as stand-alone telephone systems that can be deployed in inaccessible areas where telephone facilities are not available. Such terminals act either as single payphones, powered by solar panels, or as hubs for local wireless networks serving a larger number of people who can use portable handsets. The wireless network can cover local, national and international links through the hub.
ICO Global's operational system consists of a space segment and a dedicated ground network. The space segment will comprise 10 operational satellites and two in-orbit spares operating in middle earth orbit at an altitude of 10,390 km. Divided equally between two orthogonal planes, each inclined at 45 degrees to the equator, they will provide complete, continuous, overlapping coverage of the Earth's surface. The satellites are expected to operate both in S-band and C-band using digital onboard processing and time-division multiple access, or TDMA, to handle up to 4,500 simultaneous phone calls per satellite.
The satellites are expected to interact with ground networks through ICONET, the connecting link between the space segment and the ground network. This will consist of 12 earth stations or satellite access nodes located around the globe and the high-capacity terrestrial links between them.
The earth stations will provide the primary interface with the ICO satellites for routing traffic. They will also link points of inter-connection that will serve as the primary interface with public switched telephone, mobile and data networks.
The project is now in the fifth year of implementation. ICO Global officials claim it is very much on track to launch the service in 2001, in spite of the company's financial problems and the bankruptcy proceedings. While its first satellite is scheduled to be launched in late January 2000, its control and network management systems are in place, and 11 earth stations have either been established or are nearing completion. ICONET is undergoing field trials. Unlike the rival Iridium system, ICO Global's handsets are reported to be economical and are being manufactured by Hughes Network Systems, Mitsubishi, NEC, Nera, Panasonic and Samsung
The company has already secured operating licences in more than 10 countries.
also see : List of basic and cellular telephone operators in India