Kiwis play with NASA’s big boys

A Christchurch-based company is poised to make a breakthrough in the international communications field. CES Communications is playing with the big boys in the US, and in this instance that's NASA. CES is working with NASA's Advanced Communications Technology Satellite programme, and is the only non-American company to do so. It's been asked to come up with a technology to help overcome fading and dropouts inherent in mobile communication devices and so far their tests are all positive.

A Christchurch-based company is poised to make a breakthrough in the international communications field.

CES Communications is playing with the big boys in the US, and in this instance that’s NASA. CES is working with NASA’s Advanced Communications Technology Satellite programme, and is the only non-American company to do so. It’s been asked to come up with a technology to help overcome fading and dropouts inherent in mobile communication devices and so far their tests are all positive.

CES claims to have achieved a reduction in the power used by mobile phones which allows for either smaller batteries to be installed or for existing battery life to be extended. In addition, the smaller power usage means cell stations can be smaller or fewer in number, reducing set-up costs for networks. The use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites means that the future for satellite phones looks rosy, and one day they could completely replace the existing cellphone infrastructure,says CES marketing manager Greg Thompson.

CES is perhaps best known for its encryption technology, which it sells to financial institutions, governments and military departments in a number of markets including Asia, Australia and South America. CES uses its understanding of this field to reconstruct signals that may be damaged or distorted.

Current technology allows for drop-out of signals to be reproduced up to about a 10 bit maximum - any more than that and the signal is too corrupted to retrieve properly. CES reports reconstruction of drop-outs into the hundreds of bits range, dramatically improving reception.

CES is working with the California-based Globalstar consortium on the ACTS project, the only way in for a non-American company. Globalstar plans to launch a network of 48 LEO satellites by the start of 1999 and will compete in the satellite phone market using CES’s technology. Other players include Motorola’s Iridium project, and Sky Station, a company run by Alexander Haig, formerly US Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. Sky Station plans to hover a fleet of airships over the world’s major cities at a height of around 70,000 feet and use them as very-low satellite stations. Whether that project gets off the ground or not, the satellite phone market will no doubt be the hot new telecommunications arena in the new century.

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