CHAPTER 4 How we got so organised

In the mid 1980s, the nascent mobile phone industry had a problem: phone coverage was too expensive to provide outside of urban areas. As a solution, an international consortium headed by Motorola developed an offshoot called Iridium, with a plan to launch 77 low-earth-orbit satellites to provide satellite phone coverage to any location on Earth.

While Iridium deployed some very clever technology, the project cost a lot of money: nearly $6 billion. Handsets weren't cheap either, coming at about at $3000 each, with call costs between $6 and $30 a minute.

Iridium had designed their system in the mid 1980s, but with an incredibly long lead time they failed to appreciate that:

  • the cost of installing mobile phone towers was decreasing
  • network speeds were increasing exponentially.

By the time the phone service was launched in 1998 (with American Vice President Al Gore making the first call), ...

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