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Lockheed makes broadband satellite move

The aerospace giant and defense contractor will announce business partners and financial details for its planned broadband satellite data communications service.

Aerospace giant and defense contractor Lockheed Martin will announce business partners and financial details for its planned broadband satellite data communications service tomorrow in New York.

Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, will announce three "international business partners"--one of which is expected be a foreign-based company--"who will be investing significant amounts of dollars into the venture," the company said.

A spokeswoman confirmed the announcement will involve Lockheed's Astrolink data-via-satellite service.

The nine-satellite Astrolink system, expected to launch in 2001, will offer multimedia data services and virtual private networks (VPNs) for corporate customers.

"They are going to announce who the partners are and what some of the financing is, which is something they need to do to be competitive with some of the others in this space," said Jimmy Schaeffler, a satellite analyst at The Carmel Group, a communications industry consulting firm.

Astrolink is one of a handful of new companies planning global satellite-based data services that will literally offer Internet-in-the-sky, among other services. Many of the new systems will allow for two-way digital communication services using the KA band or KU band, particular spectrums within the microwave range.

Unlike the L band or S band, under which companies such as Iridium, Globalstar, and ICO provide or plan to provide mobile satellite phone and fax service, the KA band and KU band is better-suited for advanced data services, according to industry experts.

Astrolink's competitors will include Teledesic, a venture involving Craig McCaw, Bill Gates, Motorola, and Boeing; Hughes Network Systems' Spaceway; SkyBridge from Alcatel, and Loral Space & Communications' CyberStar.

"This market is very fertile right now," Schaeffler said. But of all the key players only CyberStar currently offers service, and most others don't expect to begin service until after 2001.

"In order to be operational in one to five years you've got to be working on it now," he said.