The development of mobile satellite systems and institutions traces its roots to the close of World War II and proceeds along a torturous path with a number of false starts and successes in the ensuing years. Gaining an understanding of how we arrived at where we are today is worthy of some scholarly research. This chapter, though, does not pretend to produce a well-documented historical review; rather, it is an attempt to sketch the outline of events over the years relying almost entirely on the author's personal recollections, having participated in many of those events. Many other important developments, particularly in Europe and in Japan, are omitted because of a lack of adequate personal recollection.
Because memory is this discussion's main source, many errors in facts, dates, and other details may be found herein. It is hoped, nonetheless, that the general coverage of events is both accurate and interesting enough to stimulate some conclusions on why things went right when they went right, as well as what errors were made when they did not go right. The various attempts to achieve mobile satellite capability in the pre-Inmarsat years are not very well known, but they contain interesting lessons for the policy-maker and entrepreneur alike. Therefore, this discussion dwells more heavily on that era, assuming that more recent events are far better known.
The decade and a half that has just passed may be called in the future the "golden age" of Inmarsat--a period when a unique international political and commercial institution enjoyed great success in developing a global system of satellite communications on the sea, in the air, and on the ground. This success was born out of the convergence of many, largely uncoordinated initiatives that placed the necessary technical, financial, and political resources in the hands of a chosen instrument, the Inmarsat organization. Inmarsat's great success can be measured by its persistent 30-percent annual growth rates in both revenues and customer base. Today, regional and domestic mobile satellite systems are blossoming not only in North America, but also in Asia and the Pacific. Moreover, after three decades of commitment by commercial satellite operators to the geostationary orbit, a number of private entities now plan to offer global mobile services in competition with Inmarsat using constellations of satellites in low- or intermediate-altitude orbits. Also, other private entities are planning geostationary orbit systems for regional coverage, primarily over land areas, from a number of orbit locations around the globe. Whereas the first commercial mobile terminals, which were designed for shipboard use, weighed up to a ton and cost $50,000 to $75,000, technological advances and higher powered satellites today are driving down size and cost. Now, one can buy a satellite phone that fits into a briefcase for under $10,000. Within a few years, the phone will fit in your pocket and cost well under $5,000. The markets of the future will be measured in the millions of users, as compared to the thousands or tens of thousands today. This chapter attempts to outline the major events that set the stage for the establishment of Inmarsat and the factors that have, in more recent years, led to a proliferation of competing systems.
Between the end of World War II and the dawn of the space age, the U.S. military engaged in an intensive search for a reliable means of air-to-ground communications. The U.S. Department of Defense required reliable control of its airborne nuclear forces and its interceptor fleets, which might have to shoot down enemy bombers threatening U.S. population centers. To maintain a credible counterthreat, Strategic Air Command bombers would be deployed toward the North Pole to await a signal to continue or to return home. Reliable contact with these aircraft, as well as with airborne command posts, was absolutely imperative. It was essential to extend reliable communications ranges well beyond the line of sight. High-frequency communications offered long-range but highly unreliable performance, especially in the polar regions.
Although Arthur C. Clarke's classic Wireless World article appeared after the war, recognition of the possibilities offered by the satellite relaying of air-to-ground communications did not emerge until several years later. Clarke's concept, which involved the use of manned television broadcast stations operating more than 20,000 miles in space, was more the stuff of science fiction than a practical alternative. Therefore, U.S. military research efforts concentrated on terrestrial technologies. Much effort went into improving the reliability of high-frequency air-to-ground communications, but no fully satisfactory solution emerged.
At the end of World War II, little was known about the ability of radio waves to penetrate the atmosphere. The war, however, had spawned a powerful new tool: radar. The U.S. Army's Project Diana succeeded in detecting radar signals bounced off the Moon's surface in 1946. Ten years later, British scientists using the powerful Jodrell Bank radar telescope discovered and measured the Faraday rotation of a very high-frequency (VHF) radar signal reflected from the lunar surface. This type of information was to become vital to the planners of VHF mobile satellite systems several years later.
During the late 1950s, U.S. Air Force scientists began to explore the prospect of using the Moon for communications. Unknown to them, though, the U.S. Navy already was heavily engaged in lunar communications work, with the idea of eavesdropping on line-of-sight communications half way around the world in the Soviet Union. The Navy started the design and construction of a 600-foot-diameter steerable antenna for this purpose, but the project failed because the cost was unreasonable; in any case, spy satellites were on the horizon. Nonetheless, the Navy realized a lunar-relay communications system between Hawaii and the U.S. east coast--a system about which little has been published. The U.S. Navy also placed large antennas aboard two ships for Moon bounce communications on the high seas, but the large antennas and small signals associated with this technique offered no promise for widespread future use.
During the 1950s, the U.S. military also undertook tests to assess the potential of using radio wave scattering from irregularities in the atmosphere to generate usable signals on a reliable basis. An Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories research team demonstrated that tropospheric scattering could support communications out to several hundred miles. Scattering from the ionosphere extended that possibility out to well over 1,000 miles. An elaborate test bed was established on a C-135 aircraft (more commonly recognized as a Boeing 707). Directive transmit antennas were fitted in the nose and tail, each fed by a multikilowatt transmitter; two parasitic arrays were fitted to the wing tips to receive signals. The ground station had an array of six diversity antennas to receive. The goal of this investment in equipment was to establish a two-way teletype link between the ground and aircraft. The test program was coming to a close just as Sputnik heralded the  opening of the space age in October 1957, and it became clear that better alternatives to this brute force scatter technology were available.
By 1959, the U.S. Air Force had studied a number of alternative space technologies for improved communications and had concluded that active electronics in orbit were not practical, at least for a while. Instead, they favored the use of passive satellites-- that is, radar reflectors--in orbit. NASA, the fledgling space agency, launched into orbit the two Echo balloons, the first artificial satellites visible to the naked eye. If rocket technology could launch those balloons, the military reasoned, then the same technology could destroy the satellite as well.
MIT's Lincoln Laboratory devised an ingenious response to that dilemma: Project West Ford. Commonly known as Project Needles, this program involved deploying a belt of tiny dipole "needles" in orbit about the planet. If two antennas were directed at the same belt location, they could establish a reliable link by scattering energy from the dipoles. One such belt was successfully deployed. Some of the signal processing research carried out for atmospheric scattering now was applied to a space system. Various communications configurations, including ground-to-submarine, were successfully tested. Lincoln Laboratory induced the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories to explore the feasibility of communicating with an airborne terminal using the West Ford belt. The ensuing study program resulted in a set of design parameters that included a two-foot (0.6-meter) tracking X-band dish mounted under a radome on the top of an aircraft's fuselage, a ten-kilowatt transmitter, and a maser receiver with a noise temperature of fifty degrees Kelvin. Subsequently, the studies were transferred to the Air Force's Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for implementation, and an airborne X-band system eventually came into service, but without the West Ford belt, whose usefulness was ended by the advent of the active repeater satellite.
NASA introduced the active satellite era with the launch of the experimental Telstar and Relay satellites--programs carried out in cooperation with Bell Telephone Laboratories and RCA's Astro Division, respectively. No mobile applications were foreseen at that stage because of the low power of the early satellites, but these satellites showed conclusively that electronics could operate reliably in space. In what may arguably have been its most important early decision, NASA decided to support the Hughes plan to put a satellite in the "Arthur Clarke" or geosynchronous orbit. Although Syncom was not expected to have any relevance to mobile communications, Roland Boucher, a Hughes engineer, showed otherwise.
The Syncom communications transponder used a two-watt L-band transmitter, which was far too weak for mobile communications applications. However, as Boucher demonstrated, Syncom's VHF telemetry and command system could be fooled into relaying a communications message. Subsequently, a Pan Am Airlines 707 cargo airplane, fitted with a set of experimental electronics, flew out of Hong Kong in early 1965. The pilot pointed his aircraft toward the Pacific Syncom satellite and relayed a message to the ground station at Camp Roberts, California, sending the first satellite message from a regularly scheduled airliner in flight. Thus was born the first initiative for commercial mobile satellite communications.
Meanwhile, NASA had started its Applications Technology Satellite (ATS) series. Two of these, ATS-1 and ATS-3, incorporated VHF transponders that enabled the airlines and others to conduct extensive test programs. These satellites were so successful that NASA  was under constant pressure to employ them in operational roles. The ATS-5 had an L-band transponder, but this regrettably provided only limited test potential because its attitude control system, a gravity-gradient stabilization experiment, failed.
The United States and Europe had great interest in using geosynchronous satellites in a satellite-to-aircraft ranging system for position determination--an interest spurred largely by the increase in North Atlantic air traffic. Because of the range errors produced by the ionosphere on the satellite-to-ground path at VHF frequencies, many in the field believed that the VHF band was unsuitable for position fixing and that the L-band was the only sound option. However, Roy Anderson, a General Electric engineer, demonstrated that differential ranging techniques using fixed reference stations could reduce most of these errors. Anderson's scheme, of course, was a progenitor to the differential techniques now in use with the Global Positioning System. In any case, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed with their European colleagues that the aeronautical system of the future would involve aircraft-to-ground communications and ranging in the L-band. Finding little support from the U.S. airlines and FAA operations, NASA turned to the European Space Research Organization (ESRO). The ensuing cooperative effort involved the deployment of two L-band satellites over the Atlantic Ocean for communications and ranging and sought to achieve closer spacings for more efficient but safe traffic flow. The airlines now feared that a new expensive system would result without their participation and that they eventually would be required to pay for it through user fees.
The Boucher Syncom demonstration fired the imagination of the airline industry, particularly Frank White of the Air Transport Association (ATA), Ben McLeod of Pan Am, and Cap Petrie of ARINC Radio. Quickly, ATA, ARINC, Pan Am, Boeing, Bendix Radio, and Hughes Aircraft formed an informal industry cooperative in consultation with NASA. The communications satellite firm Comsat was now in operation, and the first commercial satellite was already under construction. In mid-1964, ATA, on behalf of the group, asked Comsat about the feasibility of a VHF aircraft voice link via a geosynchronous satellite. Comsat gave an enthusiastic affirmative reply and joined the group. To assess the experimental performance of VHF satellite-to-aircraft links, Hughes presented Comsat a proposal to piggyback an experimental VHF transponder on the third flight model of the Early Bird satellite at an incremental program price of $250,000. NASA dissuaded Comsat from this course, however, for the reason that it had just decided to deploy a much more powerful VHF package on its ATS spacecraft.
The FAA would be an important player in any planning for aeronautical service, but the agency did not have an internally agreed policy. The air traffic service staff was especially interested because of the explosive growth of traffic in the North Atlantic and Pacific corridors, where high frequency then was the only available long-range communications technique. The lack of reliable communications precluded any major reduction in the standards for separating aircraft on those routes. The FAA research and development staff, on the other hand, seemed totally engaged in designing and implementing five-year plans for developing satellite applications and had no interest in near-term applications. In 1965, Comsat proposed to the FAA a VHF aeronautical satellite service in the Atlantic region. The proposal was extremely sketchy, so Comsat was asked to put together a more comprehensive plan.
Meanwhile, Comsat also was planning a follow-on to Early Bird with cost-sharing arrangements that set a useful precedent for the establishment of the first commercial....
 .....mobile system, Marisat, several years later. The follow-on, designated by Hughes as HS-303A and later known as Intelsat II, devoted 75 percent of its capacity to connect NASA's ground network in support of the Apollo program. The balance was available to extend the coverage of Intelsat communications prior to the establishment of the "global system." Along with its proposal to build these satellites, Hughes offered two unsolicited options, the HS-303-B and HS-303-B-E. The HS-303-B satellite was a VHF version of Intelsat II, equipped with VHF hardware developed for NASA and two ground-to-air channels. The HS-303-B-E version simply doubled the size of the solar array to double the power and, therefore, the channel capacity to four channels. The price for four satellites, enough for global deployment, was just under $10 million.
Comsat did not evaluate these options; rather, it was considering a novel concept: "cross-strapped" communications transponders that used VHF only for the mobile links and C-band for the ground feeder links. Comsat elaborated on this plan in a 1967 proposal to the FAA and incorporated in it a number of technical schemes later used in the Marisat and Inmarsat programs. Comsat then solicited industry bids. It soon became apparent that the change in satellite design from a simple VHF repeater to the C-band/VHF "cross strap" sharply increased the price, and the proposal failed under the weight of the additional costs.
ARINC Radio officials then suggested that Comsat reissue the proposal to them, because that firm already operated the airline high seas communications facilities serving the FAA for air traffic control and the airlines for operational control. The cost burden was still too high, however. ARINC asked Comsat to return to the simpler all-VHF design. As a result, Comsat gave ARINC a design proposal for a four-channel all-VHF satellite in 1968. FAA operational staff were enthusiastic, but they wanted to initiate operation in the Pacific region for a number of reasons, including the very long flight routes over the Pacific Ocean with highly unreliable high-frequency communications, as well as the difficulty experienced in coordinating the use of VHF frequencies with the European aviation community. This design looked promising. The airlines, led by Pan Am, persuaded Boeing to incorporate VHF satellite capability on the world's first jumbo jet, the B-747. All early 747s were wired for VHF satellite communications and carried a VHF slot-dipole antenna mounted under a radome on the fuselage just behind the familiar nose hump. All of this effort came to naught, however, as policy issues at both the national and international levels intruded.
Europe viewed these U.S. efforts with alarm. The United States was pursuing satellite plans with global implications, but with very little international consultation. Comsat, having established its dominance in the development of Intelsat, now appeared to be targeting a new conquest in the field of mobile communications. Moreover, the Europeans felt that VHF, while a feasible near-term solution, did not seem to be the way to proceed in the long run because of a perceived shortage of assignable VHF frequencies as well as propagation anomalies along the North Atlantic aviation routes caused by ionospheric effects. Perhaps even more conclusively, European industry would not have enough time to catch up to the United States and play a meaningful role in space system development. These and other factors pointed the Europeans in the direction of a move into a higher frequency range--namely, the L-band--and a slowing down of progress. The FAA research and development staff, contrary to the agency's air traffic service, supported the Europeans' "go slow" and L-band viewpoint. Given the FAA's lack of a consistent in-house policy, one could hardly expect the United States as a whole to be in tune.
As the 1960s drew to a close, the U.S. government, looking for a way out of the VHF versus L-band dispute, referred the aeronautical satellite question to the Interagency Group on  International Aviation (IGIA). Led by the White House Office of Telecommunication Policy, the IGIA tried to draw up a national plan for aeronautical services.
Comsat submitted a draft plan for the Office of Telecommunication Policy to present to the IGIA. The plan called for the development of two hybrid satellites with both VHF and L-band capability to be deployed over the Pacific Ocean. An early operational capability would be provided at VHF, as long-range development of L-band capability advanced. The plan was well received as a useful compromise, and Comsat prepared an implementation proposal. VHF communications services would be leased to ARINC on behalf of the airlines, while an advanced test program of L-band applications was to be conducted through a spot-beam L-band transponder leased to the FAA. Only one satellite was needed to provide communications services; the second satellite could be deployed as an option to permit two-satellite ranging tests to be performed in both frequency bands.
Comsat's proposal set off alarm bells in Europe and at NASA. It was a clear threat to the joint venture of NASA and ESRO. Pierre Langereux, a leading French aviation pundit, called the hybrid scheme "dangerous." Finally, in early 1971, the White House intervened, issuing an Office of Telecommunication Policy statement after extensive consultation with industry and government agencies. The statement declared that the U.S. government would support only L-band applications, that the FAA--not NASA--was the appropriate agency to manage any satellite effort, and that the space segment should be furnished from commercial sources, if practicable. Thus, Aerosat was born. The work being carried out by NASA in partnership with ESRO was, in effect, turned over to the FAA.
Although practically no one was completely happy with the Office of Telecommunication Policy statement, at least it established some clearer ground rules. Canada now joined what had become the FAA-ESRO enterprise, making it a tripartite venture. Dissension was far from over, however. FAA management concluded that the procurement of service on a commercial basis would not be practicable, and the agency attempted to shut out Comsat and any other potential service providers. The White House again had to intervene. This time, Henry Kissinger spoke for the Nixon administration and confirmed its commitment to commercial procurement. Finally, a two-tier arrangement was agreed on for Aerosat: the FAA, Canada, and ESRO were the operator users of the system on one level, while the FAA would be replaced by a U.S. service provider on the second level.
The next question was how the U.S. operating entity would be selected. Comsat was not the only U.S. company that expressed interest. The United States told the Europeans that it would support any qualified U.S. entity for that role and that ESRO itself could make that decision. This news was brought to ESRO headquarters in Paris by a member of the ESRO staff, who reported that he was not taken seriously at first. That the U.S. government would allow the Europeans to select a U.S. partner was considered to be a hilarious joke.
Once ESRO realized that this was in fact U.S. policy, that space agency had to design a selection process. It decided on competitive bidding. A briefing for bidders took place in Paris; Comsat and the three U.S. international record carriers--RCA, ITT, and Western Union International--attended. The request for proposals that ensued consisted of a series of questions generally along the lines: "Would the U.S. company agree to this?" or "Would the U.S. company agree to that?" The questions were intended to be answered by essays, but Comsat concluded that they were, for the most part, simply multiple choice requiring either a "yes" or "no." Comsat submitted a proposal to ESRO that consisted heavily of one-word paragraphs. Confronted with Comsat's proposal, ESRO had difficulty in using its carefully created proposal evaluation scoring system. As later reported, they were confident that simple "yes" or "no" answers deserved either 100 percent or 0 percent in the scoring, but they were not always sure which. Comsat, in any case, won the contract, and the Aerosat project was launched.
 The parties established two Aerosat bodies: one represented the customers, the FAA, ESRO, and the Canadian government, and the other represented the providers, Comsat, ESRO, and the Canadian government. Also, the parties agreed on the creation of a joint program office located in the United States with a European director, if a U.S. prime contractor were selected, or located in Europe with a U.S. director, if the contractor were a European company. Until the satellite contract was awarded, the interim joint program office was set up in 1975 at the European Space Technology Center at Noordwijk, The Netherlands. An international proposal evaluation board under Canadian leadership evaluated the responses to the request for proposals, and General Electric won the contract. Signed in 1975, the contract required a "Notice to Proceed." Although General Electric received an earnest money check for $1,000 (U.S. dollars), the "notice" was not forthcoming.
It should be noted that up to this point, the users of the air space--namely, the airlines--had had no voice in any of the planning. If ever there were a recipe for disaster, this was it, and a disaster it became. Outraged over the process, the airlines lobbied the U.S. Congress, which eliminated the FAA's funding share of the program and, instead, appropriated $1 million to study what really should be done. The dream of a satellite system completely devoted to aviation died then and there, never to be revived. At that point, maritime applications were to take center stage.
All during the flurry of activities during the mid-1960s, Comsat attempted to involve Intelsat in the provision of aeronautical services. Intelsat seemed to be an appropriate international mechanism, because the provision of aeronautical services had been included in the Intelsat charter, although under the more stringent requirements of "specialized services." During the earliest discussions between Comsat and the FAA, the Intelsat governing body formed a special advisory committee on aeronautical matters, chaired by the FAA, to provide a forum for aviation authorities from the various member countries to discuss the topic. Within the first five minutes of the committee's first meeting, the U.S. chairman managed to offend the French delegation, and the situation never recovered. The committee never met again. Nonetheless, over objections from the French, Intelsat agreed to authorize Comsat, as Intelsat manager, to conduct an aeronautical satellite systems engineering study. Comsat awarded the contract to Philco Ford, which did what all have acknowledged as an outstanding job. Unfortunately, Intelsat interest was lost forever. Comsat, however, used the results of the study to stimulate FAA interest in its hybrid scheme, until the Office of Telecommunication Policy torpedoed that program, as mentioned above.
Meanwhile, the maritime community was moving slowly but surely toward a mobile communications satellite system. The maritime arm of the United Nations, the International Maritime Consultative Organization, started to examine the use of satellite techniques during the early 1960s in its radio communications subcommittee. Captain Charles Dorian of the United States chaired the subcommittee; Captain Yuri Atserov of the Soviet Union was its vice chairman; and good representation from the world's major seafaring nations rounded out its membership.
Although maritime satellite developments lacked the excitement and urgency of the aeronautical initiatives, they showed far greater promise of reaching fruition. Among other advantages, the Soviet Union had a significant voice in the proceedings; in Intelsat, the Soviet Union would never get a seat at the table because it lacked the level of  international traffic necessary to generate a sufficiently large investment share. The Soviet Union suggested the establishment of a new international satellite organization, separate from Intelsat, and even proposed a name: "Inmarsat" (International Maritime Satellite Organization).
The work of the International Maritime Consultative Organization extended over approximately 10 years and relied on, for the most part, a panel of experts drawn from the various member nations. By 1973, the organization agreed to convene an international conference to "decide on the principle of setting up an international maritime satellite system." The conference met three times during 1975 and 1976. At its final session, the conference adopted two agreements: a "convention" among governments and an "operating agreement" among entities designated by governments to finance and operate the system. This two-tiered organization borrowed heavily from the Intelsat experience, but it exhibited many simplifications and improvements. No signatory could vote an investment share greater than 25 percent, for example, unless it first offered the excess share for sale to other signatories. This provision was a thinly veiled effort to prevent the United States from having a totally dominant voice in Inmarsat, as had been the case in the earliest days of Intelsat.
The purpose of the new Inmarsat was defined originally to: "make provision for the space segment necessary for improving maritime communications, thereby assisting in improving distress and safety of life at sea communications, efficiency and management of ships, maritime public correspondence services and radio determination capabilities." Later, its charter was broadened to include aeronautical services. Further amendments to include land mobile services are awaiting ratification. Also of significance was Recommendation 4 of the conference; it encouraged the early study of the possible use of multipurpose satellites to provide both maritime and aeronautical services. This measure clearly recognized the potential economic benefits of meeting maritime and aeronautical requirements through a common space system--a prospective benefit now well recognized after the Aerosat debacle.
The Inmarsat agreements were open for signature in 1976. They provided that investment shares in Inmarsat would be determined by actual use of the space segment, much as was the case for Intelsat. At the outset, however, it was necessary for signatories to bid for a share in the investment. Two or three years later, after the establishment of a global satellite system, Inmarsat would redetermine investment share in proportion to actual use. However, for Inmarsat to come into existence, initial investment commitments of at least 95 percent of total capital outlay was required; if the 95-percent figure were not achieved by July 1979, the enterprise would fail. Two years into this interval, the necessary 95-percent commitment had not been achieved, and the United States had yet to designate an operating entity. Finally, in 1978, after a most acrimonious debate, Congress selected Comsat as the U.S. signatory to Inmarsat under conditions specified by the Maritime Satellite Act of 1978.
Comsat, as the U.S. operating entity, closed the investment gap by offering to subscribe to all of the unsubscribed initial investment shares and thereby guaranteed the establishment of Inmarsat. Europe met this news with mixed emotions. Some feared that Comsat's huge investment share would allow it to dominate Inmarsat during its critical start-up period. The 25-percent voting limit did not seem to totally allay European fears. If initial investment in Inmarsat was oversubscribed, then all shares would be reduced pro rata to reach 100 percent. The European bloc decided to increase its bids to drive Comsat's share down to a level acceptable to Europe. The bidding war was on.
As the deadline for Inmarsat investment commitment neared at midnight on Sunday, 15 July 1979, signatory representatives gathered at the London headquarters of the  International Maritime Consultative Organization on Piccadilly Lane. The Comsat delegation waited until thirty minutes before the deadline to arrive at the final session. Among those in the room were the Chinese delegation ably assisted by British Post Office representatives, as well as a huge mechanical calculator to help in following any changes in investment bids to interpret the impact on China's share.
By midnight, the bidding had risen to a total of close to 300 percent. Comsat made a final offer at approximately ten seconds before the final bell, immediately followed by a joint European offer. This offer contained a formula by which the amount of their investment would increase to whatever level was required to offset any increase in the U.S. offer, after calculating the pro rata adjustment. Comsat objected to the bid as improper; only numerical values, not formulas, should be accepted. The next day, at the very first meeting of the Inmarsat Council in Brighton, England, Comsat filed the first and, to date, the only signatory dispute. The dispute quickly reached a negotiated resolution, thereby removing the threat of lengthy arbitration procedures and saving Inmarsat's credibility from severe damage.
Throughout the events that transpired from Sunday night through Monday morning, when the first Inmarsat Council met, no one pointed out the sad news to the Chinese delegation. The pro rata adjustment for the artificially high investment bids had forced their share down too low to qualify for a seat on the Inmarsat Council. Not realizing this, the Chinese delegation showed up on opening day in Brighton to take their seat. Some quick quiet diplomatic conversation was required, and the Chinese disappeared the following day. Thus was Inmarsat launched in a most colorful fashion!
Spectrum allocation for mobile satellites was always a critical issue. At the first International Telecommunication Union Space Conference in 1963, maritime mobile services received only a footnote in a small piece of VHF spectrum for the development of space techniques. The more organized aviation community succeeded in having bands allocated to aeronautical space services all the way from VHF to the Ku-band. It was not until the next Space Conference in 1971 that a meaningful frequency arrangement was made to the maritime services: a piece of the L-band spectrum was wrested away from the powerful aviation lobby. With the aim of facilitating the sharing of satellites by both aeronautical and maritime mobile services, the Space Conference placed their satellite allocations in adjacent bands. A single translation frequency, 101.5 megahertz, thus could serve both services. This allocation was significant, because the initiative to establish a dedicated aeronautical satellite system was about to self-destruct.
For the first time, the maritime community now had a meaningful place in the radio frequency spectrum to plan its services. Almost immediately after this frequency allocation, the first high-profile demonstration of satellite capability using a commercial satellite took place. Comsat, Intelsat, and Cunard Line cooperated in a live test program on the high seas. An eight-foot (2.4-meter) World War II radar converted to C-band and installed on the Queen Elizabeth 2 served for this demonstration of maritime satellite communication. Two entire transponders of an Intelsat IV satellite were required for a voice link, one for each direction of transmission, but the test was a public relations success that hastened efforts to develop a commercial system.
During the 1970s, as Inmarsat was coming into existence, an important parallel activity had begun in the United States. In early 1972, the U.S. Navy made Comsat an urgent request for satellite services to meet fleet communications requirements for ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) capacity during the period between the expected failure of the first-generation experimental satellites, TACSAT and LES-6, and the deployment of the first operational system, FLEETSAT. Initially, the Navy contacted Comsat staff with Navy backgrounds, Commander Burt Edelson and Captain Bill Wood, who in turn referred them to the Comsat project office set up to develop domestic and mobile applications. Comsat recognized the Navy inquiry as an opportunity to introduce a commercial mobile service.
The concept of a hybrid satellite for two different services, as proposed a few years earlier by Comsat for aeronautical applications, was adapted for this program. A system was designed to share satellite power in a flexible manner between Navy UHF transponders and an L-band system. Each Marisat satellite had up to 75 percent of its capacity available at UHF for use by the U.S. government; the remainder was L-band. In June 1972, Comsat presented an unsolicited proposal to the Navy for a three-channel UHF service--specifically, one wideband channel and two narrowband channels, each of which could be activated independently by ground command. The L-band system had three levels of L-band transmit power, so that commercial L-band service could increase as the Navy withdrew its UHF service.
The proposal required the Navy to commit to all three UHF channels on two satellites--one over the Atlantic Ocean and one over the Pacific--for a period of three years, by the end of which time, it was hoped, growth in L-band service would take up the revenue slack. The size of the financial commitment required for the UHF service, $69.8 million, was more than the Navy budget could support; the proposal was not accepted. After a difficult internal evaluation of market risk, Comsat decided to offer a revised proposal in December 1972. At that point, the Navy was required to commit to a wideband channel in each of the two satellites, but for only two years, although with options to extend both time and capacity, and the initial monetary commitment was reduced to $27.9 million, an offer sufficiently attractive for the Navy to proceed.
The U.S. regulatory process did pose a brief threat. Word of Comsat's efforts leaked out, and the U.S. international record carriers asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to insist that they have an opportunity to compete. The Navy promptly issued a request for proposals for the UHF service and required a response within a few weeks. The carriers complained that they did not have enough time, so the Navy provided a one-week extension. Time was a critical factor because the planned service date was July 1974. Still, Comsat was the only bidder and won the contract.
The FCC issued many instructions to Comsat about the program, including the requirement that other service providers be afforded an opportunity to share in system ownership. AT&T decided not to participate on the grounds that the limited ship-to-shore L-band telephone capability would not be large enough to support a viable business. The three international record carriers, though, did join in; RCA opted for an 8-percent investment share, Western Union International had a 3.41-percent share, and ITT had a 2.3-percent share. Comsat formed a subsidiary called Comsat General to serve as the Comsat investor and system manager for the Marisat joint venture--a partnership among the four companies owning the system.
From the outset, Comsat had concluded that a sole-source contract with a satellite manufacturer would be essential to meet the July 1974 target and that Hughes was the only credible supplier. By May 1973, Comsat and Hughes had concluded a contract for three Marisat hybrid satellites at a price just over $40 million. In taking this marketing risk, Comsat remained confident that once the Navy started using the service, it would want all channels for an indefinitely long time. This judgment proved more than correct; the Marisat UHF service still continues 20 years later.
In February 1973, immediately after the Navy contract award, Comsat announced the Marisat plan at an international mobile satellite symposium in London. The European community was in a state of shock. The European nominal game plan for maritime satellite services involved a fairly orderly set of assumptions. The International Maritime Consultative Organization was on the verge of convening a conference to set the stage for the establishment of Inmarsat; European governments were investing heavily in their industry to put it into a position to supply the Inmarsat space segment; and the process of designing a communications system was well under way. Western Europe had to decide whether to cooperate with this U.S. initiative or to try to suppress it. Many decided on suppression.
The satellite design had to be completely determined before any significant work began to select a communications design. The satellite had a shore-to-ship C-band-to-L-band transponder and a ship-to-shore L-band-to-C-band transponder, both four-megahertz wide. Comsat assembled a small engineering design team that was led by David Lipke and included Dan Swearingen and Tom Calvit, aided by Dick McClure from Comsat Laboratories. Their challenge was to devise a system to utilize the L-band transponders for ship-to-shore communications and to have the system ready for service in eighteen months. Although faced with a daunting task, the team put together a careful blend of digital and analog technologies for a combined telephony and telex system.
The limited capability of the satellite's L-band system required a careful evaluation of shipboard antenna size. If it were too large, it would cost too much, and no one would install it; if it were too small, the system's channel capacity would be too low to be  economical. Europeans believed that a practical shipboard antenna would have to have a very low gain. In the United States, fortunately, Scientific Atlanta had invested internal funds on the development of a low-cost stable platform capable of supporting a one-meter L-band antenna. Encouraged by this work, Comsat chose the higher gain antenna and, in a competitive procurement, ordered 200 units from Scientific Atlanta to seed the market.
The ship-based station, initially called simply Marisat, is known better now as Inmarsat-A, the workhorse of the Inmarsat system. Today, twenty years later, it still accounts for about 90 percent of Inmarsat's revenues. In Europe, work continued on an all-digital system, which the Europeans referred to as the "Forward Looking System." The European system was intended to replace Marisat when Inmarsat began operating; however, Marisat's technical success put off conversion to an all-digital system to the remote future.
After overcoming some satellite development problems, caused in no small measure by the pressure of the schedule, the Marisat system inaugurated commercial service in the Atlantic and Pacific regions through its stations in Southbury, Connecticut, and Santa Paula, California, in the summer of 1976. Pleased with the UHF service, the Navy asked that the third satellite, then held on the ground as a spare, be launched over the Indian Ocean to complete the global service. This request presented Comsat an opportunity to expand L-band service into the Indian Ocean region. Comsat negotiated an agreement with KDD (Kokusai, Denshin, Denwa), the Japanese international carrier, which allowed it to establish a third Marisat station at Yamaguchi, Japan. In November 1978, Marisat service began for ships in the Indian Ocean region through the Yamaguchi station, thus extending Marisat to global coverage.
After the establishment of Inmarsat in 1979, a number of start-up issues arose, such as the selection of a director general and the location of a headquarters site, but the overriding issue was the procurement of satellite capacity to begin operations as soon as possible. During the years just before 1979, the debate already had begun. The European national space agencies had invested large subsidies in the development of the Marecs satellites, a maritime version of the European Communications Satellite. Under the European plan, Inmarsat would procure four Marecs satellites (one spare) and deploy them over the three ocean regions. The United States feared that the size of the market would not support the cost of these dedicated satellites. Within Intelsat, another initiative was under consideration with strong U.S. support. It consisted of an L-band piggyback transponder placed on a number of Intelsat V satellites. A compromise "three plus three" proposal was put forth: the Inmarsat space segment would comprise three Marecs and three Intelsat V satellites. The proposal assumed that the Marisat satellites would die conveniently in 1981 after their nominal five-year lives were up, and that they would play no role in Inmarsat. The Marisat concept was far from dead, however.
 In 1978, the U.S. Navy, still worried about the delays in its FLEETSAT program, decided to seek another commercial lease of UHF capacity. In a most unusual procurement, Comsat found that its only competitor for the follow-on Navy business was Hughes, which also was its satellite supplier. The Comsat approach to the Navy requirements was to design a Marisat II satellite with the same benefits to all as the existing Marisat. The Soviet Union and Western Europe alike were distressed that the threat of this "Military/Commercial Hybrid," as it was called, had not gone away. In December 1978, at a plenary session of the Inmarsat Preparatory Committee--the international organization created to prepare the way for the establishment of Inmarsat--Comsat put forward its Marisat II plan. The opposition from representatives of the approximately forty Inmarsat countries would have been unanimous, except for the warm support accorded the hybrid by the U.S. State Department. The Marisat concept was not to go away completely, however.
In one of its very first actions, the Inmarsat Council appointed a special working group to develop plans for establishing its first space segment. Three options were on the table: the purchase of Marecs satellites; a possible lease of L-band transponders on Intelsat V; and a possible lease of the L-band capacity on the three Marisat satellites already in orbit. Europeans supported their "three plus three" (Intelsat plus Marecs) solution, with the assertion that the Marisats, with lifetimes of only five years, would be dead soon anyway. The United States argued that the cost of three dedicated Marecs might entail too large an investment for a limited market and that the Marisat satellites showed great likelihood of surviving for a very long time.
Inmarsat issued a request for proposals to all three suppliers. The United States took the position that all proposals should be on a lease basis to allow for fair comparisons. The European Space Agency (ESA) notified the Inmarsat Council that a Marecs lease was not possible. In a tough weekend negotiating session, Comsat, pointing to the procurement rules in the Inmarsat agreements, argued that if the purchase of Marecs satellites were to be considered, then the procurement must be delayed to allow all potential hardware suppliers in the world to compete. The following Monday morning, the Inmarsat Council learned that ESA had made arrangements with a European bank to finance a lease deal. ESA furnished an amended offer, and Inmarsat negotiated contracts with all three suppliers.
In addition to procuring its own space segment, Inmarsat had to arrange for all the details of transferring the operation of a global system from the Marisat Joint Venture to Inmarsat. Inmarsat and Comsat staff, in a spirit of mutual cooperation, worked out the myriad technical, operational, and administrative details. After considering the possibility of making the transition on an ocean-by-ocean basis, the parties decided to switch the whole world at the same moment. Thus, Inmarsat launched global operations on 1 February 1982, only thirty-one months after its establishment.
Inmarsat had hoped that the first Marecs satellite, with its higher capacity, would be available for service over the Atlantic Ocean at the time of transition, but program delays, plus some early operational hiccups in orbit, served to delay its entry into service. As a result, all three Marisat satellites were required for the transition. Marisat made three key contributions to the rapid development of Inmarsat: a global constellation of three satellites, an initial customer base of 1,000 ships, and an operating communications network.
After entry into service, Inmarsat was able to concentrate on developing the market and planning for its next generation of satellites. The internationalization of the system removed those forces suppressing growth in the Marisat era, and Inmarsat began to enjoy annual growth rates of 30 percent in both customer base and revenues. A number of related issues immediately arose in 1982. How big would the future market be? What should the next generation of satellites look like? Also, should Inmarsat follow the Intelsat approach of buying and operating its own satellites, or should it continue with the lease approach? Both methods were authorized by its charter agreements. The "conservatives," led by Comsat, prevailed in the decision to select a "simple" global beam satellite and to seek proposals for both purchase and lease from industry. Inmarsat issued a request for proposals in 1983, following resolution of a number of contentious issues, including orbit locations, the feeder link frequency plan, and the inclusion of a 400-megahertz receiving antenna to support an emergency beacon system. After reviewing the only two proposals received, Inmarsat decided to purchase the satellites, although it later negotiated a financed lease.
 The organization now had to face the management of a major space program, as did Intelsat, but with staff resources nowhere near the level of those available to Intelsat. Management oversight was provided at a dangerously low level, and major development problems arose both with the European bus and the American payload. The signatories poured in assistance and authorized a major staff increase, which put the program back on track. Finally, in late 1990, the first Inmarsat-2 was launched, more than seven years after the issuance of the request for proposals. As of today, all four satellites of the Inmarsat-2 series are performing well.
Even before the deployment of Inmarsat-2, work had begun on the next generation of satellites, Inmarsat-3. These satellites, deployed beginning in February 1996, constitute Inmarsat's first use of spot-beam technology. As a result, the size and cost of user terminals will decline. The procurement of launch services has produced a significant political breakthrough: the U.S. government has agreed to support the use of the Russian Proton launcher vehicle for one of the Inmarsat launches. That will be the first use of a Proton rocket with a U.S. commercial satellite.
In 1985, the Inmarsat Assembly adopted amendments to the agreements to extend Inmarsat's legal competence, although on a nonexclusive basis, to provide aeronautical services. These amendments went into force in 1989 after ratification by a sufficient number of signatory countries. Aviation was back in the picture after an absence of more than twenty years. Inmarsat proceeded to design a system capable of sharing the satellites originally procured only for maritime service. It coordinated its activities carefully with organizations, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Airline Electronic Engineering Committee, and the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics. This careful international coordination has led to the global acceptance of Inmarsat as a standard system. Avionics for the Inmarsat aeronautical system have proven to be quite expensive, and Inmarsat is currently planning to introduce a lower cost aeronautical service to be offered in the spot-beam coverage of the Inmarsat-3 satellites.
As technology developments shrank the weight and size of the so-called "standard-A" ship terminal, considerable interest developed in producing portable terminals that could be packed in one or more suitcase-sized containers and taken to remote locations on land. Licensing issues are troublesome, but this kind of use has enjoyed explosive growth recently. The Inmarsat Assembly in 1989 adopted nonexclusive amendments to its agreements, very similar to the aeronautical amendments, to enable Inmarsat to enter land mobile markets. As of today, however, a sufficient number of countries have not ratified them.
As the Inmarsat system was being established, parallel activities were under way to establish a mobile satellite system to serve the United States and Canada. In 1983, two U.S. companies, Mobilesat and Skylink, filed for experimental authority to launch and operate mobile satellite systems for U.S. services. NASA, with the Canadian Department of Communications, set up the MSAT-X experimental program to further explore and develop the technology. Geostar, a company that ultimately provided fleet management services via satellite communications in the late 1980s, filed its first application with the FCC to provide position determination services using satellites.
In 1984, the FCC established a deadline by which any entity interested in operating in the United States would be required to file an application. Twelve applicants filed, setting off a regulatory battle that took years to resolve. During the next several years, while  Inmarsat was expanding its customer base, the U.S. L-band mobile satellite communications industry consisted principally of legal briefs presented to the FCC.
However, interest in mobile satellite applications stimulated developments outside the L-band spectrum. In 1985, Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi launched Qualcomm to provide satellite-based mobile positioning and messaging services using spread-spectrum technology through Ku-band domestic satellites. Qualcomm currently is the largest operator of mobile satellite communications services in the world in terms of customer base, with more than 100,000 of its units on trucks and other vehicles in the United States, as well as more than 5,000 in Brazil, Japan, Eastern Europe, and Russia.
Meanwhile, the FCC ruled that the twelve original mobile satellite communications applicants had to form a single consortium, indicating its belief that neither the spectrum nor the market would support more than one licensee. More legal and corporate battles ensued, but finally, in 1988, a consortium, now known as the American Mobile Satellite Corporation (AMSC), was formed. Its principal shareholders are Hughes Communica-tions, Singapore Telecom, AT&T Wireless Services (formerly McCaw), and Mtel Corporation.
AMSC received its FCC operating license in 1989. That license authorized the consortium to provide a full range of mobile voice and data services via satellite to customers on land, in the air, and on the sea within a service area consisting of the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and coastal waters up to 200 miles offshore. In addition to mobile services, AMSC was authorized to provide fixed voice and data services via satellite to locations within its service area that are not served by cellular or fixed telephony. The license authorized up to three geosynchronous satellites to provide these services.
On 7 April 1995, almost exactly thirty years after the launch of the world's first commercial satellite, Early Bird, AMSC launched its first satellite, AMSC-1, on a Lockheed Martin Atlas II rocket. It was the most powerful mobile satellite deployed to date. Service was inaugurated over North America. Early in 1996, Telesat Mobile Inc., the consortium's Canadian partner, launched an identical companion satellite. AMSC has an arrangement with its Canadian partner that will enable each satellite to provide backup to the services provided by the other satellite. The initiation of this service culminated nearly a decade of protracted entrepreneurial and regulatory activity.
In 1990, Motorola announced plans for Iridium, a global system of low-orbit satellites for mobile handheld communication. Subsequently, other proposals appeared, and Inmarsat had to shift its own thinking into high gear. It wished to enter the handheld market in competition with Iridium and the other proposed systems, but Inmarsat soon discovered that its own decision-making processes presented a severe handicap compared to those of the private ventures. In particular, Inmarsat owners were sharply divided over central issues, including the appropriateness of Inmarsat's entry into that market in the first place. Other owners saw the implementation of the land mobile program as a natural extension of Inmarsat's other systems, while still others wanted to take the venture out of Inmarsat entirely, although allowing for the possibility of using Inmarsat as a management contractor.
After years of debate, a compromise was struck. A separate affiliate organization was formed in which Inmarsat held a 15-percent investment share. This compromise meant that all Inmarsat signatories have an investment in the affiliate, whether or not they  otherwise chose to participate. The balance of the initial investment opportunity, open initially only to Inmarsat signatories, was oversubscribed. Consequently, as when the original Inmarsat investment opportunity was offered, a pro rata reduction was introduced. Moreover, in late 1995, the announcement came that the first outsider, Hughes Aircraft, had joined the partnership. Hughes also was selected to build the space segment, a constellation of ten operational satellites in medium-altitude orbit. Inmarsat also must face competition from a host of regional system operators that will blanket most of the land areas of the globe with service provided from high-powered geostationary satellites to handheld units much like those envisioned to be used with low-orbit systems. In the future, the role of Inmarsat in global mobile satellite communications clearly will be diminished, but the work accomplished in developing the technology and markets has cleared the way for the coming world revolution in personal communications.