A satellite that promises to bring cellular voice and data coverage to remote parts of North America was successfully launched on Sunday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The SkyTerra-1 satellite was carried into space on top of a Russian Proton Breeze M rocket at 11:29pm local time (5:29pm GMT). (Watch the launch video on YouTube.)
Once in commercial operation, the satellite will form the base of a mobile broadband service called Lightsquared. Lightsquared will combine terrestrial, high speed LTE (Long-Term Evolution) data with a satellite-delivered data service.
The satellite portion will operate at lower speeds than the terrestrial network, but combined should mean coverage to almost any part of North America including many remote areas that are currently out of reach of broadband wireless.
The only parts of the country out of reach of the satellite are those that don't have a clear view of the craft's orbital position at 101.3 degrees West longitude above the equator. At that position it will sit alongside one of the satellites that delivers DirecTV programming.
Unlike most satellite services that cover the entire North American continent, the SkyTerra-1 satellite will transmit 500 spot beams that each cover a small area. The use of spot beams means a higher power signal on the ground and allows frequencies and bandwidth to be reused across the full coverage area without interference.
Lightsquared, a privately held company owned by Harbinger Capital Partners, won't offer its service direct to consumers. It will sell to carriers that will in turn offer it to end users. Commercial service is due in 2011.