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Editor's Notes

Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) are a crucial component of the satcom industry. The main difference between MSS and a cell system is—mobility! MSS has proven its efficacy for providing communication services across the globe, especially in servicing those areas that have poor or few communication options, including developing countries and the vast oceans of Earth.

With MSS, there are several positive aspects. Some include:
  • very high bit rates
  • channels dynamically assigned to users who are located in various areas of the world
  • the cost of doing business (i.e., the transmission itself) is independent of distance
  • a station that’s handling the data transmission can, itself, receive its own transmission, which is a definite plus when transmission control is needed

There are other considerations as well as various plusses and minuses for MSS providers when using either a geosynchronous or low Earth orbit satellite.

To obtain a clearer view of the MSS market, I asked one of the leading MSS providers to comment on this segment of the satcom industry.

Iridium Satellite’s Don Thoma, the company’s Executive Vice President, took up the cause. He noted the MSS market growing this year and added in those areas where he believes the growth will be experienced.

“Iridium Satellite continues to achieve double-digit growth across all vertical markets for MSS. At the end of the first quarter of 2008, Iridium’s subscriber base had grown to more than a quarter-million. That’s a 37 percent increase over the same period last year.

“Regionally, traffic in the U.S. and Canada was up almost 100 percent, largely driven by churn from faltering competitors. The Asia-Pacific region was also a very strong market, with traffic up 61 percent.”

Don then delved into the short-burst arena by stating, “In the maritime market, the number of active subscribers grew 17 percent, with airtime for voice and circuit-switched data up 28 percent, and short-burst data (SBD) traffic up 122 percent. The dramatic increase in SBD usage is being driven by growing demand for vessel tracking and monitoring, and unmanned oceanographic/weather sensors. We continue to capture a growing market share, especially in prepaid crew calling services for ships at sea.

“We are poised to make further market share gains with the introduction of our new Iridium OpenPort enhanced-bandwidth service, which will provide a cost-effective alternative to Fleet 77 and Fleet Broadband services. More than six major international Service Providers have already signed agreements to distribute Iridium OpenPort products and services, and preorders for Iridium OpenPort ship terminals have far exceeded projections.”

Does the same hold true for the aeronautical market? “We have seen similar rapid growth over the past 12 months, with subscribers up 51 percent. Airtime usage for voice and circuit-switched data was up 46 percent over last year, while short-burst data (SBD) traffic rose 77 percent. Iridium’s growth encompasses all sectors of the market, including fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, to meet the rising demand for reliable, secure voice and data communications with global gap-free coverage over regions not served by other MSS providers.

“While we foresee continuing growth in our traditional core market of business jets and helicopter fleets, we are projecting a major upsurge in the commercial aviation sector. This is buoyed by the ICAO approval earlier this year for Iridium to provide AMS(R)S (Aeronautical Mobile Satellite (Route) Services) for commercial aircraft on transoceanic routes. Iridium is the only MSS provider with complete gap-free coverage over the important polar routes. “The M2M mobile data sector is Iridium’s fastest growing market, driven by emerging markets for asset tracking and remote monitoring. Our total number of SBD subscribers grew 169 percent over first quarter 2007.

I inquired as to what issues Iridium will have to confront, and how will such issues be addressed. Don replied, “We are laying the foundation now for our next-generation satellite constellation with our Iridium NEXT program. Earlier this year, we announced agreements with three companies — Lockheed Martine, Space Systems Loral and Theles Alenia Space — to develop design concepts, review critical engineering trades, and evaluate performance and capabilities required for NEXT, along with costs to manufacture and launch the system. We will downselect two finalists this summer and award a contract to the prime contractor in mid-2009. We are on schedule to commence satellite launches in We expect to offset a significant portion of the estimated $2.6 billion cost for NEXT deployment by adding secondary payloads onto the satellites, for applications such as weather observations.”

Thanks, Don, for your opinions.

This issue of SatMagazine includes a variety of material we hope you will find intriguing and interesting, ranging from our continued look at satellite imagery with truly expert content from those in the know... to a continuation of the history of satellites, a case study and more. Enjoy!

Hartley Lesser
Editorial Director