Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Satellite phones make a comeback in "Miami Vice"

OK, OK, I just can't let "Miami Vice" go. But of the movies I've seen in recent years, it stands alone in its celebration of the nobility of work and how technology is interwoven into law enforcement (never mind lawbreaking). Surveillance video shot from AWACS, lipstick-camera video... and satellite phones.

Oh, yes. Crockett and Tubbs are never far from their Iridium phones. Identifiable by their cigar-shaped antennas, they are the personal communicator of choice for our favorite undercover cops and their drug-trafficker targets as they jet/powerboat around North and South America and the Caribbean.

I was peripherally involved with the satellite phone industry (both Iridium--a Motorola brainchild--and its main competitor Globalstar) back in the mid-90's, when they were predicted to gain a large market with intercontinental travelers and in remote areas where cellular had not yet been built out. The concept was brilliant--a single phone that could call from any point on the globe to any other phone. Of course, the cellular networks spread before all the satellites could be launched, then they interconnected those networks, and the satellite companies never gained critical mass. This interesting site has a collection of information and links on Iridium and other satellite phone companies.

At least the phones have found a niche (globetrotting undercover cops and their criminal prey). And Iridium was happy to tie their product into the PR surrounding the film's release. They even sponsored a contest for law enforcement to win a trip to the movie's premiere.

It's not known whether they had a similar contest for their drug-trafficking clients. I'd guess not. Those folks seem to prefer a lower profile.

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