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A top contender in the race to provide mobile communications from space is going public, sort of. Washington, D.C.-based Iridium Inc., has announced it will sell senior subordinated discount notes -- commonly called junk bonds -- to provide the company with an additional $300 million for building its 66-satellite system. The company has already raised $1.6 billion and expects the deal to make it more attractive to mainstream lenders, such as banks. Iridium may have decided against a full public offering after watching the results of a stock offering by competitor Globalstar Telecommunications.

Globalstar, a San Jose, Calif.-based concern is expected to launch a 48-satellite system for providing mobile phone services from space, completed an initial public offering Feb. 14. It raised $200 million by selling 10 million shares at $20 each, but the stock is now selling for about $16 a share.

A third competitor, Odyssey World Wide Services of Redondo Beach, Calif., recently scored one on intellectual property rights. The firm, a joint venture of TRW Space & Electronics and Teleglobe, was issued a patent July 18 for its planned satellite mobile phone system that operates from between 10,000 and 18,000 kilometers, called middle-Earth orbit. Globalstar and Iridium are planning low-Earth orbit systems, but another rival, London-based Inmarsat is planning a system that would operate from this medium orbit. TRW hopes its patent will prevent Inmarsat from entering the U.S. market.

A new competitor in the Internet marketplace could threaten NetScape Communications' position as the leading World Wide Web browser. Over the last year, NetScape has become the unofficial link to the Web, the Internet location where companies and individuals are setting up home pages that can support business transactions. But now Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wollongong is getting rave reviews from techies who have stumbled upon their Internet search tools. Wollongong began beta testing its Emissary software last month and some users have said it offers valuable features that NetScape lacks, such as being able to drag a Web page directly into a mail message. The company, named after an Australian university where some of its original researchers worked, can be found at www.twg.com. Almost 10,000 copies of Emissary have already been downloaded from Wollongong's home page. The company will begin selling the product next month for about $100.


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