Iridium's service back in orbit

Fiery end averted

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In December, as former Iridium owner Motorola Inc. was preparing to burn up the 66-satellite fleet, generating reports of flaming space junk falling from the sky, an investment group led by former Pan Am veteran Dan Colussy bought the fleet for a reported $25 million and said it would relaunch the service in the first quarter.

Since then, its marketing plans have been as secret as the intelligence strategies of its largest client, the U.S. Department of Defense, which signed a $72 million deal with Iridium to bring it about 20,000 government customers.

Now, after figuring out what went wrong the first time around, the new Iridium is selectively targeting industries including maritime, construction, aviation and mining with its "Truly global, truly mobile" campaign.

"It is very vertically market focused," said Ginger Washburn, chief marketing officer at Iridium, Leesburg, Va. "It's an outreach to customers that need communications outside standard cell coverage areas," she said, pointing to industries such as deep-sea fishing.

"A more vertically focused b-to-b marketing strategy makes sense," said Joe Laszlo, wireless analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. "It's a good idea not to spend too much money targeting frequent travelers [which was the old Iridium's strategy], and instead target government and vertical industry customers that will find the Iridium service most appealing."

Jupiter did not have projections for the satellite-based phone market. However, Laszlo said, "We do not expect the market will be large enough to make an impact on cellular terrestrial-based services."

While the phone equipment has been criticized for being heavy (the new 9505 model weighs 13.2 ounces.), Washburn said the target audience is used to carrying around a lot of gear. Regarding all the publicity surrounding the failure of the first launch, she said, "We expect a perception challenge, but we found with these subscribers it is the only tool they had that truly provided worldwide coverage."

To reach potential users, Iridium will run variations of its message in print ads featuring remote areas such as the Sahara Desert or the Arctic Ocean. The message is, "There is no distance between two points."

While the old Iridium campaign set out to create a vision of a new satellite-enabled planet, "This is not a world-changing device. This is a business tool," Cullen said.

Iridium has struck agreements with 13 service providers, including Infosat Telecommunications, Geolink Global Satellite Services and FiberTel Inc., to resell the service. "The old Iridium learned the hard way that service providers own the customers in this category," Cullen said, pointing to the channel conflict issue that may have been at the heart of the original service's problem in signing up customers.

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