Inmarsat and ACeS International have announced collaboration arrangements to offer low-cost handheld and fixed voice services to Asia, with plans to eventually extend coverage globally.
Under the arrangement, Inmarsat will assume responsibility for satellite and network operations, wholesale service provision, as well as product and service development. ACeS will focus on distribution of MSS products in the Asian land and maritime markets and will become a distributor of Inmarsat's BGAN services.
Inmarsat plans to expand geographic coverage for the handheld service in early 2007 using the existing I-4 satellite covering Asia, and from there to global coverage within two years.
The move heralds Inmarsat's first push into the handheld satellite voice market pioneered by global companies like Iridium and Globalstar. Despite the disastrous launches of those services in the late 90s, handheld satellite voice is now an estimated $650 million annual business, thanks in part to the success of smaller regional players like ACeS and Thuraya.
'It's a market that's growing 30% a year, and in a few years Iridium and Globalstar will be coming to the end of their service life,' Inmarsat Chairman and CEO Andrew Sukawaty told Wireless Asia.
Sukawaty hopes to capture at least 10% of the handheld satellite telephony market by 2010. Inmarsat expects initial annual revenue arising from the collaboration to be in the range of $3 million to $5 million, based on ACeS' current handheld customer base of 14,000 users.
Part of that plan will require ground equipment testing to ensure that the handheld service works on both the ACeS Garuda satellite and the I-4 simultaneously, says Sukawaty. 'We've already verified that the ACeS service works on the I-4.'