Mobile Satellites - the MSAT Program
A satellite system that could provide mobile telephone service anywhere in Canada using small and inexpensive terminals had long been a vision for many Canadians whose work or lifestyle took them far from telephone contact. An early military program showed promise. Starting in 1967, DND and CRC engineers were involved in a NATO program called "TACSATCOM" to evaluate the use of U.S. military satellites for mobile services. The satellites, LES-5, LES-6 and Tacsat operated in the UHF band, making small, light-weight terminals feasible. On May 16, 1970, a world's first was probably established for aircraft-to-aircraft communications via satellite. A military system was not implemented in Canada, but for more than a decade the concept was kept alive with studies and proposals first as MUSAT and later evolving into MSAT.
The Tacsatcom trials in the late-1960s showed that a mobile communication system was technically feasible. Later studies also indicated that it could be economically viable. As a result, plans were later made for Telesat to offer mobile service by satellite on a commercial basis.
Communication to mobiles is becoming an increasingly important factor in the conduct of business, search and rescue and recreation. Whereas developments such as cellular mobile and wide area paging networks provide increasing service in populated regions, such has not been the case in less populated areas where it becomes uneconomical to install the necessary land network facilities. The MSAT program has required the development of policy and regulations and coordination with the United States to ensure adequate service to both countries.
Canada's objectives in the MSAT Proogram were:
- To foster the development of nationwide commercial mobile telecommunications services, by satellite, primarily to rural and remote areas of Canada.
- To provide cost-effective mobile radio and telephone services on a variety of low-cost mobile terminals (land, sea and air).
- To continue fostering the development of Canadian space systems technology in the private sector, including the development of engineering skills and expertise in Canada.
The MSAT system was developed to provide three generic types of service: Mobile Telephone (MTS); Mobile Radio - Base Station operations (MRS) and Mobile Data - packetized. The voice services for mobile telephone are full duplex, with automated dialling and full interconnection into the switched telephone network (STN) through regional gateway stations. The telephones have most features commonly provided by terrestrial systems including the ability to handle data. The mobile radio service is meant to serve users who wish to communicate with base stations in shared networks or, if warranted, private networks. Both voice and data may be accommodated with several options included for voice, both digital and analog. The services were targeted primarily to applications where roaming was required beyond the range of terrestrial services. Consequently, it was designed to be complementary rather than a competitive technology.
The implementation of MSAT proved to be an exceedingly complex and difficult task. This is demonstrated by the launch delay from 1987 to 1995-96. The majority of the delay was a result of the need to resolve the question of available spectrum.
In 1982, an agreement was made for a demonstration system. In 1983, the demonstration system was redirected to commercial service application. MSAT's M2 (the American satellite AMSC-1: American Mobile Satellite Consortium) was launched on April 7, 1995 and the second satellite, M1 (the Canadian satellite) was launched on April 20, 1996.
Canada and the United States signed an agreement in 1982 which permitted the introduction of a mobile satellite service in the 800 MHz band and a cooperative program between NASA and DOC was started to develop a demonstration satellite. By 1983, the commercial satellite industries were sufficiently interested in the program that it was decided to go immediately to an operational service. Telesat was identified as Canada's mobile satellite service provider. In May 1986, the Federal Government approved support of MSAT as a major part of the overall space plan.
Formal inter-governmental negotiations with the United States were conducted to resolve differences in domestic spectrum policy. This resulted in a unified Canada/U.S. position to broaden the L-band spectrum for general mobile satellite service. The transponder was designed to act as a microwave relay between a mobile and the central control station. Frequencies used for the mobiles was in the L-band, while communication to the backhaul station was to be in the SHF band (12 and 14 GHz).
Beginning in 1982, the federal government funded various development programs and studies as well as conducting in-house research and development to place Canadian industry in a position to manufacture the necessary ground terminal equipment. A set of trials was also developed for MSAT to stimulate funds for industry development of communications equipment; to provide an opportunity to conduct detailed technical tests and evaluations; to provide an early test of the commercial system; to allow potential MSAT users to evaluate service needs and effectiveness and to raise awareness of system potential. With the redirection in 1983, from a demonstration satellite program to a commercial service, it was realized there was a need to develop a customer base before launch was realized. For example, a cooperative program was established prior to launch between the Ontario Government, CRC, Telesat, Teleglobe and INMARSAT to develop and test the necessary voice satellite terminal equipment with the Ontario Air Ambulance Service.
Bob Huck, Alan MacLatchy, Joe McNally, Jack Rigley and many others were involved in the implementation of the MSAT satellite project.
The first MSAT satellite (M2) was successfully launched in April 1995. This satellite was the American AMSC-1 (American Mobile Satellite Consortium). The second MSAT satellite was the Canadian version (M1). It was launched in April 1996, after previous delays. The satellites have been successfully providing commercial mobile satellite services, since their launches into space.
Huck, R.W. "The Canadian MSAT Program." MSAT: Reaching all Canadians Ottawa; CRC, 1985.
Page created on July 10, 1996 by Cynthia Boyko
Last updated on February 5, 2001 by Stu McCormick
Copyright © Friends of CRC, 1997