The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of Iridium: A Project Management Perspective


The Iridium Project was designed to create a worldwide wireless handheld mobile phone system with the ability to communicate anywhere in the world at any time. Executives at Motorola regarded the project as the eighth wonder of the world. But more than a decade later and after investing billions of dollars, Iridium had solved a problem that very few customers needed solved. What went wrong? How did the Iridium Project transform from a leading-edge technical marvel to a multi-billion-dollar blunder? Could the potential catastrophe have been prevented?1

What it looks like now is a multibillion-dollar science project. There are fundamental problems: The handset is big, the service is expensive, and the customers haven't really been identified.

—Chris Chaney, Analyst, A.G. Edwards, 1999

There was never a business case for Iridium. There was never market demand. The decision to build Iridium wasn't a rational business decision. It was more of a religious decision. The remarkable thing is that this happened at a big corporation, and that there was not a rational decision-making process in place to pull the plug. Technology for technology's sake may not be a good business case.2

—Herschel Shosteck, Telecommunication Consultant

Iridium is likely to be some of the most expensive space debris ...

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