Staff writerA new global satellite phone system that promises to release users from the fetters of conventional, bulky and cumbersome mobile phones currently in use begins service Sunday amid mixed expectations regarding its success.Nippon Iridium Corp.’s new Iridium service will provide customers with a global mobile phone service with direct satellite links using a much smaller receiver.The company said earlier this week that its worldwide service is being launched on a trial basis until the end of the year to confirm its transmission quality abroad.Nippon Iridium will soon be joined in this potentially lucrative market by Satellite Phone Japan’s ICO, or Intermediate Circular Orbit — a similar service that will start in August 2000 — and Globalstar Japan K.K., which will launch its service by the end of next year. “I think the new (global satellite phone) service will be a growing market,” said Hironobu Sawake, a senior analyst at ABN Amro Securities Japan. “The fact that one can make a call from any place around the world should strongly appeal to people.”But some are skeptical about the new service, saying the satellite industry itself is a high-risk business because of the huge sum of money it takes to launch a satellite and the problems that can occur if one malfunctions.Takeshi Kawamoto, an official of Satellite Phone Japan, said he has heard that some firms have had problems getting their satellites into orbit. “I’m concerned that people might get a negative image of the business itself,” he said.Despite his concerns, Kawamoto said there is a growing need for new satellite phone services not only in industrial countries but in developing countries as well. “It costs less for countries that do not currently have fixed telecommunications services to use this new service than to build infrastructure in the country,” Kawamoto said.”Companies in India and China are among the top 10 shareholders of the U.S.-based ICO Global Communications, which serves as the (worldwide) promoter of the ICO service,” he said.Investors with a stake in Iridium LLC, the promoter of the Iridium service, also include firms from developing nations.The advantage of the Iridium service is that users can place calls to and from anywhere around the globe with a much smaller unit than those required for current satellite phone services.Existing mobile phones offer services only in a limited radius from base stations, which means the phones cannot be used outside Japan, in the mountains or out in the ocean where such stations cannot be built.
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