Wednesday, August 01, 2007

XM Satellite Pitches Homeland Security: Is It Just Talk?

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Inside XM Satellite Radio's Washington headquarters, the walls are adorned with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Coldplay and Clint Black. Along a hallway on the second floor, overhead units pump music down to discrete listening areas marked by white circles on the floor.

But for Roderick MacKenzie, XM's vice president for advanced applications and services, the mission goes well beyond music.

MacKenzie's job is to dream up new ways to use XM's two satellites and 800 terrestrial repeaters that boost the satellite signals on the ground. The 45-year-old Briton has a well-honed sales pitch, one that has worked in getting XM into cars from automakers such as Honda Motor (nyse: HMC - news - people ) and Toyota Motor (nyse: TM - news - people ). That pitch also seems to be resonating with the federal government and the big contractors that cater to it.

"We tend to think of our network as a national asset," says MacKenzie.

MacKenzie's line is this: XM's system beats other technologies as a means of delivering vital information. Cellular falls short because its coverage is spotty in remote areas. By contrast, XM's satellites beam signal to the entire upper 48 states, including 100 miles off the coasts, and to densely populated parts of Canada.

But satellites working alone have trouble sending information into urban areas, because of the buildings and other obstructions. That where XM's 800 repeaters come in.

Given XM's access to both urban and rural areas, MacKenzie sees applications for emergency response and safety. One example: XM already is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to update the delivery system that distributes the presidential message following a serious disaster or crisis.

"We've had a lot of conversations with FEMA, DHS and DOT," says Mackenzie. "They've been extraordinarily positive."

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