Infosat intros three new Iridium services

A new offering from Infosat Telecommunications is trying to give new meaning to the concept of anywhere, anytime.

Vancouver-based Infosat, owned by BCE, has announced three new services for customers of the Iridium network: toll-free calling, toll-free operator-assisted paging and an Iridium pre-paid calling card service. Iridium is a global satellite voice and data solution that boasts complete coverage of the Earth, including oceans, airspace and polar regions.

The services will provide Infosat’s Iridium users and their callers with greater flexibility and more cost options when using the network, said the company’s marketing manager, Karin Micheelsen.

“Every Iridium phone is now equipped with an 800 number that the client can give out at their discretion. What it means now is that instead of the caller paying for the call, the subscriber pays if someone uses the phone number,” said Micheelsen. “It’s a cheaper rate.”

In the past, calls made to an Iridium phone were treated the same as traditional, long-distance calls, wherein the caller was required to pay an associated long-distance charge. Infosat’s new toll calling service allows Iridium users to pay a flat rate of $2.99 per minute to receive calls to a 1-866 number, with no charges to the caller. Additionally, this allows users of corporate telephone systems, which often block long-distance calls, to place calls to Iridium users.

“This is basically just to offer a service to the customers because we have been hearing for a long time that this is something they wanted,” Micheelsen said.

Infosat’s new operator-assisted paging service allows callers to page Iridium users 24 hours a day for free. Messages are left at a bilingual message centre and delivered to the Iridium user’s handset or an Iridium pager as an alphanumeric text message. Iridium Operator-Assisted Paging is available to Infosat customers for $24.95, plus the regular monthly pager access fee.

“If you are in a remote area and you don’t have access to a computer, because not everyone does have access, this is an option for those that need to reach people on the Iridium network,” added Micheelsen.

But Joe Greene, an IDC Canada analyst based in Ottawa, said he didn’t find anything special about the new offerings.

“The Iridium Network is a niche market, and at $2.99 a minute, they are destined to be a niche market until they can bring the prices down,” he said. “In order to bring the prices down and pay for all these satellites they have swirling around the world, they would have to increase tremendously the number of subscribers.”

And while Greene said the new services do offer useful points “when you are in the bush or in remote locations” he doesn’t think it will be enough to attract significant numbers of new customers.

“They are probably going after two markets. This is obviously a business application,” he said. “You are not going to get too many consumer customers, so they are trying to maintain and keep their current customer base by lowering prices and I would think they would be going after new companies who do have geographically dispersed operations or do business in remote areas.”

Prasad Menon, president of Kingwood, Tex.-based IMC Maritime Group and current Infosat customer, said that while he hadn’t had a chance to use the new services, he could see how they would be of help in many other business situations.

“That area doesn’t have much value for us now because calling toll-free is not cost-effective for us,” he said. “It certainly applies to other areas well that they look at.”

Menon’s company provides telephone services to crews on commercial ships so they can keep in touch with family back home in a cost-effective manner. Right now, IMC works with Infosat to service 30 ships around the world.

“We have had excellent feedback on this,” he said. “[Infosat has] taken the steps to modify their systems to our requirements.”

Infosat has also introduced a pre-paid calling card service to its Iridium customers, providing the choice of pre- or post-paid service. Pre-paid airtime is available in blocks of 50, 200 or 400 minutes. The pre-paid service has no activation charge, no monthly access charges and no fee for replenishing time on the calling cards.

“We heard from our clients that this would be useful,” Micheelsen said. “It’s partly to make us competitive, it’s partly because we needed it, but it is really just so we can provide the service.”