Global satellite broadband network on track for 2004

Inmarsat signs up Logica to develop software for its forthcoming high-speed mobile network

UK tech firm Logica said this week that it has won a £6m contract to help Inmarsat develop a global, satellite-based, broadband network within the next three years.

Inmarsat, which already operates a satellite mobile phone network that covers most of the globe, plans to launch the high-speed service by 2004. It will be called the Broadband Global Area Network (B-GAN), and will support data speeds of up to 432 kbit/sec. The network will use two satellites, and Inmarsat is targeting companies who operate in areas without reliable high-speed Internet connections.

Logica has been hired to develop a "satellite interface" -- technology that will link the B-GAN to terrestrial networks. "This critical component supports the transfer of multimedia traffic streams between the satellites and the core network," said Logica in a statement.

Despite its name, the service is unlikely to cover the entire globe. It's unclear which countries will be covered by B-GAN, but Inmarsat hopes that the service will be available to at least 80 per cent of its existing customers. Its current satellite-based mobile phone network has users in over 170 countries. The £6m deal is part of a £30m contract which Inmarsat has signed with Thrane and Thrane -- developers and suppliers of satellite equipment -- to develop software and hardware for B-GAN.

By the time B-GAN launches, mobile network operators should have begun operating 3G services in Europe, while NTT DoCoMo will have had high-speed mobile Internet services operational for over two years. However, it's unclear if users will be able to buy 3G phones that will work around the world.

With many countries still to award their 3G licences, B-GAN could be a valuable service to a globe-trotting executive who needs high-speed data access to a phone, laptop or PDA.

Both Logica and Inmarsat appear to be suffering from the current tech recession. According to reports on Friday, Logica is planning to cut 250 staff in the UK. The company denied this report, but confirmed that moves to reduce headcount were underway.

Also on Friday, Inmarsat announced that it will put plans for an IPO on hold. The company blamed that the fall in share values following the US terrorist attacks earlier this month. "The current market conditions following the recent unprecedented events in the US would make it difficult for Inmarsat to realise fair value for our shareholders," Inmarsat president and chief executive Michael Storey said in a statement.

The new company, Inmarsat Ventures, would have listed on the London Stock Exchange -- with a likely secondary listing in New York. It was expected to be valued at up to £1.9bn.

See the Mobile Technology News Section for full coverage.

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