What’s NEXT for Iridium satellite system ?


On July 25, 2018, a Space-X Falcon 9 rocket will launch the seventh Iridium NEXT mission. This second-to-last launch will increase the total number of Iridium NEXT satellites in space to 65. The final launch will will deliver the last 10 satellites for a total of 75 satellites in orbit. In total 81 satellites comprise Iridium NEXT with 66 in the operational constellation (six polar orbiting planes, each made up of 11 birds), nine serving as orbital spares and six as on earth ground spares. This constellation will completely cover the entire planet with reliable satellite connectivity and will replace the original Iridium network that was deployed in the late 1990’s by Motorola.

The Iridium network has always been the go-to choice for connectivity anywhere in the world. It’s story is a fascinating one (see my book review at http://www.amitel.com/trenchs/ ) and it has survived and flourished because its users love it. The phone works anywhere on the globe, including the Arctic and Antarctic regions and has thus made it a favourite of first responders, scientists, adventurers, journalists, explorers, the military and spies.

The technology upgrade that Iridium NEXT provides will allow for a new global broadband service beyond the current telephony and low speed data service. More bandwidth with higher throughput and faster speeds will support a host of new broadband services and devices across oceans, airways and the polar regions. Crucially , it will also be backwards compatible with current devices, in fact will provide improved performance and reliability to devices such as the Iridium 9555 phone and the Iridium Extreme.

So , while others such as Elon Musk (Space-x) and Jeff Bezos (Open Web) plan on launching constellations of satellites to provide a global broadband service, the Iridium system has already done it and is building upon an established user base that values the service and the connectivity it provides anywhere on the planet.

Iridium Extreme 9575 Satellite Phone

Iridium GO! 9560 Satellite Terminal with Wi-Fi Hotspot

Garmin 010-01735-10 inReach Explorer Plus Handheld Satellite Communicator with Maps and Sensors

Do I need a Satphone ?


These days almost everyone in Canada has a smartphone. It seems that we can’t live our lives without one. But what do we do when we are out of range of a cell-tower signal ? How do we remain connected and not panic when we have zero bars on our phone and there is no WiFi available ? That is when a satphone becomes essential.

Satellite phones (Satphones) have been around for over two decades, since the early constellations like Iridium were put into orbit in the late 1990’s. Some people think that satphones are only for large corporations, the government or mountain climbing expeditions but that is not true. There are many important reasons for ordinary Canadians to have quick and efficient access to reliable communications. Here is why you should have communications anytime, anywhere.

First, and most importantly, satellite communications are critical during and after natural disasters. Canada is not immune to severe weather and emergencies that can knock infrastructure like cell towers out of commission. We have seen this with the ice storms in Quebec , fires such as the one in Fort McMurray, the floods in Calgary and Winnipeg, extensive power outages in Ontario, avalanches and tornados. During a disaster, often the only communications network that remains working is the satellite one and it is vital for relief work, search and rescue and letting loved ones know your status.

Additionally, satellite phones can be an important lifeline during recreational activities. We Canadians love our great outdoors and we revel in activities like back country skiing, hiking, sailing, mountain biking, and hunting. We know that adventurers trying to break world records in remote areas of the world such as Mount Everest or in the Antarctic or Arctic carry satphones. They are just as useful in Northern Ontario, or the Rocky Mountains or even at the cottage where you’re out of range of a cell signal.

What about your job site ? Many Canadians still work in resource extraction industries, whether it is mining, forestry or oil and gas. Staying connected via a satphone is essential to some industries, especially when driving down some remote highways where there are no gas stations or other traffic for long stretches.

So what kind of satphones are there ? The traditional ones like Inmarsat are based one geo-synchronous orbits (ie they look stationary from earth) and some (like Thureya) don’t cover North America. The GEO ones have a long delay as the signal has to travel up 22,236 miles to the bird and then back down. There is one network, Iridium, that covers the entire globe using LEO (low Earth orbit) satellites that have almost no delay and that is well suited for providing service in Canada. They have many solutions depending on how you want to stay connected using satellite communications. Two of the most popular are a standalone handheld satellite phone, or alternatively turning your own existing smartphone into a satellite phone.

The Iridium 9555 and Iridium Extreme are two of the most popular Iridium handheld products. Both phones feature up to 30 hours of standby and four hours of talk time, in a small and very durable structure. Through talk and text, the Iridium 9555 and Iridium Extreme can save lives. The Iridium Extreme also has e-mail messaging capability, Google Mapping services, and GPS-enabled location-based services.

Iridium GO! is the innovative product which transforms your smartphone into a satellite phone anywhere in the world. Compatible with Apple and Android, Iridium GO! extends the use of your smartphone and devices. The Iridium GO! app extends your connection, optimizing you for voice, SMS, e-mail, 100-foot radius of WiFi for up to five devices, weather monitoring and more.

Whether you are making a disaster prep plan, heading our on a wilderness trip, or like the ease-of-mind of being accessible during your adventures, having the right resources in place for any situation is crucial. That is why a satphone can be essential to living an active life outdoors in Canada.

Iridium Extreme 9575 Satellite Phone

Iridium GO! 9560 Satellite Terminal with Wi-Fi Hotspot

Garmin 010-01735-10 inReach Explorer Plus Handheld Satellite Communicator with Maps and Sensors

Garmin inReach Mini – Lightweight and Compact Satellite Communicator, Orange, 010-01879-00

Happy Dominion Day !

It is an unfortunate fact that the hackers of the world like to plan their attacks on public holidays when network supervision may not be at its highest.

Please remember to be vigilant this Dominion Day (Canada Day for all you young’uns) and guard access to your switches.

AurorA has to deliver any traffic that is sent to it , so you are responsible for any unauthorized access to your network. AurorA will pass on any alerts that it gets of suspicious traffic patterns. AurorA has also implemented automatic blocking of B numbers once we detect a suspicious fraudulent traffic pattern in an attempt to minimize losses.

As highlighted on this blog AurorA has taken other steps such as the weekly reports of suspicous blocked call attempts, robust and accurate dial plan and intensified focus on high quality terminating routes.

Have a safe and happy long weekend !

Timo Vainionpaa

The Black Swan


For Christmas I received a copy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Skin in the Game”. Before I start it, though, I am reading through his previous works, collectively known as the “Incerto”. I had read “Anti-fragile” and “Fooled by Randomness” in the past and have just completed “The Black Swan”. In another upcoming post I will provide my reviews on them.

Today is a meditation on Black Swans and my life in telecom. People beleived that all swans were white; until they saw a rare black one. For Taleb, the Black Swans are the events that happen in areas where our thinking and mental models fail to realize that they follow fractal probability distributions and not those bell curves that they taught us in high school. His favourite example is the turkey, who is fed for 1000 days straight, and so continues to forecast that this pattern will continue…up until the day before Thanksgiving. His lesson ? Don’t be the turkey !

Fractal distributions are also known as power-law distributions and a popular version is the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of your revenue will come from twenty percent of your customers and similar effects. We can see such models at work in lots of places; the distribution of incomes (no matter how much the left rails against “inequality”) the box office of movies, best seller books, the rise of the giants of Silicon Valley (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix etc) where network effects and first mover advantage have the giants dominating their respective markets.

So how does one thrive in areas where the “winner take all” phenomena means that the lion’s share goes to a small number of players ? That is what got me thinking about my experience in telecom.

The first lesson, in working in such environments, is that first and foremost you must survive. As we saw in the financial crisis of 2008, companies like Long Term Capital Management thought they were risk averse by using sophisticated algorithms and models designed by academics. In reality they were very exposed to Black Swans that ended up taking them down and almost the entire financial system. Never risk everything, as survival is paramount.

I am proud that AurorA has been in operation for over 24 years. There have been four or five major pivots along the way, but the company has survived and thrived. This is also Nature’s model. Mother Nature has many strategies that have evolved to ensure survival, such as redundancy among our body parts which is not “optimal”. It is why we value the experience and wisdom of our elders; they have seen previous Black Swans and survived and can pass on that knowledge (if we are willing to listen).

The second lesson I took from this is that even though fractal distributions predominately reward a few, they also leave a long fat tail. In a multi-billion dollar industry like telecom, that means that there are plenty of niche opportunities in that fat tail that can be mined. That is precisely how I have operated AurorA , whether entirely consciously or not. AurorA specializes in international applications and specifically in the wholesale market; niches where I can exploit my competitive differentiators like quality and fraud mitigation to swim in a “blue ocean”. Those niches may be small, compared to the overall market, but they are plenty for AurorA to serve.

I am looking forward to reading “Skin in the Game” next and will report back to you with more detailed reviews of it and Taleb’s other books. Until then, keep reading !

The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: “On Robustness and Fragility”

World Cup of Telecom


Last Thursday, the FIFA World Cup of football began in Russia with a 5-0 win for the host nation over Saudi Arabia. The tournament has seen lots of thrills already with powerhouse nations like Germany, Brazil and Spain having some disappointing performances and tiny nations like Iceland punching well above their weight with a 1-1 draw against Argentina with the great Messi.

This week, since AurorA and Amitel specialize in international telecommunications, we are going to look at competition in that sector among nations, World Cup style.

Our next door neighbour, the U.S.A. is undergoing some rapid changes in their telecom playbook. They have always had a fast, attacking style and recent moves in the commercial and regulatory scene indicate that that is not about to change anytime soon. The FCC has repealed Net Neutrality laws, and the Supreme Court has allowed AT&T to purchase Time-Warner despite objections from the Department of Justice. Now Comcast is looking to swoop in and buy Fox. The biggest service providers in the U.S.A. are bulking up with content to compete against Silicon Valley players like Amazon, Netflix, Apple and Google. They can now provide super bundles of connectivity (Internet and Phone) and their own content can be prioritized (zero rated so it doesn’t count against data caps). They are trying to keep all consumers tied to their offerings to avoid being just ‘dumb pipes” .Will we see that battle move into Canada where cord cutters are continuing to drop their telecom bundles ? Is that is what is truly behind Bell/Telus/Rogers “anti-piracy” crusade ?

It also never pays to under-estimate the giants of Silicon Valley. They all have deep, deep pockets and a desire to dominate all the markets they enter. To them telecom is existential, it is what lies between them and their customers which is why they fought strongly for Net Neutrality and continue to do so in Congress and at the State level. Their calling apps like Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Hangouts etc have taken the voice and messaging market from telcos worldwide. And each of them is quietly exploring Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and other unique systems to bring Internet access to anywhere on the globe; and conveniently bypass AT&T, Verizon, Bell etc totally from the equation.

India is a fascinating market, ever since the huge disruption brought about by Reliance Jio. In the space of one year, Jio has captured over 100 million customers in India. They brought in a modern network, leveraged new tech like 4G, VoLTE and fiber and brought in disruptive market offers that were consumer friendly like free voice calling and cheap data plans. India ranked 155th in the world for data consumption before the entry of Jio into the market; now it is the biggest consumer of data by volume in the world.

These tactics are being copied in other markets. TPG in Australia recently launched with a new state-of-art network and an offer of 1 Gb a day for free for the first 6 months. It is data only, no voice as they tell you to use WhatsApp or Skype etc if you want to make calls. Will we see the launch of such a consumer friendly competitor here in Canada to shake up the complacency of the incumbents ? Someone who’ll play a quick-strike counter attack ?

It promises to be an exciting month-long World Cup tournament featuring the best from around the globe. International Telecommunications also is in a very exciting phase and will continue to be long after this World Cup ends. So stay tuned, keep coming back to this blog (and my social media sites where I post other tidbits ) as we navigate this journey together.

Canadian Telecom Summit – Day 3


Wednesday wrapped up the 2018 version of the Canadian Telecom Summit. Day 3 featured panels on Artificial Intelligence and Innovation (both great topics when you hail from Canada’s tech capital, Waterloo), keynotes from Allison Lenehan of Xplornet, Patricia Meredith of Catalytic Governance and Stephen Howe the CTO of Bell. Then the finale, a keynote from Navdeep Bains the Federal Minister for ISED.

Most of the above content is covered on twitter and in news reports on CARTT, the Wire Report and in the daily newspapers so I won’t rehash those details. One thing I did find very cool, was Stephen Howe showing us in his luncheon keynote how they are installing 4G LTE advanced service to 25 sites WAY up North, north of the Northwest Passage. The logistics make it a 2 year build, with all the required gear being shipped up in shipping containers through a narrow window of June to September in a race against the ice. You have to send up everything as you cant run out to Rona for tie wraps or tools up in Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island. That was very interesting to see the challenges of installing cell service in a harsh remote location and it made my inner engineer geek out.

I also wondered if it might have been more cost effective to just get every resident an Iridium phone and a subsidized plan ?

So what did I get from my 17th edition of the Canadian Telecom Summit ? A reminder, again, that it is all about the people. The CTS brings a lot of our industry together in one place for three days, to learn, to argue, to laugh and eat and talk, face-to-face. Given that we make our livings in telecommunications it is still vitally important to connect in person. It is a reminder that I need to have such interactions more often.

Yes, I did business while at the event. How could I not ? But it is more than just doing deals and making sales. I got to meet-up and catch up with many old friends who have been through the ‘telecom wars” with me. At the lunches and coffee breaks and networking reception I got to meet new people, from all over the industry and all over the country. I even got a recommendation for a great Ethiopian restaurant in Yellowknife for when we visit this August (thanks Curtis !).

So a big thank you to my friends Michael and Mark for another great edition of the Canadian Telecom Summit. This event is important, thanks for gathering us all together for three days and I am grateful that you do it.