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Mobile Satellite Communications

Several Southern California companies are developing satellite systems for tracking and sending messages to interstate trucks, public safety vehicles, buses and trains in remote and rural areas.

The nationwide networks would be able to send and receive messages from these vehicles as they traverse the United States, including the estimated 85% of the country that lies outside the range of existing two-way radio towers.

Los Angeles-based Omninet’s system will tell trucking companies and government agencies the location of each of their vehicles and allow the two-way transmission of typed messages to anywhere in the continental United States, founder and President Allen Salmasi said. Four-year-old Omninet has already signed contracts with 22 trucking companies, courier services and government agencies to deliver equipment for more than 32,000 trucks over the next two years, Salmasi said. Qualcomm in San Diego is making the equipment. Omninet’s system will start operations in May.

The equipment for each truck costs $2,600 to $3,000 per vehicle, or $100 a month to lease. Monthly service charges are $150 and include 20 two-way messages daily. Home offices will send messages over telephone lines to Omninet’s big satellite dishes in Los Angeles, which will bounce the messages off a satellite to the trucks, then record the reply and send it back over the phone lines to the home office.

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An eight-company consortium, led by Hughes Communications in El Segundo, is trying to win Federal Communications Commission approval for an ambitious plan. The American Mobile Satellite Consortium wants to launch three satellites, the first in 1992, linking vehicles to home offices and to the public telephone network. Both voice and data communications would be possible throughout North America.

The group submitted an outline of its system to the FCC on Feb. 1, but its members are still haggling over who will be in charge of what. A joint ownership agreement should be filed with the FCC in March or April, Hughes spokeswoman Elizabeth Hess said.


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