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Iridium announces completion of $3bn satellite constellation upgrade, launches transceiver set

Matt Desch is CEO of Iridium.

Iridium Communications Inc. has announced the completion of its $3 billion satellite constellation upgrade campaign known as Iridium NEXT. Alongside the announcement, the company has also announced the launch of a new small-form-factor transceiver known as the Iridium Certus 9770, which will enable creation of new consumer and industrial applications that are highly portable and IoT-friendly, optimised for small size and low cost, yet with higher speeds than in the past thanks to the upgraded Iridium satellite network.

The completion of the Iridium NEXT campaign comes as the final two satellites required to complete the network refresh were activated on 5 February. With a fully operational constellation, featuring 66 new Iridium satellites and no further launches planned, Iridium has concluded its nearly decade-long capital-intensive programme that created an upgraded network both in space and on the ground.

“The completion of the Iridium NEXT program signifies a new chapter in the Iridium story, one that sees us transforming from a big cash spender to a big cash generator,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch.

“This is the realisation of a long, successful climb, and reaching the peak, it’s gratifying to know the future of the company is secure, and we have now financially matured as a satellite operator. Huge thanks are in order to our entire team, particularly our friends at SpaceX and our prime satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space and their teams.”

The upgraded Iridium constellation enables never before possible services such as the Aireon global aircraft tracking and surveillance system and Iridium Certus, the company’s new broadband service, which launched commercially in January 2019. The upgraded network is also fully compatible with the original satellite constellation’s services, a notable accomplishment given the size and scope of the upgrade.

The new Iridium Certus 9770 transceiver is a game changer for satellite IoT, aviation, maritime and consumer services, enabling low-cost, small devices that can make more efficient and higher speed connections than its predecessors. Built on the Iridium Certus technology platform, applications and devices made with the new transceiver will feature a range of speeds optimised for efficiently sending data to and from the user, typically in the range of less than 100kbps.

The Iridium Certus 9770 is the first in a series of new devices that will augment Iridium’s existing transceivers with approximately the same form-factor as existing narrowband antennas used widely today in aviation, maritime, IoT and land-mobile markets, but using native IP technology at up to 35 times the speed as current devices.  This supports telemetry, pictures, high-quality voice calling, emails, internet access and more, at highly competitive prices. Select licensed manufacturers of Iridium can expect to receive prototypes of the device around mid-2019.

The Iridium satellite network comprises 66 crosslinked satellites that create a web of coverage around the entire planet. Unlike other satellite systems, Iridium’s crosslinked architecture enables real-time transit of data to and from any location on the globe without the need for abundant ground stations and allows it to maintain consistent, high-quality coverage, including over the oceans and polar regions.

 

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