Some of the most dynamic entrepreneurs of recent times are hooked on the Great Space Race, and orbiting egos will enhance a drama already fueled by mind-boggling sums
CHRIS GALVIN (Motorola): With Iridium, Motorola wants to offer global phones to business travelers. Waiting in the wings are ventures that will provide high-speed Internet access and videoconferencing. The risks? Iridium could get undercut, and demand is uncertain for the other services.
MIKE ARMSTRONG (Hughes Electronics): With the expected sale of Hughes's defense industry units, his recent $3 billion deal for satellite video transmission leader PanAmSat, and the launch of DirecTV, Armstrong is betting the ranch on satellites and services. Billions will also go into Spaceway, which will mix consumer TV and Internet access. The risks? DirecTV faces stiff competition, while big technological hurdles could ground Spaceway.
RUPERT MURDOCH (News Corp.): A leading European player in satellite broadcasting, Murdoch is taking on DirecTV in the U.S., Latin America, and Asia. The risks? DirecTV's three-year lead at home could be tough to surmount, especially as Murdoch must find a new partner to replace MCI. And in Asia, Murdoch's StarTV has angered Chinese officials by beaming in unapproved Western fare.
BERNARD SCHWARTZ (Loral Space & Communications): After shedding his defense unit to focus on satellite services, Schwartz is backing Globalstar, which will provide cheap phone service in the developing world. Loral will also expand Skynet, a video distributor acquired from AT&T, and plans to launch CyberStar for Internet access. The risks? Globalstar's new technology means delays are likely, while CyberStar faces heavy competition.
CRAIG McCAW (Teledesic): At $9 billion, McCaw's Teledesic system is the most ambitious and expensive of all. Using 840 satellites, it aims to provide Internet access, networking capabilities, and videoconferencing with equal ease to a Manhattan skyscraper or the most remote African village. Set for 2002, the system already has one big backer: Microsoft's Bill Gates. The risks? The technological challenges of launching so many birds, and getting linking software to work, remain huge. Much more financing will be needed.
Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.