Staying connected: UAE marks 20 years since it launched Middle East’s first mobile telecoms satellite

Thuraya-1 was launched in 2000 and provided mobile coverage to thousands of people

An artist's impression of the Thuraya-3 satellite. Thuraya 
Powered by automated translation

The UAE is celebrating 20 years since it launched the Middle East’s first mobile telecoms satellite.

Thuraya-1 lifted off on October 21, 2000, and provided mobile coverage to more than 250,000 customers in the region and parts of Europe and Africa.

It was a project by mobile satellite company Thuraya and Boeing developed it. Etisalat, the UAE's state-owned communications company, became Thuraya’s first service provider in 1998.

Communication was a major challenge back then and many people were not covered.

One year after the launch, Thuraya released its first satellite phone, called Thuraya Hughes 7100, which featured GSM (global system for mobile communications) modes, GPS (global positioning system) navigation, voice, data, fax and text message services.

Thuraya-2 was launched in 2003 and helped to expand coverage in the region.

Now, satellite phones by Thuraya are commonly used by humanitarian workers, journalists and people in remote areas.

The company became a subsidiary of Al Yah Satellite Communications, or Yahsat, in 2018.

The UAE’s commercial satellite industry has grown rapidly in the years since the historic launch of Thuraya-1.

According to the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the country operates nine satellites through three operations – Thuraya, YahSat and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

The satellites are placed in geostationary and low Earth orbit, covering and providing services in more than 140 countries.

The satellites provide mobile satellite, broadcasting and fixed satellite services.

In August, YahSat announced it would invest $500 million to build the next generation mobile telecoms system, which will go live in 2024. It partnered with Airbus to develop the Thuraya-4.

Saudi Arabia launched the first Arab satellite, Arabsat-1A, in 1985. It was a communications satellite and provided TV, radio, mobile and broadband internet services.

Egypt launched its Nilesat 101 communications satellite in 1998.


UAE launches Arab world's first mission to Mars – in pictures