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Mon 6 Nov 2000 04:00 AM

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Thuraya chairman argues case for success

Mohammad Omran says price is key to Thuraya's succeeding where other satellite telephony projects failed

Cost and quality of service are key to the success of the forthcoming Thuraya satellite telephony project, according to the venture’s chairman, Mohammad Omran. In an interview with itp.net, Omran addressed fears that the project could go the same way as previous failed attempts to develop satellite telephony services, most notably Iridium.

"I think there are two elements that make success or failure," Omran told itp.net. "Number one is the cost of the service. Number two is the quality of the service. If these two together are right, then you have a big market."

Thuraya will provide mobile telephone services to 100 countries of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. It is aimed at users in geographical areas that are out of range of GSM networks. Major shareholders in the $1 billion project include Etisalat and Q-Tel.

Previous attempts to develop services like Thuraya’s floundered because of high end user costs. Omran acknowledged this and revealed that there will be three call pricing bands for Thuraya.

Within a country in the Thuraya network, calls will be charged at between 50 and 70 cents per minute. For international calls, Thuraya is targeting a rate of between $1 and $1.30. For a call from one Thuraya phone to another, regardless of the country, the company is targeting a maximum cost of 75 cents per minute. Those prices would be well below the call rates charged by previous services.

Thuraya’s handsets are also likely to be priced far cheaper than previous satellite telephones. Distributors will pay around US $600 for handsets, which will reach consumers at between $650 - $800. Thuraya handsets will also include global positioning system (GPS) and GSM capability.

The design of the handsets is also a considerable improvement on previous efforts, which were bulky and unwieldy. The Thuraya handsets weigh in at a very reasonable 210 grammes.

By learning from and avoiding the mistakes that were the downfall of previous satellite telephony efforts, Thuraya believes it is poised to succeed. "It is not an easy job, it is challenging," says Omran. "We know the whole world is looking at us after what happened to others."

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