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January 16, 2006

Altobridge plans data connectivity offer for govt agencies

Altobridge Ltd, a company that offers technology for GSM roaming over satellite for areas where conventional connectivity is not available, is about to extend its product into the data arena, marketing it as guaranteed secure connectivity for government agencies.

By CBR Staff Writer

The company’s flagship offering is the Aeronautical and Maritime Gateway Platform, which is a piconode base station that goes on to planes and ships to communicate over Inmarsat satellites, back to a ground earth station operated by the satco, and then routed back to a hub located in a mobile operator’s network called the Gateway Controller also provided by Tralee, Ireland-based Altobridge.

CEO Mike Fitzgerald had already predicted that Altobridge’s biggest market opportunity was neither in the air nor at sea, but on terra firma, in the form of all the remote locations in the developing world not reached by cellular infrastructure. Now that perception has been extended to data connections for government agencies whose employees need to access their emails and mobile applications even in places or emergency situations where no cellular network is available.

When we were explaining our technology to governments, their agencies saw an application for continued secure access to things like BlackBerry services when they couldn’t get a regular mobile link, said Fitzgerald. To this end, for the last four months Altobridge has been taking part in field trials held by the US Department of Homeland Security and Defence R&D Canada.

The equipment in this case is a ruggedized version of the gateway called the Remote Contiguous Communications Unit. Wherever the government employee can get a mobile connection they go with it, and where they can’t the open our case and use the satellite connection, he said. Altobridge keeps the cost of the satellite communication down by only using the transponders on the Inmarsat craft it accesses when there are actually calls going on, rather than keeping the channel open all the time.

The idea now is to sign up one GSM operator per country to market the product to its respective government agencies. In the US and Canada, if the DHS and DRDC decide to go with the technology, this will represent an opportunity for GSM operators such as Cingular or T-Mobile because there is currently no equivalent offering for the CDMA world, giving them an advantage over competitors such as Verizon or Sprint. Though Fitzgerald acknowledged last year that the creator of CDMA, Qualcomm Inc, had shown interest in Altobridge’s technology and that a CDMA version of it was a distinct possibility, his company’s involvement in the DHS/DRDC project has sidelined any such development.

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