What is Mobile Satellite Service (MSS)?

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Oct 30, 2023

Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) consists of a range of services that is designed to provide connectivity to mobile devices and vehicles across remote and underserved areas. It serves as the conduit for voice, data, and messaging services to mobile and portable devices. The service has independence from ground-based infrastructure. This autonomy empowers MSS to extend its communication services to remote and challenging-to-reach locations, especially during times when conventional communication networks falter or are unavailable. These services are crucial for ensuring communication in areas where terrestrial networks are unavailable or unreliable. MSS systems use geostationary or non-geostationary satellites to provide coverage over vast geographical regions.

Key characteristics of MSS include:

  • Global Coverage: MSS systems, particularly those employing non-geostationary satellites like LEO (Low Earth Orbit) or MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) constellations, offer global coverage. This means that users can communicate seamlessly, even in remote locations such as polar regions, oceans, or deserts.
  • Handheld Devices: One of the defining features of MSS is the ability to support handheld devices like satellite phones. MSS providers have developed compact, user-friendly terminals that facilitate voice calls, messaging, and even basic internet access, making it a lifeline for adventurers, remote workers, and disaster responders.
  • Low Latency: While LEO and MEO satellites may introduce lower latency compared to geostationary satellites, the latency in MSS systems is generally higher compared to terrestrial networks. However, advancements in satellite technology are continually reducing this gap, making real-time applications more feasible.

MSS Operators

The Mobile Satellite Services industry boasts several prominent players, each offering a diverse array of communication solutions tailored to various applications. Below are some of the leading companies providing MSS:

  • Inmarsat: Established in 1979, Inmarsat, a UK-based company, specializes in providing global mobile satellite services for the maritime, aviation, government, and enterprise sectors. Their service portfolio encompasses voice, broadband, and IoT connectivity.
  • Iridium Communications: Iridium, a US-based company, operates a constellation of 66 low-Earth orbit satellites, furnishing global voice and data communication services for various industries, including maritime, aviation, government, and public safety.
  • Globalstar: A US-based MSS provider, Globalstar offers satellite voice and data services, encompassing satellite phones, asset tracking, and IoT connectivity solutions, catering to industries such as maritime, aviation, emergency management, and outdoor recreation.
  • Thuraya: Founded in the United Arab Emirates, Thuraya extends MSS services across the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia. They focus on satellite voice, broadband, and IoT solutions, serving industries such as maritime, energy, defense, and media.
  • Intelsat: A Luxembourg-based company, Intelsat ranks among the world's largest providers of satellite services. While primarily concentrated on fixed satellite services (FSS), Intelsat also dips into the realm of mobile satellite services.
  • SES: Another Luxembourg-based entity, SES, manages a fleet comprising geostationary and medium Earth orbit satellites. Their service spectrum spans video broadcasting, data networks, and mobility solutions, including MSS for maritime and aeronautical applications.
  • Viasat: Viasat, headquartered in the US, offers satellite-based communication services, encompassing satellite internet, voice, and data solutions catering to residential, aviation, maritime, government, and military customers.
  • Eutelsat: Eutelsat, a French satellite operator, primarily focuses on fixed satellite services but extends its reach to mobile satellite services for maritime and aeronautical applications.
  • Telesat: Based in Canada, Telesat provides satellite communication services for government, broadcast, and enterprise sectors. They offer MSS solutions for aeronautical and maritime customers.
  • EchoStar Corporation: EchoStar, a US-based entity, delivers satellite-based communication services, including MSS for various applications, such as emergency response, disaster recovery, and remote connectivity.


  • Voice Communication: MSS facilitates voice calls between satellite phones or other mobile devices in remote regions devoid of terrestrial infrastructure. This proves invaluable during natural disasters, in remote locales, or at sea.
  • Data Communication: MSS supports data transmission, encompassing internet access, file transfers, and email services, catering to users in remote areas where traditional cellular or Wi-Fi networks remain inaccessible.
  • Tracking and Monitoring: Real-time monitoring and tracking of vehicles, ships, and aircraft are made possible by MSS, providing crucial information on their location, speed, and direction. This functionality proves pivotal for logistics, fleet management, and search and rescue missions.
  • Emergency Services: MSS steps up during disasters or emergencies, when terrestrial networks may buckle under pressure. It ensures reliable communication, fostering coordination among relief efforts and facilitating communication among first responders.
  • Maritime Communications: For ships at sea, MSS offers voice and data communication services, including distress alerts, weather updates, navigation data, and ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore communication.
  • Aeronautical Communications: In-flight connectivity for both passengers and crew, along with real-time communication between aircraft and ground control, falls under the purview of MSS. This enhances air traffic management and operational support.
  • Military and Government Applications: MSS establishes secure communication channels for military and government personnel operating in remote or challenging environments, enabling seamless coordination, intelligence gathering, and secure data transmission.
  • Environmental Monitoring: The capability to support remote sensing and data collection from sensors and monitoring stations in isolated areas benefits environmental research, natural resource management, and disaster response.
  • Telemedicine: MSS facilitates remote medical consultations and diagnostics while enabling the transmission of medical data, images, and reports to and from remote or mobile healthcare facilities.
  • IoT and M2M Communication: Catering to the burgeoning realm of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things (IoT), MSS provides connectivity to remote devices and sensors. This facilitates data collection, remote control, and asset tracking.

Challenges in Service Delivery for MSS Operators

MSS operators grapple with several challenges tied to service delivery, including:

  • High Capital and Operational Costs: Developing, launching, and maintaining satellite systems constitutes a capital-intensive endeavor. MSS operators necessitate substantial investments in research and development, satellite manufacturing, launch services, and ground infrastructure.
  • Spectrum Management and Interference: MSS operators must acquire and oversee the radio frequency spectrum, a finite resource. Interference from other satellite operators or terrestrial networks can degrade service quality.
  • Latency and Data Rates: The inherent distances involved in satellite communication can result in higher latency compared to terrestrial networks. This can impact the performance of certain applications, such as real-time gaming or video conferencing. Additionally, data rates may be limited, particularly for geostationary satellites, affecting user experience.
  • Regulatory and Licensing Challenges: MSS operators must navigate intricate regulatory landscapes and obtain licenses to operate in diverse countries. This can be time-consuming and costly, especially in regions with multiple jurisdictions or countries enforcing strict regulatory requirements.
  • Competition from Terrestrial Networks: As terrestrial networks, encompassing cellular and fiber-optic broadband, continue to expand and enhance their services, MSS operators face mounting competition, particularly in urban and developed areas where terrestrial networks are readily available.
  • Limited Coverage and Network Capacity: Despite striving to provide global coverage, MSS operators may still encounter gaps in coverage, especially in polar regions or regions characterized by challenging terrain. Network capacity limitations can also affect service quality during peak demand or in congested regions.
  • Terminal Size, Cost, and Power Consumption: MSS terminals, especially those designed for broadband services, may be larger, costlier, and consume more power than their terrestrial counterparts. This can deter consumers and businesses, particularly for mobile applications.
  • Adverse Weather Conditions: Satellite signals can be susceptible to atmospheric conditions, such as heavy rain or snow, leading to signal degradation or loss. This poses a particular challenge for MSS operators serving regions prone to adverse weather.
  • Space Debris and Collision Risks: The growing volume of space debris orbiting Earth presents a risk to satellites. Collisions can result in severe damage or satellite functionality loss. MSS operators must monitor and mitigate collision risks, a complex and resource-intensive task.
  • Technological Advancements and Obsolescence: In the ever-evolving technology landscape, MSS operators must continually invest in research and development to maintain competitiveness. This ensures that their satellite systems remain relevant and capable of meeting customer demands.
  • Security and Privacy Concerns: To safeguard customer data and ensure service privacy and security, MSS operators must invest in secure communication protocols and encryption technologies, guarding against eavesdropping, jamming, or cyberattacks.
  • Market Penetration and Customer Acquisition: MSS operators must engage in ongoing marketing efforts and acquire new customers to sustain growth and profitability. This proves challenging in a competitive environment replete with numerous service providers and communication alternatives.