Inmarsat, the first mobile satellite system to be conceived, is a great example of how the technology has emerged from a niche market and been made available to all. Originally designed for the maritime industry, they now have over 100,000 registered Mini-M satellite phone terminals that are used across a broad range of industries.
The Inmarsat network consists of four geo-stationary satellites 35,600km above the Earth. The satellites are positioned at equatorial points over the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Eastern and Western sides of the Atlantic. The ‘footprint’ created by this configuration is able to provide almost total global communication coverage with the exception of the Poles. The first advantage that this gives Inmarsat is, once a signal is sent to a satellite, its individual ‘footprint’ is often large enough to deliver that signal to its destination without having to transfer via another satellite first. This minimizes the risk of the signal being lost.
The main argument that has been levelled against Inmarsat terminals regards their size; they are comparable to modern laptop computers. Inmarsat rivals, Iridium and Globalstar, use handsets that are far more akin to cellular phones, which it is claimed, weigh less and are easier to use.
This is not an entirely unfair point; it is true that Inmarsat equipment is larger than that of its contemporaries. Where they can out perform Iridium and Globalstar is in their ability to transfer data and faxes. This lends Inmarsat much more effectively to the setting up of semi-permanent offices where, along side voice facilities, more capable fax and data services are required. When used in this capacity Inmarsat’s size ceases to become such an issue.
Inmarsat are planning to expand this service with their next generation satellites, due to go live in 2005. These will support B-GAN (Broadband Global Area Network). B-GAN, it is claimed, will be 100 times more powerful than the current generation of satellites and, will have 10 times the capacity. With this increase Inmarsat are aiming to supply superior Internet, Intranet and video services as well as voice, fax and data.
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