Global Demand for Mobile Communications Continues for a Variety of Two-Way Services.
In the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) radio regulations, the definition of a "mobile service" is very broad: "A radio communication service between mobile and land stations, or between mobile stations." A mobile station, under this definition, can be one used on land, across the seas or in the air. The service can be provided by terrestrial means or by satellite.
The demand for mobile communications continues unabated. The market wants or is being offered mobile communications in varied forms. A huge consumer market is expected for highly portable telephones, whicn are so small they can be carried not only in a briefcase, but in a pocket. In some countries, notably Scandinavia and Japan, the peripatetic user can or will be able to place a phone call from a bus or taxi.
In the US, passengers on domestic flights cam make telephone calls to their home or office by inserting their credit card in the wall-mounted console. When they complete the call, they return the phone to its cradle, which releases the credit card.
Inmarsat provides satellite communications to ships and offshore oil rigs, which can use the service for telex, telephone and data communications up to 1.5 Mb/s, enough for compressed video transmissions. Leased circuits are now being offered as well. Other interactive services available include videotax, navigational and weather information services.
In the next 10 years, there may be other mobile-satellite systems in addition to that operated by Inmarsat. Canada and the US are expected to proceed with a domestic mobile-satellite communications system that could be used to send or receive signals to and from aircraft, boats and land vehicles.
No matter what type of system is selected, mobile communication subscribers share an intrinsic characteristic, they want to roam . . . to use the same equipment wherever they go, much in the way that cellular users of the Nordic Mobile Telephone System can in any Scandinavian country.
Mobile Communications Means Money
Few people regard efficient mobile communications as frivolous any more--and those who do, don't appreciate the sound economies that are stimulating the development of these technologies. According to figures available to the ITU, the combined yearly revenues of the world's telecommunications administrations are currently some $250 billion a d their combined yearly investment programs amount to about $100 billion.
Yet the impact of telecommunications on the world's economies would be far greater than even these impressive figures. Admittedly, the impact of mobile telecommunications has a ripple effect difficult to measure, beyond investment in and revenues generated by the industry itself, but the true market demand is significantly greater than the actual investment or sales of equipment.
Recognition of these economies has led to an explosive demand for mobile communications in recent years, and system operators and suppliers consequently are witnessing exponential growth. The number of users of the Inmarsat system has thrifpled in three years, from 1,000 in February 1982 to more than 3400 this year. As this represents only four percent of the potential market of vessels over 100 tons, Inmarsat expects a maritime population of at least 10,000 by 1990 and 15,000 by 1995.
Several airlines in the US are equipping their domestic aircraft for the Airfone service, so that by the end of this year there could be nearly 1,000 aircraft with the service. It was reported that in the first 24 hours of service, more than 2,000 calls were placed. One airline reported more than 600 calls a day on its first seven telephone-equipped aircraft.
Globally, sales of all forms of m obile communications, including paging, will be in the billions of dollars--more precise numbers will depend on which prediction one accepts.
While forecasting may be a hazardous art, it is necessary, Inmarsat, for example, has consistently underestimated the demand for its service. From a financial point of view, this does have its merits in presentations to our shareholders when those forecasts are exceeded, but from an operational point of view it is essential to have the system capacity available and ready for those additional users.
A variety of factors can wreak havoc among the forecast numbers churned out by the computer. Among those that affect the growth in mobile communications are:
* Spectrum shortages. The problems posed by a shortage of spectrum for the mobile service are, however, being tackled by various means. Certainly one of them is frequency reuse, which is a feature of cellular. Another is narrow-channel spacing, and yet another is the use of trunking.
* Standardization. A lack of standardization has hampered and continues to hampere the growth of mobile communications. Worldwide, and notably in Europe, there is an alphabet soup of different and incompatible cellular systems.
* Equipment costs/tariffs. The costs of mobile communications in general will drop. The costs of integrated circuitry and storage are dropping, and as the number of units and maturity of the technology increase, so will the economies of scale. The large markets that come with standardization will make it possible to develop LSI and VLSI logic that will have the same favorable impact on end-users costs witnessed in the microcomputer market.
* Migration. The migration of subscribers from conventional mobile radio-telephone services to cellular are not only likely, but is being encouraged. A similar migration is being witnessed within the maritime market, as more ships are installing and using Inmarsat ship earth stations in preference to older technologies of MF, HF and VHF.
* Size and weight. Tied closely to cost as a factor in the demand and growth in mobile communications are the size and weight of user equipment.
* Liberalization. The winds of liberalization are blowing across the communications business. Changes are going on in the US (the AT&T divestiture), in Britain, West Germany and Japan. All of these moves spring from a growing recognition that technology is rapidly outstripping existing institutional structures.
Generally, it is fair to say that we will see more competition in mobile communications, which should benefit the end user, particularly as that competition drives down the cost of equipment and tariff charges. In most cases, although system operators may be loathe to admit it, that competition will also create faster-growing markets. It must, however, be recognized that most countries have smaller markets and different economies compared to the US, UK and Japan. Policies that may make sense in some countries are not necessarily applicable or helpful in other countries.
"Generally" is the key word in that proposition. In some areas, at least for the time being, competition would seen to make little sense. In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with regard to the mobile-satellite services in the US, the FCC said it believes only one entity can be authorized to operate on the frequencies allocated to the mobile-satellite service, in part because of the shortage of available spectrum and because of the high cost of a mobile-satellite system.
One Mobile-Satellite System
This same situation prevails with regard to international mobile-satellite communications. The member countries that signed the Inmarsat convention agreed that there should be only one system for reasons of frequency economy. The parties of the convention agreed that there should be international standards for ship earth stations, so that users from any country could use the system.
Until recently, the mobile communications market could be characterized as a pie with discrete segments. Such is no longer the case. Reference has been made to a migration of users from one service to another, but as the end users demand more capabilities from their equipment--as some are no longer satisfied with a simple tone from their pager, wanting alphanumeric displays, or as some are no longer content with just voice from their land-mobile telephone system, wanting text as well--we are witnessing a blurring of those segments.
As in integrated services digital networks (ISDN), the application techniques to mobile communications could considerably reduce the cost of services and, perhaps, make more-economic use of the spectrum than today's analog systems. It would greatly increase system flexibility with a common transmission format for speech and data transmission and system signaling. It could also lead to further migration of users and to the development of new market segments. ISDN techniques could minimize the long lead times and heavy investment costs by system operators in large system that are not flexible enough to accommodate new and varying user requirements.
While the end users will not be able to see the digital path the communications takes, they will at least unconsciously appreciate its implications and benefits. Undoubtedly, the future of mobile communications promises an "intelligent" system en route that mirrors that found in the home or office, a system capable of transmitting and receiving text and voice over the same invisible path, and perhaps a path chosen by the user.
With the advent of automated, digital mobile communications, we will see mobile spreading not only through the transport industries, down to and including cars, but also to the mainstream of everyday life, to the truly personal pocket phone . . . it is difficult to avoid the Dick Tracy cliche. Hence, wherever a user roams, across town, across the country or across continents, they should be no farther from their home or office than the mobile, multifunctional telephone in their pocket.
Alternative for Developing Countries
While the proliferation of mobile communications systems will occur in the developed countries in the same way the fixed services have, mobile telecommunications could offer in inexpensive alternative for developing countries.
It is unfortunately ironic that in the developing countries where the demand, or at least the need for both mobile and fixed communications, is greated, the difficulty in alleviating that demand has so far proved most intractable.
ISDN and mobile communications do present developing countries with technologies that can be used to leap frog the earlier stages of development that took place in the industrialized countries.
The ultimate goal in mobile communications systems should be to enable the user to make or receive a call no matter where he or she is-in the air, on the oceans or on land. While mobile needs can be met by either terrestrial or satellite means, it is unlikely that mobile satellite systems will ever be able to compete with terrestrial systems.
In order to provide a universal mobile communications environment, terrestrial and satellite systems will need to complement each other. Thus, I would suggest that governments and industry should take a longer-term view of the evolution of the mobile market and begin thinking about ways in which we can arrive at the ultimate goal, which is to allow roaming across national borders and to allow the mobile user the same services as in the fixed telecommunications system.
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|Date:||Aug 1, 1985|
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