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A Telephone for the World

Iridium, Motorola, and the Making of a Global Age

Martin Collins

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In a post–Cold War world, the Iridium satellite network revealed a new age of globalization.

Winner of the William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award by the IEEE

In June 1990, Motorola publicly announced an ambitious business venture called Iridium. The project’s signature feature was a constellation of 77 satellites in low-Earth orbit which served as the equivalent of cellular towers, connecting to mobile customers below using wireless hand-held phones. As one of the founding engineers noted, the constellation "bathed the planet in radiation," enabling a completely global…

In a post–Cold War world, the Iridium satellite network revealed a new age of globalization.

Winner of the William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award by the IEEE

In June 1990, Motorola publicly announced an ambitious business venture called Iridium. The project’s signature feature was a constellation of 77 satellites in low-Earth orbit which served as the equivalent of cellular towers, connecting to mobile customers below using wireless hand-held phones. As one of the founding engineers noted, the constellation "bathed the planet in radiation," enabling a completely global communications system.

Focusing on the Iridium venture, this book explores the story of globalization at a crucial period in US and international history. As the Cold War waned, corporations and nations reoriented toward a new global order in which markets, neoliberal ideology, and the ideal of a borderless world predominated. As a planetary-scale technological system, the project became emblematic of this shift and of the role of the United States as geopolitical superpower. In its ambition, scope, challenges, and organizing ideas, the rise of Iridium provides telling insight into how this new global condition stimulated a re-thinking of corporate practices—on the factory floor, in culture and knowledge, and in international relations.

Combining oral history interviews with research in corporate records, Martin Collins opens up new angles on what global meant in the years just before and after the end of the Cold War. The first book to tell the story of Iridium in this context, A Telephone for the World is a fascinating look at how people, nations, and corporations across the world grappled in different ways with the meaning of a new historical era.

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A Telephone for the World

Martin Collins

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Reviews

Engaging, informative, and thought provoking, A Telephone for the World should prove to be of particular interest to business and economic historians skeptical of neoliberal pieties about innovation, to media and communications historians intrigued by the evolution of spectrum management, and to cultural and political historians fascinated by the zeitgeist of the 1990s.

An important and revealing book that expertly interacts with a range of fields and disciplines.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
280
ISBN
9781421424835
Illustration Description
18 b&w photos, 5 line drawings
Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction
1. Iridium and the Global Age
2. The Global and the Engineers
3. The Global and Iridium the Business
4. "Freedom to Communicate"
5. From "It's a bird, it's a phone" to "Edsels in the

Preface
Introduction
1. Iridium and the Global Age
2. The Global and the Engineers
3. The Global and Iridium the Business
4. "Freedom to Communicate"
5. From "It's a bird, it's a phone" to "Edsels in the sky"
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Martin Collins
Featured Contributor

Martin Collins

Martin Collins is a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He is the author of Cold War Laboratory: RAND, the Air Force, and the American State, 1945–1950.