Satellite booster for firms

Rival investments in space set to bring in millions for British-based manufacturers

British firms could benefit from millions of pounds of investment if two ambitious plans from Europe’s satellite manufacturers get off the ground.

Anglo-French space company, Matra Marconi Space, is planning a multi-billion dollar network of satellites that will give extra telecommunications bandwidth to European customers.

The project, Wideband European Satellite Telecommunications (West), is expected to launch one geostationary satellite and 10 medium earth orbit satellites, by 2001.

Its rival, French company Alcatel Alsthom, is planning a much larger service that is based on 64 low earth orbit satellites, valued at around $3.5bn.

Also due to be operational in 2001, Alcatel’s Skybridge network is intended to compete with the global constellation of 840 satellites, Teledesic, planned by Microsoft chief Bill Gates.

Both ventures are in response to growth in European bandwidth demand, pushed by increasing numbers of Internet connections and by new applications such as videoconferencing.

The two projects are likely to compete with fibre optic cable manufacturers.

Both companies expect to sign up partners and suppliers in coming months.

Alcatel is ahead of MMS by requesting authorisation for use of the space segment from the US Federal Communications Commission.

Alcatel is in discussions with British companies about its network, but would not identify them.

MMS is not co-operating with Alcatel’s grander scheme.

Competition between Alcatel and MMS’s French parent LagardAre for the purchase of the French state company, Thomson, has been suggested as one reason why.