The mobile satellite services, or MSS, industry has entered a resurrection period as new regulations and satellite capabilities enable companies to offer ubiquitous voice and high-speed data services to government, enterprises and consumers—without the clunky handsets of the past. One of these companies is Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV), which announced last month that it has completed the Satellite Mutual Aid Radio Talkgroups program that connects federal, state and local public-safety professionals via nine overlapping regional and five national talkgroups nationwide.

This week, I spoke with Chris Gates, vice president of strategy with MSV, about the company’s pending introduction of a next-generation all-IP satellite and a crucial deal with Qualcomm that will bring cheap handsets with attractive form factors.

Tech Talk: What will MSV’s next-generation, all-IP satellite network will mean for first responders?

Gates: There are a number of powerful technology advances we’ll be implementing with our next-generation system. We’re currently on track for the launch of our first satellite the first quarter 2010 and the second half of 2010 with second satellite. They will be among the most powerful ever launched. In particular, we’ll be able to communicate with very small devices that are no different in form factor from today’s cellular devices. That is exciting.

Satellite communications have been held as a niche product with only a few million customers worldwide because of the cost and expense. We signed an agreement with Qualcomm whereby its next-generation multimode chipsets will be modified to include satellite. These are chips that people put in regular cellular telephony equipment.

Of course, whether it’s activated is the service provider’s choice. But that means that satellite-enabled chipsets are going to be available at no incremental cost. The power of this can’t be overstated. Public safety today uses terminals that are very expensive, several thousand per terminal. Adding satellite capability to cellular will be below $3 (per chip) for our specific frequency … Our exact implication strategy with potential public-safety partners or terrestrial networks remains subject to a strategic partnership.

Tech Talk: Can you talk about the key FCC ruling around the Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) that makes this happen?

Gates: ATC is a concept that was developed by MSV and approved by the FCC in 2005 to provide the ability to reuse satellite signals for terrestrial applications. The ATC regime has a number of significant gating criteria, the most important of which is the provision of what the FCC refers to as substantial satellite service. Companies have to provide satellite where they provide terrestrial service. We believe that, to make it happen, service capability for the satellite must be integrated at the device level. We worked very hard to bring that to fruition through the agreement with Qualcomm.

Another thing worth noting is that we signed an agreement with Inmarsat, giving us the ability to access up to 46 megahertz of spectrum—40 for ATC and MSS, and six for MSS only. That is extraordinarily amount of spectrum, about the size of the 700MHz auction earlier this year.

Tech Talk: What role do you see MSV playing in a nationwide 700 MHz public-safety network?

Gates: The FCC has, in its prior rulings on the public-safety/private shared broadband wireless network, required the implementation of one device with integrated satellite capability. We believe it should be extended to a greater number of devices.

MSV’s ultimate role would be as a service provider, side by side with the D Block provider, delivering satellite coverage.

Would we potentially be the only satellite provider? Maybe, but there is certainly an opportunity and a variety of players that could participate. We think that the integration of satellite for public-safety and dedicated use is vital--it is vital to provide coverage and from a network-hardening perspective.

Think about a terrestrial network and how it is vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters. I would note that we don’t stand alone in that view, based on comments filed with the FCC. It’s also important to note that a terrestrial network will have a greater throughput as a matter of physics, but we can provide significant coverage continuity where terrestrial networks are reduced. We can’t deliver tens of [megabits per second], but we can provide 3G capability and smaller portable devices.