Malaysia's Technology Resource Industries (TRI) group and the Orbcomm group of the United States have sealed a deal to bring a low-cost satellite communication system to Asia. TRI has become the first Southeast Asian licensee for the system, which uses low-earth orbit satellites to provide basic non-voice communication services, and which Orbcomm has estimated could have a theoretical market of 168 million subscriber units, with a third of those in Asia. TRI, which provides regular fixed and cellular telephone services in Malaysia, is one of the three founding shareholders in Orbcomm, and yesterday widened its interest by taking up the licence for an undisclosed sum. The other shareholders of the company, which has raised US$330 million through equity and debt funding, are Orbital Sciences Corp of the US and Teleglobe of Canada. The Malaysian group intends to spend between $7 million and $8 million constructing an Earth station and message processing centre in Malaysia to provide the service which is aimed at governments, industrial companies and individuals requiring two-way communication in short bursts. TRI directors said yesterday the service would begin by early 1998. The services offered by TRI are expected to include person-to-person emergency communications, the monitoring of remote plant and equipment, transport services, two way e-mail links for lap-top computers as well as for long-range paging services. The applications are expected to be mainly in remote areas where conventional communication networks do not exist. TRI's licence will cover Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, while Orbcomm is also in talks with potential providers elsewhere in Asia, including China. When the system is fully in place, Orbcomm will be operating 28 of the low-orbit satellites which are considerably cheaper than conventional geo-stationary units used for television and telephone communications.