Brief History of Satellite Communication

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by Jon Aldrich

Mobile Satellite communication technology has evolved over the years not unlike the evolutionary progression of other technological innovation. Take computers for example. Early computers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and required a battery of MIT graduates to operate them. They filled complete rooms, even requiring their own air conditioning systems. Only the largest of corporations employed them. Of course now, computers are small enough to fit in your pocket, can be operated by small children and are affordable by nearly everyone.

Similarly, shopping for a satellite communication terminal just 30 years ago would have required tens of thousands of dollars to purchase, the same MIT degree to operate and a couple of strong backs just to transport it. The Inmarsat constellation was your ONLY option. Just 15 years later (in 1995) Mitsubishi rolled out the first “portable” satellite terminal operating on the newly launched MSAT satellite constellation. The briefcase sized Mitsubishi ST151, eye popping at the time, weighed in at 30 pounds and cost approximately $3,500.00. While representing a significant breakthrough in satellite communications, the ST151 would dominate the portable satellite terminal market for LESS than one year.

1996 ushered in a truly revolutionary phase in personal satellite communications with the launching by Inmarsat of the mini-M terminal. Priced about the same as the ST151, the mini-M weighed in at less than 6 pounds. The laptop sized terminal would offer virtually “plug and play” data (albeit slow speed) and voice quality heretofore unmatched by any previous satellite terminal. Unlike the 151, which had a North America footprint only, the mini-M could be used virtually anywhere in the world. It would dominate the personal satellite communications market for several years as it brought satellite communications within the financial and technological reach of just about anyone.

In 1998 Iridium launched its worldwide “canopy” of 64 satellites and rolled out the first truly handheld satellite terminal. Slightly smaller than the early “bag” cellular phone, the Iridium handheld satellite phone would again revolutionize personal portable satellite communications. Just a few years later that bag sized phone would shrink to not much larger than today’s cell phones and at a cost of less than $1,000.00. Now just about anyone who had reason to travel beyond landline or cellular service has an affordable communications option.

As with the development of many industries, there have been breakthroughs and advances to satellite technology followed by failures and set backs. Not every constellation has been successful from the outset. Market projections by some companies have been overly optimistic which has lead to bankruptcies by those providers. Competition remains fierce as too many providers vie for too few customers. The industry continues to sort itself out as the strong constellations get stronger and as consolidation between providers continues to evolve. The ultimate beneficiary of all of this will be, as it always is, the consumer.

In business since 1996, International Satellite Services (ISS) is proud to represent all of the major commercial satellite constellations including MSAT, IRIDIUM, INMARSAT, THURAYA and VSAT. Regardless of whether you may need an inexpensive and simple hand held satellite phone for emergencies, two-way “flat rate” unlimited Voice via satellite Dispatch Radio or a highly sophisticated high speed data satellite solution (Fleetbroadband) for a fleet of vessels, ISS can help you.

Our customers cover the full spectrum from some the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies to our military to a small “mom and pop” operated fishing boat in the South Pacific, with almost everything imaginable in between. We are particularly proud of our growing list of satisfied customers in the oil and gas exploration, drilling sector and mining industry. We have a strong commitment to those “vertical markets” as we believe they offer huge opportunities for growth. Ask us for a list of our satisfied customers. ISS has built its reputation on treating each and every customer as if they were our ONLY customer.