Satellites have been used to provide email access in isolated regions of the world for at least eight years. Until now, however, all such systems have relied on bulky equipment costing tens of thousands of pounds, or on commercial satellites with high usage fees. For example, the British Antarctic Survey uses IMARSAT-B, a commercial satellite, to keep in contact its researchers working in the Antarctic.

LLMS now offers a much cheaper alternative. "We expect the terminals to cost 1000 ECUs, " says Erik Ceuppens of SAIT Systems. The LLMS service is currently undergoing system checks and SAIT hopes to have it up and running by the end of the year. If it proves successful there are plans to launch a more powerful LLMS platform on a dedicated satellite in mid-2000. ESA researchers, meanwhile, have plans to use LLMS technology in remote sensing applications such as environmental monitoring.

The service is likely to face competition from the new range of cheap satellite telephones from Iridium (which starts on the 23 September), SkyBridge (2001) and Teledesic (2002).