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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS

Int. J. Commun. Syst. Network 2010; 28:2957


Published online 11 August 2009 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/sat.941

A survey on mobile satellite systems


Paolo Chini1, Giovanni Giambene1,,y and Sastri Kota2
2

1
CNITUniversita` degli Studi di Siena, Via Roma, 56, Siena 53100, Italy
Harris CorporationGCSD, 1134 East Arques Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94086, U.S.A.

SUMMARY
Satellite systems represent a signicant solution to provide communication services to mobile users in
under-populated regions, in emergency areas, on planes, trains, and ships. In all these cases, satellite
systems have unique capabilities in terms of robustness, wide area coverage, and broadcast/multicast
capabilities. This paper surveys current mobile satellite networks and services from different standpoints,
encompassing research issues, recent standardization advances (e.g. mobile extension for DVB-S2/-RCS,
DVB-SH) and some operational systems (e.g. Globalstar, Inmarsat BGAN, Iridium, and Thuraya). The
last part of this paper is devoted to qualitative and quantitative comparisons of the different mobile
satellite systems to understand their characteristics in terms of services, capacity, resource utilization
efciency, and user mobility degree. Copyright r 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Received 21 July 2008; Revised 13 April 2009; Accepted 17 June 2009
KEY WORDS:

satellite communications; mobile satellite systems; design issues; standards

1. INTRODUCTION
Satellite networks are an attractive approach for communication services in areas of the world
not well served by existing terrestrial infrastructures. There is a vast range of sectors (e.g. landmobile, aeronautical, maritime, transports, rescue and disaster relief, military, etc.) needing
mobile communication services and where the satellite is the only viable option [1]. This is the
reason why at present there is a renewed interest and market opportunities for Mobile Satellite
Systems (MSSs). Technologies for multi-spot-beam antennas, low-noise receivers, and on board
processing have permitted to achieve the direct access to the satellite for small, portable or even
handheld terminals by using S, L, and recently Ku and Ka bands. Satellites can also be equipped
with a regenerating payload and inter-satellite links, thus respectively permitting to switch trafc

*Correspondence to: Giovanni Giambene, Dipartimento di Ingegneria dellInformazione, Universita` degli Studi di
Siena, Via Roma, 56, 53100 Siena, Italy.
y
E-mail: giambene@unisi.it
Contract/grant sponsor: European SatNEx II; contract/grant number: IST-027393

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P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

ows from different beams of a satellite and trafc forwarding/routing in the sky through
satellites.
Satellites are on suitable orbits around the earth; on the basis of their altitude, they can be
categorized into Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) and non-GEO, as explained below [2]:


A GEO satellite is on the earths equatorial plane at a height of about 35 800 km, a
signicant distance that entails huge signal propagation delay and attenuation. Typical
GEO satellite communications use high frequencies (e.g. S, L, and even Ku and Ka
bands), thus exacerbating the path loss experienced by the signal. For these reasons, GEO
satellites are better suited for xed communication services, where large-size antennas can
be used in the earth station. Nevertheless, there are several GEO systems providing
services to mobile users.
Non-GEO satellites use two possible orbit types: Low Earth Orbit (LEO), at a height
between 500 and 2000 km of altitude, and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), at a height
between 8000 and 12 000 km of altitude. Non-GEO satellites have the advantage to be
closer to the earth with respect to GEO ones, thus allowing much lower end-to-end
latency in transferring data as well as better link budget conditions. Unfortunately, nonGEO systems need several satellites (i.e. a constellation) to cover a region or the whole
earth, so that frequent handover procedures are needed to switch a connection from one
satellite antenna beam to another, from one satellite to another or even from a terrestrial
gateway to another.

MSSs may suffer from non-Line-of-Sight (non-LoS) propagation conditions due to the
presence of obstacles or return link budget restrictions caused by the low power and small
antenna size available on portable terminals. In order to address these problems, two similar,
but distinct, innovative design approaches can be adopted: (i) hybrid networks and (ii) integrated
networks. In the rst case, terrestrial gap llers (repeaters) can be employed to retransmit locally
the satellite signal in non-LoS conditions. Moreover, the return link can be supplied by a
terrestrial cellular system to simplify the power management of mobile terminals. Finally, the
satellite coverage can be extended (e.g. indoor or urban cases) by means of a local wireless
system where the base station converts the satellite signal to the wireless one and vice
versa. For what concerns the integrated networks, a terrestrial cellular network can be used as
an alternative system to connect the mobile user (both forward and return links) with respect to
the satellite one. Some examples of integrated networks are analyzed in [3] and in [4], referring
to the Mobile Applications & sErvices based on Satellite & Terrestrial inteRwOrking
(MAESTRO) project. In order to dene the terrestrial segment, the European Commission
has introduced the concept of Complementary Ground Component (CGC); while, FCC in U.S.
has used the term Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC). These concepts are quite
interchangeable, even if CGC is more related to hybrid networks and ATC to integrated
networks. In any case, terrestrial systems could be based on 3rd generation (3G), Wireless
Fidelity (WiFi, IEEE 802.11 a/b/g), or Worldwide Interoperability for Wireless Microwave Access
(WiMAX) technologies.
The following MSS projects deal with the challenges and the efforts for providing broadband
multimedia services to users in land vehicular, aeronautical, and maritime environments:
(i) MObile Wideband Global Link sYstem (MOWGLY) [5]; (ii) Mobile Broadband Interactive
Satellite multimedia Access Technology (MoBISAT) by ETRI [6]; and (iii) Broadband Global
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Area NetworkeXtension (BGAN-X) by the European Space Agency, ESA (see Section 4.3) [7].
Moreover, the SATellite-based communication systems within IPv6 (SATSIX) project aims,
among others, to incorporate the IPv6 protocol inside broadband MSSs [810].
The aim of this paper is to provide an overview on several aspects of MSSs, such as main
design issues, available standards and an analytical approach to compare their capacity, the
resource utilization efciency, and the user mobility. Some operational MSSs for public use are
taken as examples. This paper is organized as follows: Section 2 describes design implications to
support mobile users in satellite networks. In Section 3, we present ve standards suitable for
MSS communications. Section 4 describes some MSSs that are compared in Section 5 in terms
of several parameters. In Section 6, we present future trends for MSSs. Finally, concluding
remarks are drawn in Section 7.

2. DESIGN ISSUES FOR MSS NETWORKS


This section addresses important improvements and special solutions that are needed in the
design of satellite communication systems in order to support mobile users. Our study is carried
out below by focusing on specic aspects at the different layers of the protocol stack.
2.1. Medium-related issues
2.1.1. Frequency bands and regulations. Frequency bands are assigned at the World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs), periodically organized by the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication sector (ITU-R). While xed services use high C and K
frequency bands, mobile services are better suited for lower L and S frequency bands that were
assigned at the World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC) 92 [11]. MSSs have exploited
L/S-band technology for a long time: L/S-band systems permit small on-board antennas due to
lower signal attenuation and reduced impact of atmospheric effects. However, the need of
broadband services and the limited amount of available L/S-band resources (2  30 MHz) have
pushed toward the use of Ku and Ka bands for MSSs. ITU-R has assigned Ka band frequency
portions to MSSs and Fixed Satellite Systems (FSSs) on a primary basis in all regions
(29.930 GHz for earth-to-space link and 20.121.3 GHz for space-to-earth link) and Ku band
frequency portions to MSS on a secondary basis in all regions (1414.5 GHz for earth-to-space
link and 1012 GHz for space-to-earth link). At present, Ku-based MSSs are available to
provide broadband services in many mobile environments, such as trains, boats, planes, and
cars. However, Ku-band satellites, as opposed to L/S-band satellites, do not provide a good
coverage over seas, because antenna spot-beams footprints are focused on landmasses [12]. In
fact, Ku-band satellites are mainly intended for xed users, so that there are not enough Ku/Ka
band satellites providing coverage over oceans. Hence, a trade-off has to be achieved between
the need of increased bandwidth and coverage issues.
The European regulatory framework for the use of L/S band by MSS is becoming obsolete.
For this reason, on February 2007 the European Commission decided a public consultation
among the MSS manufacturers and operators for the use of 2  30 MHz bandwidth in L/S band
for MSSs (i.e. the band (19802010) MHz in uplink and (21702200) MHz in downlink). An
interesting issue that such a consultation had to address was how to allocate bandwidth to MSSs
once auctions will be done for the use of available L/S bands [13]. The main outcome was the
conrmation of the interest for these frequency bands by many MSS operators and the
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indication of the possible number of operators to be selected with auctions. On December 2008,
the European Commission, decided to admit four applicants and, among those, selected on May
2009 Inmarsat and Solaris (i.e. a joint venture between Eutelsat and SES-ASTRA).
2.1.2. Mobile terminal antenna. The antenna design is a crucial issue for mobile terminals. An
important aspect is the antenna size, the cost, and the adopted technology. Moreover, the
antenna system should be reliable and efcient in terms of sensitivity, gain, and interference. It is
important to highlight some differences between xed and mobile services: xed terminals use
directional antennas, while mobile terminals can also use omni-directional antennas (anyway,
phased-array directional antennas with fast tracking algorithms could be adopted instead of
omni-directional antennas in order to improve the link budget). Typically, mobile terminals can
transmit in all the directions and receive signals from all the directions as well. For this reason,
mobile terminals could interfere with other satellite networks. There are some studies in the
literature that address interference issues between xed and mobile satellite services. In [14], the
authors describe interference characteristics between a non-GEO MSS and a GEO FSS. In [15],
the author analyzes non-GEO xed and mobile satellite service constellations, providing some
suggestions for regulations (in terms of maximum transmitted power and elevation angles) to
avoid interference among them.
Further considerations on terminal antenna design can be done by taking into account the
different application environments: for example, the railway scenario is well served by Ku-band
satellites (coverage over landmasses), but the antenna on trains should be small (low-directivity
gain), thus generating higher interference levels for adjacent satellites. In aeronautical and
maritime scenarios, planes and boats could be at the edge of spot-beam coverage, thus requiring
a suitable antenna design. However, big antennas could be used in the case of big boats that
have lower design constraints.
The antenna size on the mobile terminal determines the characteristics of interference for
both uplink and downlink transmissions. Moreover, there are off-axis power ow limitations for
uplink transmissions in Ku band (there are only secondary allocations for MSSs). This entails
constraints on the Effective Isotropic Radiated Power (EIRP) for the mobile user. In order to
mitigate interference, spread-spectrum schemes can be used. Several spread-spectrum techniques
can be adopted (e.g. Direct Sequence, DS, Frequency Hopping, FH, and burst repetition). The
standardization for the mobile extension of Digital Video BroadcastingSatellite version 2/
Digital Video BroadcastingReturn Channel via Satellite (DVB-S2/DVB-RCS) has considered
DS spreading for the forward link and burst repetition for the return link (maximum spreading
factor of 16 with Single Channel Per Carrier, SCPC) [16]. The DS approach is a well-known
scheme where the transmitted bits are multiplied by a sequence of shorter chips; while, the burst
repetition technique consists in transmitting many times the same packet in the same time slot
interval. Further details on DVB-S2/DVB-RCS extension for mobile usage are described in
Section 3.
2.1.3. Satellite antenna and frequency reuse. One of the key aspects in realizing MSSs is the use
of a high-directivity multi-spot-beam satellite antenna, consisting of a large deployable reector
and a feeder system. At present, typical big-antennas on GEO satellites can reach a diameter up
to 25 m, while we can expect a diameter around 2 m for LEO systems. Spot-beams are needed in
order to focus the covered area on the earth with a high antenna gain. Current MSSs exploit
satellite antennas with a high number of beams: hundreds of beams for GEO satellite antennas;
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dozens of beams for LEO and MEO satellite antennas. The allocated frequency band is divided
into some carriers that are distributed among beams in order to avoid interferences among
adjacent beams; carriers can be reused in sufciently far beams. A cluster is a set of beams where
all the system carriers are used. Some examples of (average) cluster sizes (i.e. number of beams
per cluster) for MSSs (see also Section 5) are [17]:12 beams/cluster for Iridium, 27 beams/
cluster for BGAN, and 21 beams/cluster for Thuraya. We can note that GEO systems, such as
BGAN and Thuraya, are characterized by higher values of the cluster size: in GEO systems
narrower (i.e. higher directivity) beams than in non-GEO ones are needed to irradiate the same
area on the earth. Hence, beams are much closer each other in antennas on GEO satellites, thus
entailing higher levels of mutual interference and the need for a larger frequency reuse cluster.
Here, closer beams means a greater density of satellite antenna beams per unit of solid angle
related to the satellite; such density is much higher in GEO cases than in non-GEO ones. On the
contrary, the spot-beam footprints (i.e. cells) irradiated on the earth by non-GEO satellites are
smaller and closer each other than in the case of GEO satellites.
2.1.4. Elevation angle. Another important issue for a good quality of the communication is the
minimum elevation angle according to which a mobile terminal can see the satellite in an MSS.
While the requirements on this angle are not so stringent for FSSs due to the fact that the
location and orientation of the user antenna can be optimized (e.g. LoS conditions can be
achieved for GEO satellites by selecting appropriate earth station locations), in the MSS
scenario (in particular for land-mobile users) we need to avoid a low value of the minimum
elevation angle, otherwise we could have frequent shadowing and blockage events for the signal
due to trees, buildings, hills, etc. Such a problem is not much relevant to aeronautic and
maritime users, where there are no blockage events, except for those cases where planes or ships
are close to the borders of satellite coverage. Increasing the elevation angle, the signal quality
improves (reduction of shadowing/blockage effects), but also system costs increase (higher
number of satellites in the constellation). For this reason, a good choice of the minimum
elevation angle for future MSSs is around 201 in the case of land-mobile users [18]. However, in
rst-generation MSSs, also elevation angle values p101 have been adopted. The minimum
elevation angle requirement entails suitable design constraints for the number of satellites in a
constellation and also entails that GEO satellites cannot service polar regions.
2.1.5. Channel models. ESA has carried out a measurement campaign at Ku and Ka bands that
has permitted to dene a channel model for MSSs [19]. In particular, in the land-mobile case, the
channel at both Ku and Ka bands can be characterized by a three-state Markov chain model,
featuring LoS, shadowing and blockage (non-LoS) conditions. For what concerns the Ku (Ka)
band, a Rice (Loo) distribution characterizes each state. Multipath, shadowing and blockage
effects are also present at lower L frequency bands. However, a typical choice for the L-band
channel is to consider a two-state (goodbad) Markov model [20]. The parameters of these
models depend on the environment (city center, suburban area, and rural area) where the mobile
terminal is located as well as the elevation angle.
2.2. Physical (PHY) layer issues
An important aspect for MSSs is to use an adaptive air interface with the possible choice among
several modulation and coding techniques to adapt to channel variations due to user movement;
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note that adaptation to channel variations implies the use of a feedback channel to inform the
transmitter about the most suitable physical layer transmission parameters to guarantee a
certain quality at the receiver. Such adoption is viable only for land-mobile (low speed) users
and becomes critical for higher frequency bands.
It is important to highlight that signal blockage effects can cause a demodulator
synchronization loss with a period of unavailability during the resynchronization process.
Different solutions may be used to face this non-LoS problem: for example, gap llers (in the
presence of extended or permanent obstacles), space diversity (e.g. using two receiving antennas
that are distant more than the length of obstacles), and time diversity (e.g. using a time
interleaver for spreading the errors occurring during a persistent fading event).

2.3. Medium Access Control (MAC) layer issues


According to [21], many handover scenarios can be considered: in a non-GEO case, user
mobility is dominated by the satellite constellation mobility; while in a GEO case, mobility is
present only for users accessing the service from planes, trains, and ships. The resource
assignment at the MAC layer (layer 2) has to provide adequate priorities for handover
management: handed-over trafc typically suffers from extra switching delays (and, in some
cases, re-routing delays when gateway changes are involved) and, hence, it needs an adequate
layer 2 prioritization in receiving resources in the destination cell, otherwise the related session
could be terminated by higher layers.

2.4. Network layer issues


Let us refer to satellites with on-board IP routing capabilities. Hence, Mobile IP (MIP)
developed by IETF could be used to support handover procedures.z Unfortunately, MIP has
the problem of high handover latency. NASA and CISCO have carried out many projects to
improve MIP for handover procedures in IP-based satellite networks [21].
As an alternative to the above MIP approach, Connexion by Boeing (an in-ight GEO-based
Internet connectivity service, not anymore active since 2006) allowed global IP mobility using
the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) [22]. In particular, a Class C IP address block is assigned to
a mobile platform (i.e. a plane or a ship, having on-board a data transceiver/router box and
some 802.11 a/b/g wireless access points). These addresses are selectively announced by the
nearest terrestrial gateway, for the period the plane/ship passes through the region where the
gateway is located (four gateways have been used to cover North America, Europe, and Asian
regions). When the plane/ship leaves the region, the gateway stops advertising the IP address
block that is advertised by the neighbor gateway.
Finally, the IEEE 802.21 Media Independent Handover (MIH) standard could be adopted to
manage handovers between IP-based satellite networks and other mobile networks in an
integrated system (this functionality is provided through a new layer of the protocol stack that is
between layer 2 and IP at layer 3) [23].
z

MIP solves the IP mobility problem by means of a routing approach, managing a dynamic association between a careof-address to a home address, called binding.

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3. STANDARDS FOR MSSS


Nowadays, we can consider at least the following ve standards that are directly related to
MSSs:






Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) via satellite,


SatelliteUniversal Mobile Telecommunications System (S-UMTS),
Digital Video BroadcastingSatellite Version 2 (DVB-S2) and related return-link
standard,
SatelliteDigital Multimedia Broadcasting (S-DMB), and
DVBSatellite to Handheld (DVB-SH).

The main driving force for the denition of the above standards is that satellite
communication systems should be able to provide to mobile users the same access
characteristics of their terrestrial counterparts. These standards are described below.
3.1. GSM
At present, GSM is the most popular standard for cellular communications in the world and
supports packet-switched data with the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) [24]. GSM is a
terrestrial system, but extensions are commercially available that permit a form of GSM via
satellite. In particular, we can consider the GEO Mobile Radio (GMR) air interface that is used
for mobile services via GEO satellite. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute
(ETSI) has produced two sets of specications for GMR derived from GSM. These
specications are called GMR-1 (used by Thuraya, see Section 4.4) and GMR-2 (used by
ACeS, see Section 4.5) and contain adaptations for the GSM standard to cope with the
characteristics of GEO systems. GMR allows the access via satellite to the GSM core network.
Besides a cellular coverage on the earth and the frequency reuse concept, there are other
similarities between GSM and GMR in particular for what concerns the protocol layers above
the physical layer. Mobile terminals can be dual-mode, thus allowing using either the terrestrial
GSM interface or the GEO satellite one when there is no terrestrial signal (integrated network
approach).
3.2. S-UMTS
There has been a standardization activity within ETSI for the extension of the UMTS standard
to the satellite context, S-UMTS [2]. UMTS is one of the 3G terrestrial cellular technologies [25];
we refer here to the UMTS version based on the WidebandCode Division Multiple Access
(WCDMA) air interface with Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD). The ETSI TC SES group
has dened the S-UMTS Family G specication set, aiming at achieving the satellite air
interface fully compatible with the terrestrial WCDMA-based UMTS system. S-UMTS is not
only intended to complement the terrestrial UMTS coverage, but it is also conceived to extend
UMTS services to areas where the terrestrial coverage would be either technically or
economically unfeasible. S-UMTS uses frequency bands around 2 GHz that are close to those
used by terrestrial 3G systems. S-UMTS supports user bit-rates up to 144 kbit/s, an acceptable
value for multimedia services to mobile users, typically having small devices.
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S-UMTS has been largely analyzed in the literature. For instance, the study made in [26]
proposes a possible S-UMTS system architecture where the satellite segment is interconnected
with an IP-based core network.
We refer to S-UMTS phase-1 as to a WCDMA system implementing a forward path via
satellite at 2 GHz for the support of broadcast and multicast services, with the possibility to
exploit a return path through a terrestrial 3G segment for interactive services (hybrid network
approach). Then, the S-UMTS phase-2 will also allow a return path via satellite with optimized
link budget for mobile handsets and possibly considering an Orthogonal Frequency Division
Multiple Access (OFDMA)-based air interface, operating at 5 GHz. This is in agreement with
the recently started activity in the working party 4C of ITU-R, focusing on multi-carrier air
interfaces for the satellite component; this is in the aim of the compatibility with terrestrial
systems evolving toward 4th generation (4G) mobile networks, such as UMTS Long Term
Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX.
3.3. DVB-S2mobile extension
DVB-S2 is the second-generation standard for satellite broadcast transmissions [2, 27]. Besides
broadcast services, DVB-S2 can also be employed for interactive point-to-point applications
(e.g. Internet access) by using new operation modes that permit to adapt dynamically the
Modulation and Coding (ModCod) levels depending on channel conditions at the receiver. DVBS2 has been conceived for xed users, but at present there is interest in evolving this standard to
support mobile users on planes, trains, and landmasses by operating in Ku and Ka bands [28].
This extension needs to address many challenging issues, such as stringent frequency
regulations, Doppler Effect, frequent handovers, and impairments in synchronization
acquisition and maintenance. In addition to this, the railway scenario is affected by periodic
shadowing, fast fading (due to train mobility, there are deep and frequent fades caused by the
poles of the electried lines) and long blockages (presence of tunnels and large train stations
with non-LoS propagation conditions to the satellite). A new version of the DVB-RCS standard
has been made available by the DVB organization in order to support mobile users; this
specication is identied with the acronym DVB-RCS1M [16].
3.4. S-DMB
3G mobile networks providing multicast/broadcast services are assuming an interesting role in
South Korea, Japan, and Europe, where many mobile entertainment services are provided to
users. The S-DMB standard envisages a satellite-based broadcast component for 3G mobile
networks; it permits to distribute the Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (MBMS) that can
also be offered via GSM or 3G cellular networks [29].
The S-DMB system has been studied in the Mobile Digital broadcast Satellite (MoDiS)
project [30]. The S-DMB architecture is composed of a GEO satellite and some terrestrial
repeaters named Intermediate Module Repeaters (IMR) that are co-located with 3G base
stations (WCDMA technology) and have the function to cope with heavy shadowing in urban
areas (hybrid network approach). South Korea started S-DMB in 2005 in order to provide
satellite digital radio services. Then, such technology has been employed to provide also video
services. Utilized bandwidths are in the VHF and L bands. From joint S-DMB and DVBHandheld (DVB-H) experiments, a new technology, i.e. DVB-SH, has been conceived operating
in the S band around 2.2 GHz, as detailed below.
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3.5. DVB-SH
DVB-SH is an ETSI mobile broadcast standard based on an Orthogonal Frequency Division
Multiplexing (OFDM) air interface for the provision of audio and video broadcast services to
small handheld terminals and to some vehicular devices [31]. DVB-SH achieves a large coverage
by combining a satellite component (geographical global coverage) and a CGC system:
terrestrial repeaters are envisaged to increase the DVB-SH service availability in zones where it
is impossible to have LoS conditions with the satellite (e.g. urban and indoor areas). DVB-SH
will also complement the coverage of DVB-H terrestrial systems: dual-mode terminals are
considered, with DVB-SH reception in S-band (around 2.2 GHz, near the 3G terrestrial
frequencies) and DVB-H reception in UHF-band. DVB specications for IP DataCasting
(DVB-IPDC) allow the two systems being complementary.
The main interest of DVB-SH is on broadcast services, but also data push delivery and IPbased interactive services (via an external return channel, e.g. UMTS) are supported. The user
can access these services when traveling on ships, cars, trains, or while walking.
At present, there is an increasing interest for the DVB-SH standard and related services. This
is the reason why ICO Global Communications (see Section 4.5) have selected DVB-SH for the
mobile video service platform supported by the recently launched ICO-G1 GEO satellite,
covering the North American region (CONUS area) [32].

4. AN OVERVIEW OF CURRENT MSSS


In this Section, we provide details of some operational MSSs (i.e. the LEO-based systems of
Iridium and Globalstar and the GEO-based systems of Inmarsat BGAN and Thuraya). Then,
some basic information is provided for additional operational or planned MSSs (i.e. the GEObased systems of ACeS, Eutelsat & SES Astra (Solaris Mobile), Hispasat, ICO, MSV, and
TerreStar). In these systems, the satellite antenna has multiple spot-beams that irradiate cells on
the earth, thus creating a cellular-like coverage.

4.1. Iridium system


The Iridium system has to be considered as one of the ancestors of all the MSSs existing
today [33]. Iridium is the only satellite system to provide complete earth coverage, including
polar regions, aeronautical routes, and oceanic regions. Such system (see Figure 1) is a LEObased wireless communication network designed to support voice and low bit-rate data
transmissions anywhere and anytime. Iridium constellation uses 66 active LEO satellites with
On Board Processing (OBP) capabilities and Inter Satellite Links (ISLs) among satellites. Note
that an end-to-end path is established (switching) in the sky through ISLs for voice calls, while
data transmissions may need to use ISLs to relay the ow toward the satellite that covers the
nearest Iridium terrestrial gateway. Currently, there are ve gateways in service. Iridium
provides communication services also to the U.S. Department of Defense. Recently, the Iridium
Company has announced the planning of second-generation IP-based satellites that should be
able to monitor continuously the environment, to take pictures of the earth and to allow high
bit-rate data transmissions [34].
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P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

Figure 1. Pictorial view of the Iridium system with ISLs.

Figure 2. Pictorial view of the Globalstar system without ISL.

4.2. Globalstar system


Globalstar is the other system (together with Iridium) that represents the precursor of current
MSSs [35]. Globalstar uses 48 bent-pipe LEO satellites. No ISL is used (see Figure 2).
Globalstar satellite 8 m antenna is composed of panels with a circular structure to create 16
spot-beams. Globalstar can provide communication services in an area within 7701 latitudes
(i.e. polar regions are not served), in the zones where terrestrial gateways are present. A new call
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Figure 3. Inmarsat system components.

is directly addressed by the satellite to the gateway under its coverage. Currently, there are 25
gateways in operation around the globe.y Each gateway covers a radius of approximately
2000 km. Globalstar uses a DS-CDMA PHY technique with spreading factor G 5 128.
Globalstar adopts path diversity combining: in order to mitigate shadowing and blockage
effects, it is possible to combine the signals to/from up to three visible satellites for a single call.
The Globalstar system offers real-time voice, data, and fax. Voice is encoded at a variable bitrate (2.4, 4.8, or 9.6 kbit/s), depending on the background noise level. The maximum supported
data rate is 9.6 kbit/s. Globalstar is now planning second-generation satellites with improved
characteristics.
4.3. Inmarsat systems
Established in 1979 to serve the maritime community, Inmarsat nowadays delivers broadband
communication services to enterprise, maritime, and aeronautical users [36]. Inmarsat operates a
constellation of GEO satellites that provide mobile phone, fax, and data communications to the
entire world, except polar regions (see Figure 3). In particular, Inmarsat uses 12 GEO satellites:
four Inmarsat-2, ve Inmarsat-3, and three Inmarsat-4 satellites. The following description
focuses on the most innovative system supported by Inmarsat.
4.3.1. BGAN system. Recently, the Inmarsat Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) [2]
system has acquired momentum to provide several services (e.g. telephony, Internet, messaging,
y

Coverage reduction even within 7701 latitudes is due to a limited number of deployed gateways; at present, there is no
coverage in the sub-Sahara region, oceanic regions, Indian sub-continent, Indonesia, Iran, Thailand, and Singapore.

Copyright r 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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40

P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

and other services) to both xed and mobile users by using three Inmarsat-4 satellites (built by
EADS Astrium). BGAN is intended to be integrated with a terrestrial 3G component (3GPP
Release 4 network). BGAN satellites are bent-pipe: the feeder link uses the C band and has a
global coverage beam; while, the user link (transmissions to users via satellite) is in the L band
and employs a deployable antenna where up to 256 beams can be used. In a typical
conguration, there are 19 wide beams (large coverage), 228 narrow beams (focused coverage),
and 1 global beam; only the narrow beams are used for land-mobile communications [37]. This
system allows communications (information bit-rate) from 4.5 to about 492 kbit/s [38] to three
classes of portable user terminals [7]. In particular, class 1 terminals can reach the maximum
throughput of 492 kbit/s (both in downstream and in upstream), class 2 terminals can transmit
at 464 kbit/s in downstream and 448 kbit/s in upstream, whereas class 3 terminals can achieve
384 kbit/s in downstream and 240 kbit/s in upstream.
BGAN replaces the WCDMA air interface typical of 3G systems with a proprietary air
interface (namely, Inmarsat Air Interface-2, IAI2) where different modulation options are
available (i.e. QPSK, 16QAM, and p/4-QPSK with variable coding rates obtained by means of
puncturing); note that class 3 terminals can only transmit in p/4 QPSK and receive in QPSK and
16QAM [7]. Moreover, narrow beams use only 16QAM modulation scheme. It is possible to
adapt the transmission power, bandwidth, coding rate, and modulation scheme (modulation
cannot change in case of narrow beam transmissions) to terminal capabilities and to channel
conditions in order to achieve high transmission efciency.
BGAN supports both circuit-switched and packet-switched voice and data services, as
detailed below:





IP data (variable bit-rate and background) service: secure virtual private network
connections for accessing corporate networks and related ofce applications as well as
browsing the Internet and transferring les.
Streaming IP (guaranteed bit-rate and streaming class) service: on-demand IP streaming
service for applications where Quality of Service (QoS) is of paramount importance, such
as live video or videoconferencing.
Voice (circuit switched) service: low-bit-rate phone calls are possible via a standard
desktop phone, a custom handset, or a Bluetooth handset/headset.
Text service: messages (160 characters) can be sent and received via a laptop or a mobile
phone.

BGAN is providing a new service on commercial Airbus and Boeing ights by allowing
passengers to use their mobile phones on board through a base station and related satellite link
(hybrid system) [39].
The BGAN-X project is co-sponsored by ESA under the Advanced Research in
Telecommunication Systems (ARTES) programme [7]. BGAN-X has extended the terminal
classes to 11 (including three classes for aeronautical, three classes for maritime, and two classes
for land-vehicular categories) with omni-directional and directional antennas. Since BGAN
offers point-to-point communications only to land-portable terminals, the BGAN
enhancements provided by BGAN-X allow extending the service also to maritime
(FleetBroadband is the maritime service by BGAN) and aeronautical (SwiftBroadBand is the
aeronautical service by BGAN) users. Moreover, a multicast service has also been included.
The BGAN core network (3GPP Release 4 network) does not support multicast services; hence,
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A SURVEY ON MOBILE SATELLITE SYSTEMS

41

BGAN-X has followed the new 3GPP architecture for multimedia broadcast and multicast
services in [40].
Finally, a cooperation between Inmarsat and ESA has permitted to dene an enhanced
Inmarsat payload, namely Inmarsat-XL (or Alphasat I-XL), that should add to the existing
BGAN and BGAN-X services, a new class of services (i.e. higher throughput rates, optimized
multicast/broadcast, and single-hop meshed connectivity) [41]. Such payload will be adopted in
the framework of the Alphasat European platform for telecommunications, planned for launch
in 2012.

4.4. Thuraya system


Thuraya was founded in the UAE in 1997 by a consortium of leading national
telecommunication operators and international investment houses [42]. Using two GEO
satellites, Thuraya covers more than 110 countries, spanning Europe, North and Central Africa,
Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian sub-continent. The technical project of Thuraya was
managed by the U.S. Boeing satellite systems that also supported the realization and the launch
of GEO satellites. Thuraya-3 satellite has been recently launched to substitute Thuraya-1
satellite, expanding coverage in Asian zones (e.g. China and Japan) as well as in Australia. At
present, the Thuraya eet comprises two operational GEO satellites (i.e. Thuraya-2 and
Thuraya-3), using GMR-1 air interface in L band, as described in Section 3. Thuraya satellites
are equipped with a 12.25 m L-band transmit-receive reector antenna; 200300 spot-beams can
be generated per satellite. Thuraya adopts an FDMA/TDMA air interface, where each carrier
has 40 ms frame structure with 24 time slots (three time slots per circuit are needed).
OBP is used to support mobile-to-mobile links between any spot-beams in a satellite. Dualmode handsets integrate the access to either a terrestrial GSM network or the Thuraya system
(for underserved and impervious areas), thus allowing customers to roam vast areas without
service interruptions. The satellite communication services offered by Thuraya mobile handsets
include: GSM-like voice, fax/data at 2.4, 4.8, and 9.6 kbit/s, messaging, etc. Thuraya also allows
Internet connectivity through a small portable terminal (notebook size) with a new high-speed
service up to 144 kbit/s, based on Amplitude Phase Shift Keying (APSK) modulation. Finally,
Thuraya has recently launched its high-speed IP-based service at 444 kbit/s.

4.5. Other MSSs


For the sake of completeness, this sub-section provides few details on additional MSSs that are
either operational or in the design/deployment phase.
Intermediate Circular Orbit (ICO) Global Communications have been originally planned to
adopt a MEO constellation with 12 satellites at an altitude of 10 390 km [32]; today, only one is
operational, but practically ICO services are supported by a recently launched GEO satellite
(ICO-G1): it provides S-band mobile services (voice at 4.8 kbit/s, data at 2.4 kbit/s, fax,
messaging, and positioning) for CONUS area.
The Hispasat satellite communication system includes six GEO satellites located at different
orbital positions [43]. Hispasat offers IP-based broadband services, such as mobile services,
access to the Internet and distribution of contents, tele-medicine and tele-education, voice over
IP, video streaming, and IPTV.
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42

P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

The Asia Cellular System (ACeS) is composed of a GEO satellite (Garuda 1) and three
gateways [44]. ACeS adopts the GMR-2 air interface to allow interoperability with GSM
terrestrial networks. ACeS provides voice and optional data services for handheld terminals in
Asia.
The Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) Company (now re-named SkyTerra) will build an
integrated satellite-terrestrial all-IP network [45]; the MSV system is composed of two GEO
satellites for the provision of mobile broadband services in America (e.g. voice and Internet
access for public safety, security, and eet management). The ATC segment is composed of
terrestrial base stations that support the satellite system, providing complementary coverage.
TerreStar is a new mobile network operator that plans to build an IP-based integrated mobile
satellite and terrestrial communication network [46]. TerreStar will provide service over
CONUS area using two 10 MHz blocks of contiguous spectrum in the 2 GHz band.
Solaris Mobile has launched the W2A satellite with S-band payload in April 2009 to provide
mobile communication services in Europe [47]. This system uses a hybrid satellite/terrestrial
network to guarantee uninterrupted coverage, DVB-SH standard to support mobile TV,
and smart-antennas (directional antennas) embedded in mobile phones to optimize reception
quality.

5. COMPARISONS OF MSSS
In this section, we compare the above-mentioned MSSs, rst of all providing an overview of
their most relevant characteristics and then giving some numerical evaluations, focusing on
BGAN, Globalstar, Iridium, and Thuraya.
5.1. Summary of basic MSS characteristics
Table I summarizes some basic features of the MSSs described in Section 4; these systems are
grouped according to the orbit types (i.e. GEO and non-GEO). In this table, we highlight the
modulation adopted, the multiple access technique, the satellite orbit type, the network
characteristics, and the most important applications supported. From Table I, it is evident that,
among the operational MSSs, there are some systems (e.g. BGAN and Eutelsat & SES-ASTRA)
that provide multimedia services, while other older systems (e.g. Globalstar, and Iridium) only
support low data rate and the classical phone service.
5.2. Quantitative comparisons
In this sub-section, we provide a quantitative comparison among BGAN, Globalstar, Iridium,
and Thuraya in terms of different parameters. Note that the Iridium system uses a Time Division
Duplexing (TDD) air interface, whereas all the other considered MSSs use FDD air interfaces.
Moreover, BGAN and Thuraya are GEO-based systems, while Iridium and Globalstar employ
LEO satellites.
Figure 4 compares the envisaged four different L/S-band MSSs in terms of some important
parameters, such as number of subscribers, coverage area, system complexity (i.e. switching/
routing capabilities, mesh/star networks, ISLs/no ISLs), tariff of the voice service, system cost,
IP-based multimedia service provision, broadband capability, multicast capability, and physical
layer efciency (i.e. Zphy, the efciency related to the modulation and coding scheme adopted;
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IRIDIUM

Copyright r 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


GEO
GEO

TERRESTAR

GEO

GEO

GEO

Ku

GEO

MSV

EUTELSAT &
SES-ASTRA
Operators
(S-band
payload, W2A
satellite)

AceS

HISPASAT
Operator
(AmerHis
transponders
of the
Amazonas
satellite)
THURAYA

BGAN

GEO

L/S

GLOBALSTAR LEO

GMSK

p/4 QPSK

QPSK

QPSK,
p/4-QPSK,
16QAM

QPSK

QPSK

LEO

System
L

Satellite Frequency Physical layer


orbit
bands
(PHY)
Satellite
features
ISL

Standard

OBP, beam
switching

OBP, beam
switching

OBP, beam
switching

FDMA/TDMA OBP, beam


switching

FDMA/TDMA OBP, beam


switching

MF-TDMA

DVB-SH

Dual-mode
(satelliteGSM);
GMR-1 air
interface
Dual-mode
(satelliteGSM);
GMR-2 air
interface

DVB-S/-RCS

No

Dual-mode
(satelliteGSM)

Yes Dual-mode
(satelliteGSM)

No

No

No

No

OBP; switching Yes Dual-mode


for voice,
(satellite
relaying
GSM)
for data
Combined
Bent-pipe
No Dual-mode
FDMA/CDMA
(satellite
(uplink and
GSM)
downlink)
FDMA/TDMA Bent-pipe
No Dual-mode
(satelliteGSM);
proprietary air
interface

FDMA/
TDMATDD

Multiple
access
(satellite)

Table I. Characteristics of different MSSs.

p2p le exchange, real-time voice,


broadband Internet access,
services for public safety
p2p le exchange, real-time voice,
live video, broadband Internet access

Mobile TV, Vehicle location tracking,


emergency communications,
real-time information exchange

p2p le exchange, real-time voice,


GSM supplementary services,
messaging, high-power paging

p2p le exchange, real-time voice

VoIP, p2p le exchange, live video,


videocon-ferencing, and real-time voice

Broadband Internet access, VoIP,


Web browsing, e-mail access, live video,
videoconferen-cing, and real-time voice

Real-time voice, Web browsing,


e-mail access

Real-time voice, Web browsing,


e-mail access

Supported applications

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44

P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

Broadband
Multicast capability

Multicast capability

System Cost

Number of subscribers

Tariff of the voice service

Coverage

System complexity

Broadband
Multicast capability

PHY efficiency

Number of subscribers

(c)

Broadband

IP-based Multimedia

PHY efficiency

(a)

GEO
(BGAN)

Coverage

IP-based Multimedia

PHY efficiency

System Cost

Number of subscribers

(b)

Tarif f of the voice service

Coverage

LEO
(Globalstar)
Multicast capability

System Cost

PHY efficiency

Tariff of the voice service Number of subscribers


System complexity

System complexity

Broadband

IP-based Multimedia

(d)

GEO
(Thuraya)

Coverage

LEO
(Iridium)
IP-based Multimedia

System Cost

Tarif f of the voice service


System complexity

Figure 4. Comparison of different MSSs: (a) GEO BGAN (we have considered BGAN-X extension); (b)
GEO Thuraya; (c) LEO Globalstar; and (d) LEO Iridium. In Table II, we have listed the range of values
for each parameter.

see Section 5.2.1 for the explanation of this parameter). The parameter values used for obtaining
Figure 4 are listed in Table II; moreover, for the computation of the physical layer efciency in
Figure 4, the assumptions on coding and roll-off factor are detailed in the notes for Table III.
Note that, on the basis of the denition of the qualitative comparison parameters in Table II,
the greater is the shadowed area for one system in Figure 4, the better is its overall evaluation.
Hence, the BGAN system appears to achieve a very interesting evaluation from the results
shown in Figure 4.
5.2.1. Analytical model. In order to compare the efciency of different MSSs, we introduce in
this sub-section an analytical approach based on the parameters and the related assumptions
described below:






B 5 bandwidth available for the MSS in downlink.z


N 5 number of simultaneously active beams in the MSS (counting all the satellites and the
transponders in them).
G 5 spreading factor if CDMA is used in the air interface (G 5 1, if CDMA is not
adopted).
F 5 reuse factor of the MSS (i.e. the number of times that a frequency is reused among
active beams).
K 5 size of the frequency reuse cluster of the MSS, depending on antenna technology, air
interface type, and tolerance to interference of the multiple access system. Hence, the
bandwidth available in each beam is equal to B/K. If a 2-D hexagonal-like cellular layout

An equivalent study could be done for the uplink case. Note that in the Iridium case (that uses a TDD air interface), the
total system bandwidth is here considered.

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Copyright r 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Y, yes; N, not; and N/C, not considered.

(25 00050 000)


[125 000)
0

(50 00075 000)

3 5 Fair

2 5 Poor
1 5 Very poor
0 5 Inexistent

(75 000100 000)

4100 000

4 5 Good

5 5 Excellent

Envisaged score

Number
of subscribers

(2650)
(125)
0

(5175)

(7699)

100

Earth
coverage
(%)
Bent-pipe1
star net.1No
ISL(lowest
complexity)
OBP1mesh
network1No
ISL
OBP with
switching/
routing1mesh
network1
ISL(highest
complexity)
N/C
N/C
N/C

System
complexity

(0.51)
(1.13)

0.200.45
0.460.75

(3.15)
(5.17)
47

o0.5

o 0.20

0.760.99
41
c1

System cost
(US$ billions)

Tariff of
the voice
service
($/min)

N/C
N/C
N

N/C

N/C

IP-based
multimedia

Table II. Range of values for the parameters in Figure 4.

N/C
N/C
N

N/C

N/C

Broadband
capability

(0.511)
(0.10.5)
0

(1.011.5)

(1.512)

42

PHY
efciency
(bit/s/Hz)

N/C
N/C
N

N/C

N/C

Multicast
capability

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46

P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

Table III. Trafc engineering parameters and other data for our MSSs of reference.
Parameter
B [MHz/downlink/system]
N [] beams/system]
F
G
K (] beams/cluster) (average)
Zphy (bit/s/Hz)
Zguard
ZTDD
ZMAC
Zenc
Z (bit/s/Hz)
H (km)
A (km2)
D (km)
S (] subscr./system)
C (bit/s/user) ref. value (k)
h/24 (Erl/user)
Number of beams/satellite
Sysc, System cost (US$ billions)

GEO BGAN

GEO Thuraya

34
684 ( 5 228  3);
see note
26
1
27
2.10z
0.82
1
0.97
0.96
1.60
35 800
1.25  105
400
26 200
4.8 K
1/24
228
1.5

34
600 ( 5 300  2);
see note
30
1
21
0.74y
0.79
1
0.97
0.96
0.54
35 800
1.97  105
500
250 000
4.8 K
1/24
300
0.96

LEO
Globalstar

LEO
Iridium

16.5
768

5.15
2150y

768
128
1
0.83z
0.96
1
0.97
0.96
0.74
1414
3.7  106
2200
330 000
4.8 K
1/24
16
2.2

180
1
12
1.07J
0.55
0.5
0.97
0.96
0.27
3.4  105
660
309 000
4.8 K
1/24
48
7

In the calculation of the number of active beams we have considered that in the BGAN system there are three GEO

satellites, whereas in the Thuraya system there are two GEO satellites; each of these satellites presents 228 (BGAN)
or 300 (Thuraya) simultaneously active beams.
y
In the Iridium system, out of 3168 beams (66  48) only approximately 2150 beams are simultaneously active, since
some beams are switched off on polar regions to avoid overlaps.
z
This value has been obtained considering that in the BGAN system narrow beams adopt only 16QAM modulation
scheme with the following possible code rates r: 0.334, 0.642, 0.775, and 0.882 [48]. We have considered r 5 0.642 (and
a 5 0.22) to be closer to the values of the other compared systems.
y
For the Thuraya system, we have used r 5 1/2 and a 5 0.35.
z
For the Globalstar system, we have used r 5 1/2 and a 5 0.2.
J
For the Iridium system, we have used r 5 3/4 and a 5 0.4 (note that code rate r 5 1/2 is not allowed by Iridium).
Both BGAN and Thuraya systems could support a higher bit-rate value (up to 492 kbit/s for BGAN and up to
444 kbit/s for Thuraya), but we have used the same value (i.e. 4.8 kbit/s, basic-level service type) for all the systems, for
a fair comparison.

is used, the possible reuse cluster values belong to the set F{1}[{i21j21ij}, where i and j
are natural numbers, ij60. Note that K may be variable within a satellite constellation.
Hence, an average K value for a given constellation is used in the following numerical
evaluations, considering that K 5 N/F and KAF.
2 M
Zphy 5 efciency of the modulation and coding scheme adopted: Zphy rlog
1a , where r is
the code rate, M is the number of symbols in the modulation, and a is the roll-off factor
that is equal to 0 for a perfect raised-cosine impulse and 1 for a rectangular impulse (nullto-null band). In the following comparative study, we have used values of r and a that are
specic of the related MSS (see Table III).
Zguard 5 efciency parameter that takes into account the presence of guard bands (FDM/
T
Tguard
BB
FDMA) and/or guard times (TDM/TDMA): Zguard ZT  ZB frame
 Bguard ,
Tframe
where Tframe is the frame duration, Tguard is total time spent in guard times in the frame,

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47

and Bguard is the total bandwidth employed in guard bands in B. Guard bands between
adjacent channels are used to prevent the channels from overlapping and causing crosstalk among modulated signals; since, all the envisaged systems adopt L/S bands, we
expect that ZB should have close values for all these systems. Guard times are used for
frame synchronism (preamble) as well as separation between bursts. In GEO systems, ZT
value is high, since we consider only the contribution of the unique word, whereas, in the
Iridium LEO case with TDD air interface, signicant guard times are employed that entail
a low c- T value. The Zguard values have been derived from [4951]; the related values are
listed in Table III.
ZTDD 5 efciency parameter that takes into account if the satellite air interface adopts
TDD or not. ZTDD 5 1/2, if TDD is adopted; ZTDD 5 1, otherwise.
ZMAC 5 MAC-layer packet efciency. We assume to have a layer 2 encapsulation, where
the efciency value is the same of the MPEG2-TS (Motion Picture Experts Group 2
Transport Stream) format, typical of the DVB-S/DVB-RCS standard; such value is
ZMAC 5 0.97.
Zenc 5 efciency of the encapsulation from layer 3 to layer 2. We assume to have an
encapsulation from layer 3 to layer 2, where we use always the efciency value that is
typical of the Multi Protocol Encapsulation (MPE); on the basis of [52], Zenc 5 0.96.
Z 5 total efciency of lower layers: Z 5 Zphy  Zguard  ZTDD  ZMAC  Zenc.
H 5 satellite orbit altitude.
S 5 number of subscribers in the MSS.
D 5 spot-beam footprint diameter.
A 5 average area irradiated on the earth by a beam.

Let us consider a reference equivalent user requiring an average capacity of C kbit/s. Then,
the number of equivalent users Ueq that can be supported per beam is given by:


ZB
max equivalent users
Ueq
1
KCG
beam
Let us assume that each real user is active only for h hours per day, thus contributing a load
equal to h/24 Erlangs. Hence, we multiply Ueq by 24/h to express the capacity in terms of real
equivalent users, U, as follows:
Z  24  B hmax usersi
U
2
hKCG
beam
The U value in (2) represents the maximum capacity of users per beam that can be supported
by the system, depending on the different parameters of our modelization. Thus, the maximum
capacity of the system is U  N. We can therefore compare such a value with the current
number of subscribers in the MSS, S, to evaluate the system utilization parameter, G, dened
below:
G

S
hKCGS hCGS

UN
Z  N  24  B
Z  F  24  B

G parameter is useful to understand the possible expansion in terms of subscribers that is


allowed for a given MSS. The lower G, the bigger is the potential expansion of an MSS. Vice
versa, a high G value denotes an MSS well exploiting its trafc capabilities.
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P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

Alternatively, we can consider the maximum user density a that can be supported by an MSS
by using (2) divided by A, as follows:


Z  24  B
max users
s
4
hKCGA
km2
It is also possible to dene another MSS efciency parameter ZSI-SAP that is related to the
efciency at the Satellite Independent-Service Access Point (SI-SAP) level [53]. In particular, this
parameter is computed as the bit-rate capacity of a beam multiplied by the number of active
beams in the system and divided by the total one-way bandwidth. This formula has been
proposed by some mobile satellite service providers as a response to a public consultation made
by the European Commission in 2007 [13].


beam bit  rate capacity  beams=system Z  N Z  F bit=s

ZSISAP
5
oneway total bandwidth
KG
G
Hz
Then, we have considered the system cost of an MSS in US$ (Sysc) normalized to the MSS
trafc capacity (i.e. B  ZSISAP); this parameter, denoted as b, represents a measure of the
system cost per unit of trafc rate. The most convenient MSS is that with the lowest b value.


Sysc
Sysc  G
$
b

6
B  ZSISAP B  Z  F bit=s
Finally, we are interested to compare the mobility conditions (with consequent signaling load)
in the different MSS scenarios. In order to characterize the user mobility, we introduce the
mobility index t that represents a measure of the cell ( 5 spot-beam) crossing time by a user:
D
7
t s
V
where V 5 Vuser, the mean user terminal speed in the GEO case (for instance the speed of a train,
a plane, or a ship), while V 5 Vtrk, the satellite ground-track speed in the case of a LEO or MEO
system where the user mobility is dominated by the satellite constellation mobility.
As for the Vtrk derivation we can consider the following proportionality of the satellite orbital
speed, Vorb, with respect to the satellite orbit radius ( 5 RT1H, where RT is the mean earth
radius and H is the satellite orbital altitude) as follows:
h mi
Vorb RT H
RT
Vorb

) Vtrk
8
RT
s
Vtrk
RT H
where Vorb is obtained by equaling the earth gravitational attraction to the centrifuge force
(denoting ms the satellite mass, mT the earth mass, and g the gravitational constant):
rh i
V2orb
mT ms
gmT m
g
)
V

9
s
orb
2
RT H
RT H s
RT H
We consider mT 5 5.9742  1024 kg, g 5 6.67  1011 m3/(kg  s2), and RT 5 6378 km.
The lower the satellite orbit, the faster it moves, and the smaller the covered area on the
earth.
Parameter t, evaluated from Equation (7), can be used to derive the mean number of beam
handovers, nh, occurring during the lifetime of a session with mean duration Tsession from [54] as:


Tsession beam handovers
nh /
10
session
t
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Therefore, we can consider that the ratio Tsession/t is a measure of the signaling load that the
system has to support to manage a session of a given duration by switching it from one beam to
another during its lifetime. The higher this ratio is, the larger the system capacity lost to support
the signaling for handovers and the lower the capacity available for data trafc.
5.2.2. Results comparison. On the basis of parameters G, a, ZSI-SAP, b, and nh we have been able
to compare in Figures 59 our reference MSSs by using the data summarized in Table III. It has
been very difcult to nd these values since they are on disparate documents in the literature as
well as on the Web.
Figure 5 shows the utilization comparison in terms of G among BGAN, Globalstar, Iridium,
and Thuraya, by using (3). We can note that the Globalstar system achieves the highest G value,
considering that it has acquired in the years a high number of subscribers. Moreover, we can
1

, Utilization

0.8
0.6
0.4
0.2
0
GEO BGAN

GEO Thuraya

LEO Globalstar

LEO Iridium

Figure 5. Utilization comparison in terms of G for the considered MSSs.

0.1

[users/km2]

0.08
0.06
0.04
0.02
0

GEO BGAN

GEO Thuraya

LEO Globalstar

LEO Iridium

Figure 6. Maximum user density comparison for the considered MSSs.

SI-SAP [bit/s/Hz]

60

40

20

0
GEO BGAN

GEO Thuraya

LEO Globalstar

LEO Iridium

Figure 7. Efciency ZSISAP comparison for the considered MSSs.


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50

P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

40

[$/bit/s]

30
20
10
0
GEO BGAN

GEO Thuraya

LEO Globalstar

LEO Iridium

Figure 8. Comparison in terms of b parameter for the considered MSSs.

Tsession /

6
4
2
0
GEO BGAN

GEO Thuraya

LEO Globalstar

LEO Iridium

Figure 9. Comparison of Tsession/t parameter for the considered MSSs.

expect that the BGAN system, with very low G value, has the potentiality to increase the number
of subscribers (BGAN started its services more recently in 2005).
The comparison among the MSSs in terms of maximum supported user density s (a user is
here characterized by the C and h values in Table III) is shown in Figure 6, according to (4). We
can note that GEO-based systems allow s values greater than those of LEO-based ones.
In Figure 7, the ZSI-SAP efciency values are shown according to (5). These results show that
Iridium achieves a higher efciency than GEO-based systems. This is due to the fact that in the
Iridium case we have a smaller cluster size and a larger number of beams than in GEO-based
systems. Moreover, the better ZSI-SAP value of Iridium with respect to Globalstar is due to the
high spreading factor value G used by Globalstar that reduces the available information bit-rate.
Finally, it is important to note that the antenna technology on GEO satellites plays a crucial role
in order to improve the MSS efciency. In particular, it is important that a high insulation be
achieved among adjacent beams to reduce the interference and to allow the use of lower-size
clusters. It is interesting to note that if we evaluate the ZSI-SAP value for an advanced GEO-based
FSS, like the HotBird 6 satellite referring to its payload of 4 Ka-band Skyplex DVB-RCS
transponders (each of them with a bandwidth of 33 MHz), we obtain an efciency value of
2.8 bit/s/Hz. This is a much lower efciency than that of MSSs and shows a signicant design
difference between MSSs and FSSs.
Figure 8 shows MSSs comparison in terms of parameter b (system cost per unit of trafc
rate) according to (6). We can note that, in this case, BGAN achieves the best b value meaning
that this system could be able to support a given trafc with lower costs than the other envisaged
MSSs. Thuraya achieves a performance quite close to BGAN, while LEO-based systems appear
to be less convenient.
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On the basis of Tsession/t and for a given Tsession 5 600 s value, we compare MSSs in terms of
user mobility as shown in Figure 9 by assuming the worst-case scenario for GEO mobility
condition (i.e. users on a plane with V 5 1000 km/h). These results clearly show that the GEO
cases are characterized by a much lower mobility and lower related signaling load than LEO
ones.
As a conclusion, we can state that, among the examined MSSs, GEO systems (and, in
particular, BGAN) result very interesting since they may support a higher user density with low
system cost per unit of trafc rate so that they have a concrete possibility to increase the number
of subscribers.

6. FUTURE TRENDS FOR MSSS


It is possible to identify some challenges that future MSSs have to address in order to provide
new and improved services, reducing system costs and increasing the service penetration. In
particular, some interesting R&D aspects are: all-IP mobile satellite networks with end-to-end
QoS support; hybrid satellite/terrestrial networks able to provide uninterrupted services to
mobile users also when non-LoS conditions with the satellite are present; adoption of highdirectivity multi-spot-beam satellite antennas to increase the resource reuse factor in the satellite
constellation; user mobility management with suitable handover protocols; provision of new
broadband services; achievement of small-size smart terminals of reasonable costs with powersaving techniques to improve the battery autonomy. On the basis of the above, we can identify
some important trends, new implementation issues and related technology needs, as outlined
below.
Currently, many MSSs operators have announced the intention to launch IP-based MSSs,
considering both second-generation systems (e.g. Iridium and Globalstar) and new ones (e.g.
MSV and TerreStar). Moreover, the DVB Project is now interested to the Next Generation of
DVB-RCS (DVB-RCS NG), supporting enriched mobility features and commonly-used IPbased protocols [55].
Future plans of WARC 2011 are to consider new frequency bands for MSSs, reaching a
compromise with terrestrial services in C band.
Future MSSs will need to be integrated with a terrestrial broadband segment (e.g. WiMAX
and WiFi) with a suitable degree of commonality of interfaces and services [56]. Moreover, to
support small-size mobile terminals, optimized antenna technologies (on both the satellite and
the mobile terminal) are needed to close the link budget. This technology improvement should
also be addressed toward the interference reduction (thus allowing a higher degree of resource
reuse) and the adoption of high-efciency transmission techniques (e.g. OFDMA air interface to
be consistent with the prospected use of UMTS LTE for terrestrial 4G cellular systems). In
addition to this, the novel approach based on cross-layer air interface design could permit an
optimization of the whole protocol stack, thus improving capacity and QoS [2]. The
achievement of low-cost mobile terminals should be the important outcome of such
optimization process, thus paving the way for a larger diffusion of mobile satellite services.
A critical issue for MSSs is the seamless support of user mobility with handover procedures
involving satellite antenna beams of the same or of different satellites or even between a satellite
beam and a terrestrial cell, when more segments are involved. According to these examples,
intra-system handovers and inter-system handovers have to be supported for IP-based trafc in
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52

P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

MSSs. Let us assume future satellites having regenerative payload and operating at the IP layer
[57]. Then, intra-satellite handover should adopt IP micro-mobility protocols [58], while intersatellite and inter-system handovers should involve the MIP scheme. An interesting study on
mobility support for IP-based trafc has been made by the SATSIX project and can be found in
[810]. In any case, efcient mobility management protocols need to be employed at layer 3 to
prevent excessive delays incurred in re-routing the IP data ows during handover phases.
Finally, an interesting future-proof service for MSSs is represented by mobile broadcasting
(encompassing mobile TV and multimedia download) that is already widely used in Japan,
Korea, and U.S., but experiences some delays in Europe due to regulatory issues. As described
in Section 4.5, Eutelsat and SES-ASTRA have launched the W2A satellite with S-band payload
in order to support mobile TV according to DVB-SH [47]. With the diffusion of DVB-SH-based
services, it will be possible to reach a new market slice for satellite communications.

7. CONCLUSIONS
Currently, there is a renewed R&D interest for MSSs due to their capabilities to provide services
anytime and anywhere. In this paper, we have studied MSSs focusing on their specic
characteristics that are very unique with respect to other satellite systems. Important standards
for mobile satellite communications and services have been presented with a special attention to
hybrid and integrated networks with satellite and terrestrial segments.
The second part of this paper has surveyed the main characteristics of some MSSs
(operational or planned), thus allowing their comparisons in terms of a proposed analytical
framework based on a wide range of efciency parameters, including user mobility degree.
Globally, GEO systems appeared more interesting than non-GEO ones, because they support
higher user density, entail lower costs, and have lower mobility degree. Moreover, it has been
highlighted that the design of high-directivity multi-spot beam antenna for GEO satellites will
represent a particularly crucial aspect in order to increase system efciency, and, then, capacity.
We believe that the framework presented in this paper may represent a good tool for the design
and the market study of MSSs.
According to the envisioned future challenges and trends for MSSs, we can conclude that
even if mobile satellite services represent a niche part of the whole satellite communication
market, there are now new opportunities (in terms of technologies and cross-layer protocol
design) that can be exploited to increase the diffusion of these services.

NOMENCLATURE
3G
4G
ACeS
APSK
ATC
BGAN
BGAN-X
CGC

3rd generation
4th generation
Asia Cellular System
Amplitude Phase Shift Keying
Ancillary Terrestrial Component
Broadband Global Area Network
BGAN eXtension
Complementary Ground Component

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A SURVEY ON MOBILE SATELLITE SYSTEMS

DS
DVB-H
DVB-IPDC
DVB-RCS
DVB-RCS NG
DVB-S2
DVB-SH
EIRP
ESA
ETRI
ETSI
FBB
FDD
FDMA/TDMA
FSS
GEO
GMR
GPRS
GSM
IAI2
ICO
IETF
IMR
ISL
ITU-R
LEO
LoS
LTE
MAC
MAESTRO
MBMS
MEO
MIP
ModCod
MoBISAT
MoDiS
MOWGLY
MPE
MPEG2-TS
MSS
MSV
non-LoS
OBP
OFDM

53

Direct Sequence
Digital Video BroadcastingHandheld
Digital Video BroadcastingIP DataCasting
Digital Video BroadcastingReturn Channel via Satellite
Next Generation of DVB-RCS
Digital Video BroadcastingSatellite version 2
Digital Video BroadcastingSatellite to Handheld
Effective Isotropic Radiated Power
European Space Agency
Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (South Korean
organization)
European Telecommunications Standards Institute
FleetBroadBand
Frequency Division Duplexing
Frequency Division Multiple Access/Time Division Multiple Access
Fixed Satellite System
Geosynchronous Earth Orbit
GEO Mobile Radio
General Packet Radio Service
Global System for Mobile Communications
Inmarsat Air Interface-2
Intermediate Circular Orbit
Internet Engineering Task Force
Intermediate Module Repeater
Inter Satellite Link
International Telecommunication UnionRadiocommunication sector
Low Earth Orbit
Line-of-Sight
Long Term Evolution
Medium Access Control
Mobile Applications & sErvices based on Satellite & Terrestrial inteRwOrking
Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service
Medium Earth Orbit
Mobile IP
Modulation and Coding
Mobile Broadband Interactive Satellite multimedia Access Technology
Mobile Digital broadcast Satellite
MObile Wideband Global Link sYstem
Multi Protocol Encapsulation
Motion Picture Experts Group 2Transport Stream
Mobile Satellite System
Mobile Satellite Ventures
non-Line-of-Sight
On Board Processing
Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing

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54
OFDMA
QoS
R&D
SATSIX
SBB
SCPC
SI-SAP
S-DMB
S-UMTS
TDD
WARC
WCDMA
WiFi
WiMAX
WRC

P. CHINI, G. GIAMBENE AND S. KOTA

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access


Quality of Service
Research and Development
Satellite-based communication systems within IPv6
SwiftBroadBand
Single Channel Per Carrier
Satellite Independent-Service Access Point
SatelliteDigital Multimedia Broadcasting
SatelliteUniversal Mobile Telecommunications System
Time Division Duplexing
World Administrative Radio Conference
WidebandCode Division Multiple Access
Wireless Fidelity
Worldwide Interoperability for Wireless Microwave Access
World Radiocommunication Conference

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This paper has been carried out within the framework of the European SatNEx II (contract No. IST027393), network of excellence, www.satnex.org. The authors thank the anonymous Referees for their
important comments and suggestions that have permitted to improve the quality and the clarity of this
paper.

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AUTHORS BIOGRAPHIES

Paolo Chini was born in Siena, Italy, in 1972. He received the Dr Ing. Degree in
Telecommunications Engineering in 2005 from the University of Siena, Italy, with a
thesis entitled Cross-layer management of resources in an interactive DVB-RCSbased satellite network in the framework of the SatNEx Satellite Communications
Network of Excellence, in FP6 network of excellence, in cooperation with the
University of Rome Tor Vergata. From 2005 he has been performing research
activities at the University of Siena; his elds of interests include satellite
communications, DVB-RCS standards, TCP and MAC layer protocols, mobile
and wireless networks, HAPs platforms. In 2008 he participated in the FP7 EU
RADICAL project, whose objective is to create a roadmap for enhancing Security
and Privacy, in order to protect medical and genetic data.

Giovanni Giambene was born in Florence, Italy, in 1966. He received the Dr Ing.
degree in Electronics in 1993 and the PhD degree in Telecommunications and
Informatics in 1997, both from the University of Florence, Italy. From 1994 to 1997,
he was with the Electronic Engineering Department of the University of Florence,
Italy. He was Technical External Secretary of the European Community COST 227
Action (Integrated Space/Terrestrial Mobile Networks). He also contributed to the
SAINT Project (Satellite Integration in the Future Mobile Network, RACE 2117).
From 1997 to 1998, he was with OTE of the Marconi Group, Florence, Italy, where
he was involved in a GSM development program. In the same period he also
contributed to the COST 252 Action (Evolution of Satellite Personal
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Communications from Second to Future Generation Systems) research activities by studying PRMA
protocols for voice and data transmissions in low earth orbit mobile satellite systems. In 1999, he joined the
Information Engineering Department of the University of Siena, Italy, rst as research associate and then
as assistant professor. He teaches the advanced course of Telecommunication Networks at the University
of Siena. From 1999 to 2003 he participated in the project Multimedialita`, nanced by the Italian
National Research Council (CNR). From 2000 to 2003, he contributed to the Personalised Access to Local
Information and services for tourists (PALIO) IST Project within the EU FP5 programme. He was also
vice-Chair of the COST 290 Action (http://www.cost290.org) for the whole of its durations 20042008,
entitled Trafc and QoS Management in Wireless Multimedia Networks (Wi-QoST). At present, he is
involved in the SatNEx network of excellence of the FP6 programme in the satellite eld, as work package
leader of two groups on radio access techniques and cross-layer air interface design (http://
www.satnex.org). He also participated in the FP7 Coordination Action Road mapping technology for
enhancing security to protect medical & genetic data (RADICAL) as work package leader (http://
www.radicalhealth.eu/). Giambene is IEEE senior member. He has recently published the following books:
G. Giambene, Queuing Theory and Telecommunications: Networks and Telecommunications, Springer,
May 2005; G. Giambene (Ed.), Resource Management in Satellite Networks: Optimization and CrossLayer Design, Springer, April 2007.
Dr Kota is a Senior Scientist in Harris Corporation and Adjunct Professor in the
University of Oulu, Finland. He has held technical and management positions at Loral,
Lockheed Martin, SRI International, the MITRE Corp, and Xerox Corporation, and
contributed to both military and commercial satellite communication systems and
broadband (IP, ATM) network design and analysis. He made signicant contributions
to various programs e.g. MILSTAR, AEHF, AFSATCOM, DSCS, GBS and MSEprograms and early phase of TSAT and WIN-T programs. He was the chief network
architect of broadband multimedia services (BMS), a two way IP satellite network and
he developed the rst phase of Astrolink -ka-band satellite network architecture.
Currently he is head of the U.S. delegation and the U.S. chair of the ITU-R Working
Party 4B involved with Fixed and Mobile satellite system performance. He led the
efforts of development of Recommendations of TCP over Satellite Networks and
Satellite ATM performance. He is the principal author of a book Broadband Satellite Communications for
Internet Access, and co-edited a book Emerging Location Aware Broadband Wireless Ad Hoc Networks, and
wrote book chapters on Satellite TCP/IP in High Performance Networking, Trends in Broadband Networking
in Wiley Encyclopedia of Telecommunications. He has published more than 130 papers in conference
proceedings, and journals. He served as a guest editor of special issues for IEEE Communications Magazine,
International Journal of Satellite Communications and Networking, Space Communications- an International
Journal and Intl Journal of Wireless Information Networks. He is member of the editorial boards on the
International Journal of Satellite Communications and Networking, and the Space Communications Journal.
Dr Kota received his PhD from the University of Oulu, Finland; Electrical Engineers Degree from
Northeastern University, Boston, USA; MSEE from IIT; BSEE from BITS, India. Dr Kota has been a
keynote speaker, invited speaker and a panelist at various international conferences. He served as the
Unclassied Technical Program Chair of MILCOM 2007, Technical Committee member of MILCOM2004,
1997, and Asst Technical Chair of MILCOM 1990; Satellite Communications symposium chair of IEEE
GLOBECOM 2002, 2000, co-chair of Wireless Communications and networking symposium of
GLOBECOM2006, and Technical chair of ISWPC2007, WCNC 2008 panel chair, and invited session
chair for PIMRC 2006, 2005, 2004. He is the co-chair of Wireless Networking Symposium for GLOBECOM
2009. He is the recipient of Golden Quill awards from Harris Corporation, publication awards from Lockheed
Martin and ATM Forum Spotlight Award. In addition, he is a Senior Member of IEEE, Associate Fellow of
AIAA, and Member of ACM.

Copyright r 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Int. J. Commun. Syst. Network 2010; 28:2957


DOI: 10.1002/sat