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|October 20, 1998||
The world's first global mobile personal communications system, the satellite phone service from the Iridium project, may not be able to start services in India by November 1, the date set for its international launch.
The Department of Telecommunications is yet to finalise terms and conditions of the licence agreement for the project.
It is the first of such systems, with competitors like ICO and Globalstar expected to start services by 1999 and 2001, respectively.
The satellite telephony company was issued a letter of intent on September 24. This was seen as the first step towards signing the licence agreement. DoT mentioned in the letter that it would finalise the licence pact by November 1.
A committee set up to study issues before finalising the satellite telephone licence agreement met recently to work towards the deadline. However, it is unlikely to finalise the agreement due to certain stumbling blocks.
Global mobile communication projects, including Iridium, are unwilling to pay the high licence fees set by DoT.
"The projects are structured on 7-8 per cent net profit. How can they pay 16 per cent of revenue as licence fees?" a sympathiser from the telecom industry explained.
Also, a call from a satellite phone is linked directly to a satellite and carried to its destination through other satellites. In doing so, it bypasses the traditional international gateway of telecom networks, thereby rendering monitoring systems useless.
"In a traditional telecom network, the telephone exchanges and gateways act as filters for calls and messages. For instance, it is possible to monitor all calls emanating from a particular town in a sensitive area like Kashmir. This is not possible in satellite phones unless all calls from a particular region are completely blocked out," a telecom executive pointed out.
Another issue relates to frequency interference. For example, the Iridium system operates on 1616-26 MHz band that is very close to the 1610 MHz frequency used by the radio telescope in Pune.
"There is fear that the satellite phone handsets may interfere with other users of the frequency," a telecom official revealed.
Also, with the transfer of former communications minister Sushma Swaraj to the Delhi government, a new hurdle has come up.
With no minister, it is going to be difficult to get the project cleared. Besides, Telecom Secretary Anil Kumar and Telecom Commission Member, Finance, A Prasad are travelling.
- Compiled from the Indian media
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