Innovation starts with a vision. Back in 1997, Thuraya Satellite Communications Co. had a vision to provide mobile communications services so people could stay connected virtually anywhere, even in mountainous and remote regions that are not served by terrestrial fixed or wireless networks. And Thuraya wanted its system to be compatible with GSM cellular systems, so customers could roam between the two, using a single, compact device. But there was a problem. Neither they nor anyone else had done this before.
Taking the Risk
So Thuraya management performed an extensive evaluation of alternative technology vendors and offerings, deciding to select Hughes, Boeing, and several subcontractors to work with them to realize their dream. After four years of development and a significant investment, the unique Thuraya communications system was born—the world’s first and only mobile satellite system that is compatible with GSM cellular, using a single portable handheld unit, and including GPS location capability.
Boeing developed and delivered the geosynchronous satellite, and Hughes managed the overall development of the terrestrial portion, including the gateway, mobile switching system, handheld unit, and billing system.
Today—a mere 10 years later—Thuraya is one of the world’s leading mobile satellite operators, serving more than 250,000 customers with high-quality mobile voice and data services. Its huge coverage area reaches nearly one-third of the world’s population in Europe, Africa, and Asia—from the Atlantic Ocean to India, from the Baltic Sea to the Sudan.
Innovations Along the Way
The first-generation terminal Hughes developed in 1997 was a small, compact handheld device providing mobile voice, fax, and low-rate data services. At less than eight ounces and supporting satellite, GSM, and GPS operation, it was one of the smallest and most flexible handsets in the marketplace.
Several years later, Hughes expanded its relationship with Thuraya and was contracted to develop a high-speed packet data system, including a radio access gateway. The result is a transportable unit similar in size to a laptop personal computer that offers data rates up to 144 Kbps, which Thuraya markets under the brand name ThurayaDSL. Today, Hughes is working on a next-generation system, including customer terminals that will be branded as ThurayaIP and deliver data rates up to 432 Kbps.
Serving Diverse Communications Needs
Thuraya employs a diverse network of providers to deliver services via a geosynchronous satellite that covers a vast area over more than 100 countries. For basic fixed telephony services, Thuraya deploys pay phones based on the Hughes-developed terminal. This unit is also offered in Thuraya’s maritime services in the far-flung regions of the Arabian Gulf and the North Sea. In times of major catastrophe and in conflict zones, thousands of these terminals have provided people a lifeline when the existing terrestrial network infrastructure was destroyed.
Building on its success, Thuraya expects to commission a second satellite in the coming months to provide voice and data services over the Far East and Pacific Rim, and to provide additional coverage in Asia.
The Thuraya/Hughes Partnership
As a new operator in 1997, Thuraya depended heavily on its contractors to ensure that optimal conditions were in place before it began service. Hughes not only optimized the system, but also provided Thuraya engineers with comprehensive technical and operational training on all subsystems, ensuring top performance prior to a controlled handover of operations.
“Thuraya has had a long and fruitful relationship with Hughes, which is an important element to our success and continues today,” said Yousuf Al Sayed, chief executive officer, Thuraya. “Hughes innovations have enabled us to provide services to people in many areas that simply could not be reached by traditional terrestrial communications.”
“Developing technology for Thuraya has furnished Hughes with an exceptional learning experience,” said Steve Butlin, assistant vice president of Hughes Mobile Satellite Systems group. “Not only have we had the opportunity to develop mobile satellite systems of outstanding performance and quality, we are also leveraging that experience and knowledge to develop new technologies, both for Thuraya and for emerging companies such as ICO, TerreStar, and Mobile Satellite Ventures.”
Bold new ideas that challenge the best minds to take a risk. That’s how innovation works.