On April 20, 1996, the Canadian firm TMI Communications launched MSat, a powerful new communications satellite. MSat was Canada's first satellite designed to serve mobile users, especially those in remote areas out of the reach of conventional communication systems.
Most of us take telephones for granted, but some people are involved in occupations - like trucking, fishing, flying, shipping, or surveying - that put them out of contact with the rest of the world for long periods of time. Most telephone calls are made over phone lines that physically connect the user to a station that transmits the signal to its destination. This, of course, is only possible if the users are always near their telephones. Cellular phones, which serve mobile users, only operate when the phone is within range of a microwave tower. Because these signals, however, must travel in a straight line, they cannot travel around the curvature of the Earth or past large obstacles like mountains.
The MSat system is revolutionary because any user equipped with a communicator the size of a briefcase can transmit directly to a satellite. This mini-terminal will allow users to make voice phone calls, send email or faxes, and obtain accurate information about their position. Any vessel, vehicle, aircraft, or remote operation can easily be equipped with one.
One of the reasons the new satellite telephone service works for remote locations is that the new satellite broadcasts a signal of 600 watts, eight times stronger than any previous commercial satellite. This means that the signal no longer requires a large dish-like antenna to pick up the signal. Instead, the MSat communicator can receive and transmit the digital signals.
There are many uses for this new service. For example, fire fighters trying to put out a forest fire in a remote location can communicate with airplanes bringing water to drop on the fire. Air ambulances can communicate with medical experts on the ground. Truck drivers can communicate with their head office while they're travelling.
MSat is paired with the American satellite AMSC. Together, the two satellites provide communications capability to almost every square inch of North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Also, the two satellites serve as backup for one another. The two satellites were built through joint contracts with the Canadian firm Spar Aerospace Ltd. and the American firm Hughes Communications Inc.
The new MSat system will do what the early Canadian railway builders set out to accomplish - to make it possible for Canadians anywhere to communicate easily and send information quickly to one another.