Global Wireless Network Targets Cambodia

A multinational project setting up the world’s first global wireless telecommunications system is negotiating for a license to make Cam­bodia part of its network, company officials said Friday. 

The system, called Iridium, based in Washington, DC, is scheduled to launch in Sept­ember. Iridium project officials have been negotiating for a li­cense with the Cambodian government and hope Cambodia will be among approximately 100 countries that go on line with it.

“The [Cambodian] government has been very receptive,” said Rathachat Siripanich, senior manager for service providers of Iridium Southeast Asia.

Further details on license discussions were unavailable. Min­istry of Post and Tele­com­mun­i­cations officials could not be reached Sunday for comment.

Spearheaded by US telecom giant Motorola, 18 other consortiums and corporations have joined the project since the idea was conceived in 1987.

Rather than using ground-based radio towers, the Iridium system will use a network of satellites to provide worldwide wireless services.

While keeping a single phone number and phone bill, a customer will be able to access local cellular networks around the world. When the customer is outside of the coverage area, the call will be routed to one of the network’s 66 satellites, ex­plained Patrick Sweeney, Iri­dium’s senior manager for GSM roaming during a visit to Phnom Penh.

To use the Iridium system, customers must purchase special handsets that cost $2,000-$3,000. The handsets—metallic gray, futuristic-looking and just slightly larger than a regular cellular phone—have two modes, one for use on regular cellular systems and the other to connect with the satellites.

The price of a call will be based on where the call originates from and is made to, Sweeney ex­plained. A local call could cost anywhere from $2.50 to $4 per minute. Rates for international calls, he said, would never undercut landline rates.

Sweeney said that Iridium is aiming its service at the forestry, mining and shipping industries, as well as at foreign journalists and aid organizations—all of whom often work in remote locations where regular cellular service is unavailable or landline service is poor.

“It solves a big problem for a lot of countries,” said Sweeney, adding it would be suitable for a country such as Cambodia, where telecommunications infrastructure is still growing.

Along with ongoing talks for a license, Iridium has also entered discussions with digital mobile phone providers in Phnom Penh.

Provided Iridium allies itself with a local GSM digital service, a person with an Iridium handset could come to Cambodia and his phone would work on that GSM network and make local calls. Without a government license, however, the user would be un­able to access the satellite network, Sweeney said.

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